A Sad Day In Browns Town

I was saddened to read today about the death of Marty Schottenheimer, at age 77, of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease — a condition he and his family dealt with for six years. Schottenheimer coached for a number of NFL teams, including the Chiefs, the Washington Football Club, and the Chargers, and compiled a record that included 205 wins, putting him eighth on the NFL all-time wins list.

Of course, those of us who are Cleveland Browns fans will always associate Marty Schottenheimer with the Browns. He ascended to the head coaching position in 1984, after Sam Rutigliano was fired, and never had a losing season with the Browns. It was clear from the get-go that the Browns had a keeper in Schottenheimer, and in his first full season he guided the Browns to the playoffs, where they almost knocked off the heavily favored Miami Dolphins. When UJ and I watched that game, we decided the Browns were on the upswing and we should buy season tickets to the Browns games for the following year. Thanks to Schottenheimer and the team he led, we saw some great games and lots of wins. Unfortunately, Schottenheimer had a falling out with owner Art Modell after the 1989 season, when Modell insisted that Schottenheimer hire an offensive coordinator and stop calling plays. He refused and quit, and the Schottenheimer era abruptly ended.

That era was brief but glorious. It would have been more glorious still if bad luck and cursed fates hadn’t caused the Browns to lose two AFC championship games, in 1986 and 1987, that denied a talented, deserving team a chance to finally play in the Super Bowl. But The Drive and The Fumble went against the men in orange and brown and their tough, hard-nosed coach — who, in the aftermath of The Fumble, went to hug Earnest Byner, the player who had the ball stripped just as he seemed to be crossing the goal line to cap an amazing Browns’ comeback. That showed you what kind of person Marty Schottenheimer was. He was a players’ coach, not an owner’s coach. And while it often seems that the football gods have it in for the Browns, I don’t know of a Browns fan who doesn’t appreciate what Marty Schottenheimer did for the team and the fans and for the community. We were lucky — for once — to have Marty Schottenheimer as our coach.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease that robs the afflicted individual of what defines them, and robs the individual’s family of their loved one. It says something enormously positive about Marty Schottenheimer and his family that they were open about his condition and his years-long battle, and tried to make something positive out of a devastating prognosis.

Marty Schottenheimer was a great coach and a great man. It’s a sad day in Browns Town.

The Curse Of Obscenity

Yesterday was another frustrating day for Cleveland Browns fans. The Browns went on the road against a very good Kansas City Chiefs team, fought hard to overcome some bad breaks, and mounted a comeback that put them in position to win and make it to the AFC Championship game — but fell just short. Again. The hopes of Browns fans everywhere were raised, only to be dashed. Again.

As the final seconds ticked away, meaning that yet another season has passed without the Browns making it to their elusive first Super Bowl, I felt the frustration well up inside me, and I unleashed a colorful torrent of the crudest imaginable obscenity at the TV set. It was a brutal, uncontrolled, red-faced verbal tirade against the fickle fates and the capricious sports gods that surged out with a vehemence that surprised even me.

I hate it when this happens. It’s embarrassing, and I keep hoping as the decades roll by that I’ve matured to the point where I can rationally accept disappointments that occur in my corner of the sports world without hurling vulgar epithets or screaming like a lunatic, but yesterday shows I’ve still got a lot of work to do in that area. I sometimes wish I never learned about cussing. Knowing obscenities really is a kind of curse.

Temporary Alliances

The world of the sports fan is a world of temporary alliances. It’s like Europe of days gone by, when secret negotiations, confidential ententes, and treaties named after obscure towns could abruptly and unexpectedly tip the balance of power.

For most football fans, on any given game day they will be strongly supporting (1) their favorite team, and (2) whichever random team happens to be playing their favorite team’s hated rival or most challenging future opponent.

Today will provide a good example of this reality. The Cleveland Browns will be taking the field versus the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m guessing that the viewership for the game in Buffalo, New York will be off the charts, with all of the Bills fans rooting hard for the Browns to somehow upset the highly favored Chiefs.

Why? Not because Cleveland and Buffalo are fellow cities on the shores of Lake Erie that once were linked by an eponymously named steamship line, as shown in the picture above. (And the ship that sailed Lake Erie between the two cities was called the SeaandBee. Get it?) No, it’s because the Buffalo Bills throttled the Baltimore Ravens yesterday and will play whichever team wins the Browns-Chiefs tilt. Buffalo fans have got to feel that the Bills have a better chance of beating the Browns than the awesome Chiefs, and if the Browns could prevail over Patrick Mahomes and his offensive fireworks show, the Bills would have a home game against the Browns in Buffalo — with a slot in the Super Bowl at stake.

Put those two considerations together, and you’re not likely to find a more ardent set of fans for the Cleveland Browns in today’s game than the good folks of Buffalo, New York. And if the Browns do somehow find a way to topple the mighty Chiefs, and will be traveling to Buffalo for the AFC championship game next weekend, Bills fans won’t have a second thought about immediately reversing allegiances and hating the Browns with a deadly, all-consuming passion.

Machiavelli would be proud.

The Power Of Positive Thinking

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking. The book used anecdotes to argue that maintaining a positive, optimistic attitude actually helps people to achieve their goals and feel better about themselves. One of the core messages of the book was that if you are pessimistic about what you can do, you’re heading for defeat before the contest has even started. Critics were dubious of the notion that a simple change in mental attitude could have a big impact on anyone’s life, but the book was a hit and resonated with people who thought there was a lot of common sense in what Dr. Peale was saying. I remember seeing it on Grandma and Grandpa Neal’s bookshelf.

It’s a huge step from believing that your own attitude can affect what happens in your own life to believing that your attitude can influence what other people are doing. Of course, that’s exactly what many committed sports fans do believe — deep down in their hearts, even if they wouldn’t admit it to others. They may not be sitting in the stadium or arena cheering on their team, but they believe that what they wear, what they eat, where they sit, and what they say and do on Game Day can have a crucial, outcome-determinative impact. The Dr. Pepper Fansville commercials definitely nail that aspect of the whole sports fan experience.

Can fans sitting in their living rooms watching on TV affect a game played far away? Can their thoughts and actions create eddies in the prevailing karma that can ripple out to the players and coaches and give them extra energy and mental focus and make a difference in their performance? Given life’s many mysteries, we’ll never know for sure — but we all believe it does, in some mysterious way, so why not be positive about it?t

Today, once again, I’m going to be positive about the prospects for the Cleveland Browns, and I’m hoping to enlist other fans in my positive thinking crusade. The Browns will be going on the road to Pittsburgh to play in their first playoff game in 18 years. They’re lacking a number of their coaches, including their head coach and ultimate play-caller, and some of their best players thanks to the coronavirus. For that same reason, they only got to practice once before their most important game in two decades. These aren’t the things you want to have happen when you’re the underdog in the first place.

Clearly, the odds are powerfully stacked against the outmanned Cleveland squad. They need all the help they can get. Who knows? Positive thinking by the legions of Browns Backers could well tip the balance in some inexplicable yet meaningful way.

Whatever happens tonight, I’m going to stay positive about this team and its chances for an astonishing victory, and concentrate on sending positive, optimistic vibes through the cosmic ether to the Browns’ players and coaches. Will you join me?

Ohio Against The World (II)

And speaking of Ohio Against The World, the Cleveland Browns punched their ticket for the NFL playoffs yesterday. The Browns somehow managed to hold on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers despite having a slew of their players unavailable due to NFL COVID protocols. Fittingly, the game was finally secured when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield kept the ball for a single wing scamper and picked up a crucial first down that allowed the Browns to run out the clock.

Next weekend the Browns will participate in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 2002 NFL season — the only time the Browns made the playoffs since coming back into the League. The Browns lost in heartbreaking fashion in that one playoff appearance, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, 18 years later, they’ll be playing the Steelers again in the first round of the playoffs.

Eighteen years is a very long time, and in 2002 the world was a very different place. No one in 2002 would have forecast that it would take the Browns 18 years to return to the playoffs, but here they are. Will they advance? Given the impact of the coronavirus on the Browns this year, and the number of players who have been disqualified from games, we’ll have to see who even gets to play. But it’s nice to know that the long drought is ended.

In The Cable TV Tug Of War

This afternoon the Cleveland Browns will play what is easily their most important game in a decade. (That’s not saying much given the Browns’ dismal recent record . . . , but still.) the 8-3 Browns travel to Tennessee to play the 8-3 Titans in a game that features two of the best rushing teams in the NFL and lots of playoff implications.

Alas! We won’t be able to watch the game on our TV, because of some financial tug of war between TEGNA, the owner of the local CBS channel that will broadcast the contest, and AT&T U-verse, our cable provider. If you go to the channel that will broadcast the game, you see the message above that blames TEGNA. And before TEGNA took the channel off our cable, it ran annoying banners on the channel during last week’s Browns game urging viewers to contact AT&T to make sure it does what is necessary to keep the channel on the cable system.

So today we central Ohio Browns fans who are on the AT&T U-verse system are trapped in the middle, peons in this dispute between two corporations that really don’t care about anything but the bottom line. They know people will be upset because they won’t be able to watch this game. Each side wants us viewers to put pressure on the other side to knuckle under, but I’m not going to do that. Other than NFL football games, I don’t watch any CBS programming, so I really don’t give a crap about getting TEGNA’s channel. And I’m sure not going to carry water for a cable TV provider.

And here’s what is really appalling — I have the sneaking suspicion each side might have factored the COVID pandemic into their decision to enter into this corporate game of chicken. In normal times, if this happened you could go to the local sports bar, order a cold one, and watch the game on the direct network satellite feed, but with the pandemic that’s not an option. That means the ability to use an NFL football game as a pressure point in negotiations is increased by orders of magnitude.

So I say, a pox on both their houses. We’ll figure out how to follow the Browns game, somehow. but I won’t forget the ugly willingness of these two companies to ruin the simple pleasure of watching a big game on the TV.

Cleaning Out The Kitchens

The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens yesterday, after the Browns dropped a game to the woeful Cincinnati Bengals and finished the year with a 6-10 record.  It was another dismal showing for the Browns and capped off a farcical year — a year which began, amazingly, with at least one pundit picking the Browns to go to the Super Bowl.  Instead, they chalked up another losing season.

freddie-kitchens-browns-head-coachKitchens had to go, really.  He was picked to be head coach because he was supposed to be some kind of offensive mastermind who would be able to fit together all of the offensive talent on the roster into a point-scoring powerhouse — but the Browns ended up decidedly mediocre on the offensive side of the ball, finishing 22nd in the NFL in points and yards per game.  The red zone offense was terrible, the team’s performance was wracked with crucial penalties and turnovers, and Kitchens’ game management decisions were consistently wrong-headed, causing the Browns to give away games they could easily have won.  Add in a total lack of discipline on the team — highlighted by an embarrassing brawl against the Pittsburgh Steelers that cost the team its best defensive lineman — and you’ve got a simple story of a rumpled guy who was overwhelmed by a job that clearly was far beyond his capabilities.

The best argument for keeping Kitchens is that the Browns coaching carousel has to stop if the team is ever going to succeed, so . . . why not keep Kitchens and see if he can learn on the job?  It’s not much of an argument for a coach, but it has a kernel of reality to it.  Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 — only 20 years ago — they’ve had 11 head coaches, including Kitchens.  There is no hope for long-term success if a team needs to constantly deal with new coaches and coaching staffs, learn new offensive and defensive schemes, and adjust to new playbooks and play-calling.  From a continuity standpoint, the Browns are like a pee-wee football team compared to perennial contenders like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, now the Browns look for another new savior to come in and turn a disastrous franchise around.  Already people are speculating about the recently fired NFL head coaches, hot NFL assistant coaches, and college head coaches who might be candidates — including former Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.  Since 1999, the Browns have tried hiring head coaches from each of those categories, and they’ve all been canned after short periods.  Maybe this time the Browns will make the right decision and find a coach who can meld the team into a disciplined unit that plays smart, tough football and can figure out how to win big games.  I’m confident Urban Meyer, who has a clear coaching philosophy and proven track record in many different programs, could do that — but would he want to coach for a franchise that has been so dysfunctional?

Given the Browns’ track record, good things probably aren’t going to happen — but if you’re a Browns fan, hope springs eternal.  In fact, hope is just about all the Browns Backers have.

New Depths Of Embarrassment

There’s just something impossibly bizarre about the Cleveland Browns franchise since it returned to the NFL 20 years ago.  Even in victory, over a long-time rival in an important game, it somehow manages to find a way to embarrass its city and its fans.

hi-res-a781c941b1771e4c6158fa6ea697b4f1_crop_northLast night’s win over Pittsburgh, and the dangerous brawl and helmet-swinging episode that occurred as the game ended, reaches a new low for the Browns.  If the incident weren’t so thuggish and savage and physically hazardous, it would almost be comical — the perfect demonstration of how the Browns inevitably snatch utter humiliation from the jaws of victory.

I have no desire to pile on Myles Garrett, the player who swung the helmet at the opposing quarterback’s head.  Garrett has apologized, and I have no doubt that his apology is heartfelt.  But there’s a big difference between losing your cool and doing something that could have caused catastrophic injury.  Somehow, for some reason, this year’s version of the Browns lacks the discipline to restrain on-the-field behavior and keep it in the proper channels.  There have been lots of penalties, and personal fouls, and then last night’s assault reaches new depths of egregious misconduct.

What’s wrong with this team?  Is it coaching?  Is it lack of leadership, or players who will set the right tone?  Whatever it is, something really needs to change.  The Browns have more than a week before they play their next game.  I hope everyone involved in the organization, from players to top management, are doing some soul-searching today, and giving some serious through to how they can fundamentally, and permanently, change the culture of this team and this franchise.  If they don’t, the ranks of Browns Backers are going to grow a lot smaller, and quickly.

Suckiness Serenity

After last week’s sorry and embarrassing pigskin display I vowed not to watch another Cleveland Browns game, and instead to spend my remaining fall Sundays in some kind of productive, less angst-inducing pursuit.

5628315-dmnadpvs-6However, my lovely and wise wife has encouraged me that I should take another course.  Simple avoidance, she counsels, is not a viable long-term strategy.  The better course, she advises, is acceptance.  In short, she submits, I need to embrace the Browns’ intrinsic suckiness and strive to achieve a state of Frank Costanza-like serenity about the team’s sorry state.  Only then can I hope to be freed from the devilish demons of Cleveland sports fandom and be able to go forward with a cheerful and positive attitude about the franchise and its beleaguered supporters.

I’m not sure this is possible, frankly.  In fact, I think even the most enlightened Buddhist zen-master would struggle to watch a Cleveland Browns game with a calm sense of mental tranquility.  But Kish has convinced me — I’m going to try.

Yeah . . . good luck with that!

Overhyped And Underperforming

Against my better judgment I watched the Cleveland Browns football game yesterday.  I’ve watched a few of their games this year, hoping that we would see a change for the better.

1believelandLast year the Browns won a few games at the end of the season, and during the off-season the team made some personnel moves that made it look like this might just be the year when the Browns were respectable.  Indeed, at least one analyst on one of the network NFL shows picked the Browns to make it to the Super Bowl, for the first time in the team’s history.

I should have known it was all part of the devious plan to elevate the hopes of Browns Backers everywhere.  After years of sad, crushing failure, Browns fans had become almost immune to the inevitable losses — and the evil forces that control the fates of professional football, focused as they are upon inflicting as much pain as possible on the hardy fans of this ill-fated franchise, couldn’t have that.  The hype was all a ruse to get us to start caring and hoping again — because hopes can only be dashed when they are raised in the first place.

So yesterday I found myself yelling at the TV as the Browns lost again, to the mighty New England Patriots, to fall to 2-5 on the season.  Losing to the Patriots isn’t an embarrassment in itself — pretty much everyone loses to the Patriots — but it’s the dismal, humiliating, frustrating way in which the Browns lose.  Turnovers on three straight plays.  A terrific long run ending in a fumble in the red zone.  Countless penalties (some of which seemed pretty iffy, by the way) killing good plays or putting the Browns in too deep a hole.  And so, for all of their talent, the Browns are once more on the outside looking in and heading for another awful year.

Well, at least my Sundays are now clear for more positive and productive activities.

The Eternal Question

Well, it’s Super Sunday again.  That means it’s time for the New England Patriots to play for the pro football championship . . . again.  It’s the third straight year the Patriots have kicked the ass of the rest of the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl.  Overall, it’s the eleventh Super Bowl for the Patriots, the most for any team.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on that inglorious goose egg.  Which raises, as it does every time a Super Bowl is played, the seemingly eternal question for we Browns fans:  will the Browns ever play in a Super Bowl — much less win one — in my lifetime?

I was a rosy-cheeked lad of 9 when the first Super Bowl was played, 52 years ago, after the end of the 1966 season.  At that time, the Browns were a very good team.  They’d won the league championship only two years before, at the tail end of the pre-Super Bowl days, and had lost in the championship game the next year.  If you’d asked people then whether the Browns would ever play in a Super Bowl, they might have viewed it as a trick question, because there was a legitimate question of whether the Super Bowl was just a kind of exhibition game or a permanent fixture on the pro football scene.  But if you’d said the Super Bowl would be played 53 times and asked how many times, the Browns would play, no one — absolutely no one — would have guessed that zero would be the right answer.

Yet, here were are.  I’m in my 60s, and the Browns haven’t made it.  They’ve come close — the last time, incidentally, was 30 years ago — but they’ve nevertheless been shut out.  And while this past season was a ray of sunshine after three of the worst seasons in Browns’ history, the goal of a Super Bowl still seems very far away.

So, will the Browns ever make it to a Super Bowl in my lifetime?  I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I’m steadily getting older.

 

Toodaloo, Hue

The Browns fired their head coach Hue Jackson today.  Jackson had an abysmal record as the Browns’ head coach, but he actually lasted for more than two seasons before getting canned. That makes him one of the Browns’ longest-tenured head coaches since their return to the NFL — which is pretty pathetic.

nfl-head-coach-hot-seats-2018-1532975615I watched the Browns game against the Steelers yesterday, and the experience was like getting a tooth drilled without any novocaine while simultaneously receiving a colonoscopy.  The Browns’ defense looks like it belongs in the NFL — or could belong in the NFL, if the offense could actually get a first down or two and let the defense get some rest now and then — but the offense is beyond putrid.  When the Browns offense was on the field it was horribly overmatched, and a lot of the problem seemed to be the product of a bad scheme that allowed Steelers to rush the quarterback unblocked on virtually every snap.  It’s like the Browns weren’t even being coached on the offensive side of the ball.

So so long, Hue, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  I’ve got no high hopes on who the Browns might hire, but the person literally can’t be any worse that Hue Jackson, who won all of three games in two and a half years and “led” the Browns to a winless season last year.  I just hope that the front office finds somebody who actually can coach and figure out how to score touchdowns, like every other NFL team does.

At The Bar For The Browns

God help me — I think I’m catching Browns Fever! Because the local TV station has chosen to broadcast the Bengals-Steelers game, I’ve gone to a local bar to watch the Browns play the Chargers.

That means I’ve changed my schedule and activities specifically to watch the Browns. That means — gulp! — I’ve effectively declared that I’ve once again been sucked in.

Oh well! Go Browns! Feel free to crush my spirits again!