30 Years After “The Drive”

Thirty years ago, yesterday, UJ and I and two of our friends were sitting in our seats in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, watching the AFC championship game and hoping that the Browns would finally make it to the Super Bowl.

It was the first year after Kish and I had moved back to Ohio from Washington, D.C., and UJ and I decided to spring for season tickets to the Browns.  To our delight, the team — led by Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, two great running backs, some very good receivers, a defense that would bend but not break, and an indomitable coach, Marty Schottenheimer — turned out to be really good.  We saw some great wins during the regular season, and the Browns had won an improbable, come from behind, overtime thriller playoff game against the Jets the week before.  Now, on a cold day on the Cleveland lakefront, the Browns were playing the Denver Broncos for the AFC slot in the Super Bowl.

plain-dealer-front-page-the-drive-41646014a33b632eOf course, just as the Browns seemed to be on the cusp of victory that day, “The Drive” happened, and the hopes of the team and Browns fans the world over were crushed.  It’s a story that has almost become the stuff of legend — which is why you can find Cleveland newspapers and, of course, the Denver Broncos website remembering it, 30 years later — and it is always mentioned, bitterly, when people talk about the horrors of Cleveland sports fans over the past half century.

I didn’t realize that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of “The Drive” until one of the guys I went to the game with mentioned it.  I groaned when he did, because I had no interest in ever thinking about that game again, and I expected to experience that familiar hot blast of pain and frustration that always bubbles up whenever I remember that game — but to my surprise my reaction yesterday really wasn’t all that bad.  It’s almost as if the Cavs’ NBA championship win last year, and the passage of three decades, have taken the pitchforks out of the demons’ hands that are lurking in my Cleveland sports fan subconscious and replaced them with something softer that can produce a twinge of regret, but not the torment and angst that once seemed to be everlasting.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Maybe it’s true, even for sports fans.

Glutton For Punishment

This afternoon I’m going to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s right.  I’m going to voluntarily subject myself to more than three hours of bad football, bad karma, and general haplessness.  I’m going to watch a truly wretched 0-12 team play a horribly underperforming 4-7-1 team in a game that is utterly meaningless, even to their own beleaguered fans.

brownsWhy am I doing this?  Well, for one thing I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.  It’s tough duty generally, and an especially awful burden this year — but I’ve consciously avoided watching most of the games until now.  At this point, it’s so obvious that the Browns suck that I have no expectations whatsoever of success.  The Browns are likely to lose every game this year; the only question is whether they will find new ways to suffer a self-inflicted disaster.

So why watch this game, when I’ve avoided the others?  Because the Bengals have had, if anything, an even worse season than the Browns.  Sure, they’ve won games, but everyone expected them to be a Super Bowl contender, and instead they’ve laid a colossal egg.  If the Browns have any hope of winning a game this season, it’s going to be a game like this, where their opponent also reeks and a few lucky breaks might actually produce a W.  And if that were to happen — something I’m not counting on, mind you — it would be sweet that it would be the Bengals who bore the shame of being the only team to lose to the Browns this year.

I’m a glutton for punishment.

In Titletown

This morning finds us in the City of Champions — Cleveland.  UJ, Russell and I came up yesterday afternoon to watch an early edition of October baseball as the Tribe beat the Detroit Tigers, 1-0, in a brilliant display of bullpen management by manager Terry Francona.  It was a fantastic nail-biter that ended in triumph.  Then we walked to a nearby pub to learn that, thanks to a well-timed rain delay, we could watch the entirety of Ohio State’s epic beat down of Oklahoma.  

Today we’re going to swing by Octoberfest on Public Square, then it’s off to see if the Browns can resemble a professional football team against the Ravens.  Can we complete the Cleveland-Buckeyes trifecta?  Or will we learn, as Meat Loaf once sang, that two out of three ain’t bad?

We Are All Clevelanders

IMG_2619This sticker I saw on the back of an SUV in the parking lot at Lowe’s today cracked me up.  Not sure whether this one was developed after the Cavs won the NBA championship a few months ago, but it does show a certain Cleveland pride that was somewhat lacking during the dark days.

Or does it?  The fact that the stick is orange and brown indicates that it is referring to the beleaguered Cleveland Browns.  Given how crappy the Browns have been for years, and are likely to be again this year, is this guy saying that the United States as a whole is down at the Cleveland Browns’ level of suckiness?

Live-Blogging A Meaningless NFL Exhibition Game

Tonight the Browns play an exhibition game.  I think it was Pete Rozelle who decided that they should be called “preseason” games, because “exhibition” sounds like the games are meaningless.  I say Pete Rozelle can stick it.  The games are meaningless.

So tonight I’ll watch the Browns play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and I’ll record my thoughts from time to time.  Why not?  I’ve just had a fine meal with my lovely wife — now I’ll go to the opposite end of the spectrum and watch two crappy NFL teams.  Why not?

ETA:  Did Phil Sims just say Justin Gilbert was “good”?  What the hell?  Just because he broke up a pass while running behind the receiver?  NFL commentators have gone far downhill in the credibility department since the days of Al DeRogatis.

Update 2:  Browns gave up a field goal and got a field goal.  That’s not good.  If the Browns hope to do anything this year — and “hope” is precisely the right word –they desperately need to score TDs.  A field goal is not a good sign.

Update 3:  I expect the Browns D to suck this year.  There’s nothing about this game that causes me to change my view.

On the other hand, the brown jersey/white pants combo looks good.  I’ve always like the Browns unis.

Unfortunately, the guys who are wearing them don’t stack up.

Update 4: The current Bud Light commercials are OK, but I miss Spuds McKenzie.

On the other hand, the commercials are better than the Draft Kings spots.

Update 5:  The Browns punt coverage there looked like a junior high team.  Yeah, that’s about right.

Update 6:  I expected the Browns to suck, and they have met my expectations.  The O line is suspect, and the D is porous.  Every Bucs receiver is wide open.  It’s not a recipe for success.

Update 7:  Based on tonight’s performance, I expect RG III to last maybe 3 games, tops.

Update 8: When it comes to the Browns, no expectations can ever be too low.  They’re getting drubbed by a marginal team in the exhibition game that is supposed to give you a good idea of what the season will be like.  If that is true, the season will be like dental surgery without novocaine.

Update 9:  Omigod! The Buccaneers punted!  What the hell!

Update 10:  The nice thing about cable TV is that you can always find something entertaining to watch.  Tonight, it’s the Tribe.

Update 12:  I’m glad the coaches lifted RG III.  Why have him get hurt?  Officially, it’s scrub time.

Update 13:  Well, the Tribe is looking good so far, at least.

Update 14: That does it; I’m done.  No hope for the Browns this season.

Bad Number Ones

Last night, against my better judgment, I watched the Browns’ preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.  The Browns lost — of course! — 24-13, and looked pretty bad in the process.  I came away with two conclusions.

First, it’s going to be a very long season.  Some of the Browns’ better players didn’t play, but this team has so many holes it’s hard to see how they can be filled.  The offensive line is a patchwork, and the defense looks terrible.  The Browns got gashed on the run, and Atlanta routinely converted on third down.  In the last few years of crappiness, the Browns offense has been pedestrian at best, but the defense has been a porous disaster.  I think we’re in for more of the same.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland BrownsThe second conclusion is that Justin Gilbert may be the worst number one pick the Browns have made since coming back into the NFL.  That’s saying something, because their record of number one picks is one of dismal failure after dismal failure.  After all, Johnny Manziel was a first-round pick, and so was Brady Quinn, and so was Brandon Weeden, and so was Gerard Warren, and so was Trent Richardson . . . and the list of head cases and utter busts goes on.  But at least these guys looked like they knew how to play football.  Gilbert doesn’t.  He seems completely clueless out there as he takes bad angles, whiffs on tackles, and gets burned repeatedly.  If the Browns’ defensive backfield talent is so bad that Gilbert actually starts, the Browns D will be historically awful.  I’m talking potential record-setting ineptitude.

I don’t mean to pick on one player, but Gilbert is an example of why the Browns are a failed franchise.  Other teams make number one picks that immediately have an impact, score touchdowns, rack up sacks, and make the All-Pro team.  The Browns somehow make number one picks of players who look like they’ve never seen a football before.  Is it any wonder that the team is such a frustrating mess?

Believeland

ESPN has a new one of its “30 for 30″programs out.  It’s called Believeland, and it’s about (gulp) professional sports in Cleveland.

Russell and I were talking about it the other day, and he asked if I had watched it.  And I had — at least, the very first part.  But when we got to The Drive, and I knew that The Fumble would be close behind, and then I would have to re-live the Indians’ World Series losses and Michael Jordan’s shot to beat the Cavs and the Browns leaving to go to Baltimore, I switched it off.  It was just too painful to watch all of that crap, again.  Living through it once and feeling like you have been not only utterly forsaken, but also the object of affirmative torture by the sports gods, was more than enough.

il_214x170-890063290_27m0I was kind of embarrassed to admit this to Russell, who also is a Cleveland sports fan.  But Dads who are sports fans have to be honest with their kids about it.  There’s good in being a sports fan, but there’s also a lot of pain and angst and feeling like an idiot because you care so much about a team that you can’t sleep when they lose a big game and sometimes you admit in candor that a bad loss will not only wreck your day, but also wreck your month or even your year, and that there are some bad things that happened — like those mentioned in the preceding paragraph — that will haunt you for the rest of your days until you go toes up.

Interestingly, Russell said he enjoyed the program, because he hadn’t lived through it, and he felt it gave him an understanding of Cleveland and its beleaguered fans that he just hadn’t had before.  It was educational, rather than painful.  And maybe that’s the right way to look at it.  Maybe, until that glorious day in 2137 when a Cleveland team finally wins another world championship, every Dad or Mom who indoctrinates his child into the brotherhood of Cleveland sports fanship should sit that child down in front of the TV, make them watch Believeland, and then ask the crucial question:

Are you sure you’re ready for this?