A Real-Life Test Of The Sports Fans’ Eternal Debate

The sports fans’ eternal debate — unless you’re a fan of the New England Patriots, the New York Yankees, or some other team that seems to be good every year and win championships with machine-like regularity — goes something like this:  would you rather your team be really good, come close to winning it all, and fail by inches, or would you rather your team stinks up the joint, is totally uncompetitive, and never even comes within sniffing distance of a title?  Which kind of failure is more painful for the fan?

Cleveland sports fans are getting a real-life test of this eternal debate.  The Indians are the team that falls into the first category.  For two years now, they’ve been very good.  Last year, they came within inches of winning it all; this year, a few breaks one way or the other and they would still be in the playoffs and gunning for a possible World Series ring.  Kish can tell you, from watching my tantrum when the Tribe lost game 5 of the ALDS, that it was a very difficult loss to accept.

ejhobasxThe Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, fall into the second category.  They’re 0-6, already out of the playoffs, and establishing historical records for abject football futility that may never be challenged.  They are ludicrously bad, and seem to be discovering new, never before considered ways to lose games.  You could call them the Cleveland Clowns, but that wouldn’t be accurate, because many people find clowns to be terrifying — and there’s nothing at all that’s scary about this bunch of losers.

Having lived through this in real-life, I therefore think I know the answer to this eternal debate.  Sure, being a fan of the Browns is painful, but it’s more of an embarrassing pain than anything else.  Because they are so bad, you just don’t get emotionally invested in their ineptitude, and the losses don’t really sting because they’re expected.  You can even laugh at how bad they are.  The Indians, on the other hand — well, those losses will continue to sting and nag for years to come.

Nice to know that Cleveland sports teams can conclusively settle long-standing points of controversy.

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Bottom Of The Barrel 

Today I went to a local bar to watch the 0-3 Browns take on the 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals.  The bar cleverly billed it as the “Someone’s Gotta Win” party and “The Battle Of The Beatens.”  And, of course, someone did win — the Bengals.  In front of the appalled Cleveland fans, they crushed the Browns, 31-7.

The Browns have had a lot of lows since they came back to the NFL and began to perfect the art of futility, but this may be the lowest point yet:  getting drilled, at home, by a bad Cincinnati team to go 0-4, which means the season is effectively over . . . again.  When are Cleveland fans going to stop buying tickets to watch these guys?

Jabrill Peppers? Really??

I didn’t watch the TV broadcast of the first day of the draft.  Partly it’s because it always is a time of heartbreak for Browns fans, but partly on principle.  I’m supposed to get excited about the mere occurrence of the NFL’s mechanism for deciding which team gets to begin negotiations with which athlete?  Sorry, I’d rather do just about anything else.

So this morning, I checked to see what the Browns had done.  Hmmm . . . three first-round choices?  A guy who hopefully will provide some much-needed past-rushing skills to the defense?  OK, I get that.  A tight end?  OK, a bit more iffy, but if the kid is a playmaker, I suppose I get that, too.

peppers-celebratejpg-c2f7c7fec7e3927dBut Jabrill Peppers?  Really?

I’m not saying this because Peppers attended That School Up North.  I’m saying it because I’ve followed the Big Ten, and I’ve watched Peppers play.  I think he is a reasonably good punt returner, but other than that I think he’s one of the most overrated players in college sports in the last five years.  Sure, he played a lot of positions — but how many big plays did he make in big games?  When the chips were down and Michigan was trying to beat Ohio State, what kind of contribution did Peppers make?  I think really good players tend to rise to the top in big games.  Peppers didn’t.

I hope I’m wrong, and Peppers is a combination of Eric Metcalf and Thom Darden, bringing punt-returning excitement and interception big-play potential to the Browns.  But right now, color me skeptical.  Peppers seems like an undersized guy who lacks serious “football speed” and made his rep scoring touchdowns and playing multiple positions against teams that weren’t very good.  In the NFL, on the other hand, he’ll be playing for a team that isn’t very good.

I’m sensing another wasted first-round pick, folks.

As Browns Fans Contemplate Another First Round Pick . . . .

the-scream

If you didn’t know that he lived in Europe in the 19th century, you’d probably swear that Edvard Munch was a Cleveland Browns fan.

Why?  Because The Scream perfectly captures, better than anything else I’ve seen, the unique combination of horror, fear, disgust, and profound dread that grips Cleveland Browns fans as they contemplate the team making another first-round pick in the NFL draft.  Indeed, Munch even painted the disturbing, roiling sky behind the angst-ridden screamer in the Browns’ familiar orange colors.

If you’re a Browns fan, knowing that the NFL draft is only a few hours away and that the Cleveland franchise has the first choice to boot, you feel almost compelled to cup your face in your hands, let your eyes open wide, and howl out to the waiting world the deep anxiety and disquiet that you feel as you consider prior drafts and contemplate the likes of Gerard Warren, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Kellen Winslow . . . and Johnny Manziel.

In fact, any fan of another NFL team would think of the ludicrous choice of “Johnny Football” and feel a perverse sense of comfort.  After all, how could this year’s pick possibly be any more wrong-headed and disastrous than that?  But this is the Cleveland Browns, remember.  With the Browns, all things bad are possible.

Go ahead, Browns Backers!  Tip back your head and wail for all you’re worth.  The NFL draft is here.

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?