Tom Brady’s Deal With The Devil

Next Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. But for once, the real story isn’t about the two teams that are playing, or the fact that one of them will win the NFL championship. No, in this particular Super Bowl, the story is that Tom Brady, the ageless wonder, will be playing in his tenth Super Bowl and going for his seventh win — and this year he’s doing it with an entirely new team.

These numbers are staggering–especially when viewed from the perspective of a fan of the Cleveland Browns, which have never appeared in even one Super Bowl. Tom Brady has appeared in more Super Bowls than any other player, by a considerable margin. He’s also got more Super Bowl rings than any other player. And, to put some additional icing on the cake, Brady has also won the Super Bowl MVP trophy four times. Add to that the fact that Brady was drafted into the NFL in April 2000, is now 43 years old, and really doesn’t look all that much different now than he did 5, 10, or 15 years ago, and you’ve got to wonder: seriously, what’s with this guy?

Superstitious people of days gone by, seeing someone who has enjoyed outlandish success and who doesn’t appear to age like the rest of us, would say Tom Brady has made a deal with the devil. But as an interesting article points out, maybe this is just a case where you have to give the devil his due. Tom Brady hasn’t had success handed to him. He wasn’t the most sought-after star in high school, he wasn’t the big star at Michigan, and he wasn’t drafted until the 199th pick, after every team in the NFL, including the Browns, had passed on him multiple times. I’m surprised a Cleveland writer hasn’t written a book about a scientifically minded Browns fan who invents a time machine just so he could go back into the past to convince the 2000 Browns to draft Tom Brady instead of Spurgeon Wynn.

The reality is that Tom Brady is a great football player, sure — but he’s also someone who has been able to repeatedly motivate himself, over and over again, even after enjoying success to the point of excess. He hasn’t rested on his laurels. He’s stayed hungry and stayed in shape and worked hard to get back to the mountaintop, over and over and over again. And while you can certainly say that Tom Brady has played on some great teams over the years, he’s also made the key plays that allowed those teams to come out on top. Last week’s NFC championship game, where Brady threw a perfect, back-breaking touchdown pass with only seconds remaining in the first half, was vintage Brady.

It’s impossible to argue with the proposition that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he’s clearly the greatest winner in NFL history, too. Over the past decade or so, I’ve skipped watching some Super Bowls because it was boring to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots playing every year. But this year, I’ll be watching because of Tom Brady. When you’ve got a chance to watch the greatest player of all time, you’ve got to seize it.

Vaccine Politics

I was watching TV this week and saw two related stories. One featured a truck delivering the first coronavirus vaccines to Ohio, where a masked Governor DeWine took a look at one box being unloaded, as shown in the photo above. The other was a story saying that the NFL was not going to try to cut in line so that its players and coaches would get the vaccine before others do.

The second story seemed weird to me. I’m sure the NFL thought it was being noble by publicly announcing that it was eschewing any effort to jump the queue for vaccinations. But I had the opposite reaction: why in the world would the NFL even entertain the notion of trying to move up the vaccine priority list? The fact that the NFL apparently considered it, and decided not to try, just shows the risk of political games being played with vaccine distribution and administration.

I suppose this should not be surprising to anyone. The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on our society, our culture, our economy, and individual families who have suffered losses of loved ones. Of course people are going to want to get the vaccine so they can put this whole weird chapter of their lives behind them, and the sooner the better. (Unless, of course, they are anti-vaxxers who aren’t going to get vaccinated at all.) But priorities have to be established so that there’s not a mad scramble for inoculation, and that means there’s a chance that people will try to pull rank, call in favors, apply pressure, and move up the list.

The initial priorities are easy: front-line health care workers and the places where COVID-19 has had the greatest impact — such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities — and that’s how Ohio is going to proceed. But the tougher questions come after those obvious initial candidates are identified. I think there should be some consideration of impact and risk in the distribution decisionmaking. People who work in areas of the economy that have been crushed by shutdown orders, like restaurants and the arts, should have the opportunity to get vaccinated before white-collar workers who have been able to safely continue their jobs from home. And people who have existing health care conditions that increase the impact of the coronavirus should be ahead of healthy people.

I’m happy to wait my turn — hey, if the NFL is doing it, so can I — but I’ll be very interested to see how the vaccine rolls out. I’ll be watching to see when the political types get their shots.

Wednesday Afternoon Football

Yesterday — which was a Wednesday, in case you’ve lost track of the days of the week — an NFL football game was played. The game kicked off at about 3:40 in the afternoon, and it was technically an NBC “Sunday Night Football” game that was broadcast with all of the “SNF” logos and announcers.

More solid evidence of the craziness of 2020: a “Sunday Night Football” game played on a Wednesday afternoon.

But it gets better. The game had been rescheduled multiple times due to COVID testing and the NFL’s oft-cited coronavirus “protocols.” (“Protocols” is a pretty deft word choice by the NFL, isn’t it? It makes the rules they’ve come up sound very scientific and technical and officially sanctioned.) And the Ravens ended up playing with a bunch of guys who apparently just joined the team this week. It was reminiscent of the NFL strike year, where your team fielded a bunch of previously unknown players wearing the familiar uniforms. Not surprisingly, it was a pretty sloppy game that the Steelers won.

The NFL is getting increasingly weird as the pandemic drags on. There are no non-cardboard fans in the stands, crowd noise is piped in, and you might just be watching a game where one team has to use a running back or wide receiver as a quarterback because all of the quarterbacks have violated the “protocols.” There’s no certainty about whether games will be played as scheduled, or when they might be rescheduled.

In short, we’ve reached the point where the NFL is kind of like a Las Vegas casino: time and calendar days have no real meaning, and anything might be happening at any moment of the day or night. The NFL’s old mantra about how anything could happen on “any given Sunday” is out the window. From here on out, rescheduled games, featuring unknown players, could be played on any day of the week, and at any hour, in a mad rush to get the season completed. You’ll just have to check your local listings and ESPN app to try to stay on top of things.

Is the quality of the football up to what you would want? Who knows? But you have to step back and admire the weirdness of it all.

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.

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.

Sunday Centennial

The NFL is making a big deal this year about celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Given the momentous occasion, it’s worth pointing out that Columbus played a significant role in the early days of The League.

The NFL started out as the American Professional Football Association, in Canton.  In 1922 it changed its name to the National Football League and moved its headquarters to Columbus.  After several years of the league offices being housed in Columbus homes, the NFL and its Commissioner, the legendary Joe Carr, moved to a proper office building in downtown Columbus, at 18 East Broad Street — an office building I pass by regularly.  In fact, the building is being refurbished, and one of the placeholder signs on the front the building, pictured with this post, commemorates its role in the NFL’s history.  During that Jim Thorpe and Red Grange era, the League struggled financially, with franchises starting up and folding regularly, but it always had a strong Ohio connection.  In 1927, there were NFL teams in Cleveland (the Bulldogs, not the Browns) and Dayton (the Triangles) and other small towns, like Duluth, Frankford, and Pottsville, so having the headquarters in Columbus made sense.  The headquarters remained here until 1941, when they were moved to Chicago.

I suppose if you get to 100 you’ve got to celebrate the occasion, but as I watch some of the promotional materials the NFL has produced I wonder:  is the League going to be around for another 100 years?  With the players growing bigger and faster all the time, and serious injuries becoming more and more the norm — so much so that every year the League rolls out new rules and penalties to try to stem the tide of crippling concussions and devastating hits — how long can the NFL last?  In years to come, a radically different NFL might look back very fondly on its innocent early years, when it found its home in Columbus.

 

Going Pro

Yesterday Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins announced that he will leave college to participate in the 2019 NFL draft.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore, which means he will be giving up two years of college football eligibility in order to turn pro.

web1_Haskins_MVP-1The decision surprised exactly no one.  Haskins was the Ohio State starter for only one season, but in that season he shredded the record books, setting new single-season Ohio State marks for attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns and single-season Big Ten records for passing yards and touchdowns.  He’s easily the best pure passer and pro-style quarterback the Buckeyes have ever had.

He had a remarkable year, and the experts have graded him accordingly.  The NFL Draft Advisory Board, which exists to give college players who are considering leaving school early a sense of where they might go if they stand for the NFL draft, gave Haskins a first-round grade, and he is widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect in the draft and a likely top ten pick.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who follows football.  So why am I writing about Dwayne Haskins going to the NFL?  Because while his decision was predictable, what’s changed has been the reaction to it.  In the past, college football fans used to hold a grudge against players who left early, viewing them as betraying their alma maters to chase the almighty dollar.  Now, there may be some people out there who still hold to that view, but the majority have shifted to a different position.

We see how much money professional athletes can make, we know how that kind of money can be life-changing for the athletes and their families, and we also know that, in a sport as violent as football, you never know whether the next play might inflict a gruesome, career-ending injury.  As a result, for the most part, fans have come to view decisions to turn pro by high-caliber players like Haskins as a rational, reasonable judgments — even though we’d love to see them continue to perform for our favorite college teams.  We get why they don’t want to take a huge risk that they might end up regretting forever.  In short, we’ve reached the last stage of the seven stages of grief and have accepted the way the world now works.

So Godspeed, Dwayne Haskins!  It was fun watching you play football for the Men of the Scarlet and Gray . . . while it lasted.

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!

Cheer Up! You Could Be Hue Jackson

Are you having a bad day?  For that matter, are you having a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, even a bad two years?

hue-jackson-brownsHere’s a thought that should make you feel much, much better — you could be Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson.

Hue’s a guy who came to Cleveland with a pretty good reputation.  Since he’s started coaching the Browns, however, the team has gone 1-32-1.  That’s not a misprint.  He’s won precisely one game, and lost dozens.  And yet, he keeps coaching, and losing.  And to make matters worse, every bad thing that could possibly happen has happened to the guy, and undoubtedly will happen again in the future.  That’s just the way it is.

Today the Browns outplayed the New Orleans Saints on the road, but they lost because their kicker missed two field goals and two extra points.  That’s right — he missed two extra points.  Some NFL kickers go their entire careers without missing two extra points, but the Browns’ kicker somehow found a way to miss two in one game.  It’s so absurd that even ardent Browns fans can only shake their heads in wonderment at the sheer folly and futility of it, and wonder what happened that caused the football gods to cruelly torment the Browns and their fans week after week.

But poor Hue Jackson can’t laugh it off.  He’s got to stand on the sidelines every week as his team finds new ways to lose winnable games, looking resolute in his headset, all the while knowing that when crunch time comes he’s going to get punched in the gut and kneed in the groin by the fates.  Deep down, is Hue Jackson hoping he’s get fired, just to end the onslaught and let him escape the nightmarish horror?

So if you’re feeling down because things are tough, cheer up!  You could be Hue Jackson, the most cursed coach of the NFL.

Not 0-1 — For Once

Yesterday, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a 21-21 tie.  It’s noteworthy, not because ties in the NFL are as rare as hen’s teeth, but because the Browns somehow didn’t find a way to lose.

20180909pdsteelers18-3-1536535019That means that, for the first time in 17 games stretching back to the 2016 season, the Browns didn’t end the game by chalking another one up in the loss column.  It also means that, for the first time in the collective memories of every member of Browns fandom, the Browns won’t be starting the season 0-1.  (For the record, the Browns had lost 13 straight season openers before yesterday.)  And, as anyone who watched the game yesterday saw, the TV commentators repeatedly listed, with an air of wondrous amazement, other ongoing records for futility that the Browns have been setting — like the fact that it has been more than 600 days since the Browns won on a Sunday.  Because we’re talking about a tie game, the non-winning streaks continue, but at least the losing streaks have been snapped.

It was a sloppy, poorly played game that occurred in a rainstorm.  The Browns had a game-winning field goal blocked, were repeatedly penalized at key moments, at times looked like they couldn’t block the Little Sisters of the Poor, and failed to take full advantage of six turnovers by the Steelers — and yet, still, they didn’t lose.  It’s not exactly progress, but at least it’s not more of the same steady diet of outright failure.

They say that a tie is like kissing your sister.  For Browns fans, a kiss — any kiss — is preferable to the normal punch to the face when autumn Sundays roll around.

Crossing The Parrot Line

Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb:  if you feel you need to have a parrot announce something to make it more interesting, the announcement is necessarily so intrinsically boring that even a squawking parrot won’t help.

470ff7460e14467f854bcb5bc442ac98So it is with the NFL draft, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have announced that their fourth-round pick will be delivered by a parrot — a Catalina Macaw named Zsa Zsa, to be precise — from the fake pirate ship in the Buccaneers’ stadium.

It’s just the latest effort to try to jazz up the draft, which is the single most boring televised event in the history of organized sports.  For most of the history of the NFL, the draft wasn’t televised, because the NFL Commissioner and team owners correctly concluded that there was nothing remotely telegenic about it.  They wisely recognized that watching men think about which college player they should select, and watching players fidget while they wonder when they’re going to be picked, falls distinctly into watching-paint-dry territory, and seeing the selections appear on stage to don ball caps, give a grip-and-grin with the Commissioner, and display fake jerseys isn’t really any better.  It’s hopelessly dull stuff.

But when the endless quest for more televised sports activities caused someone to decide that the NFL draft should be on TV, too, the seemingly endless quest for ways to make it more interesting to watch began.  After all, even the most diehard NFL fan, whose entire life revolves around his team, can’t bear to watch uninterrupted hours of a yammering Mel Kiper, Jr. and his curious coiffure.  So gimmicks were developed, like having picks announced by former players or fans, or remote cut-ins of player families reacting to the news that their family member was drafted.  The parrot is only the latest, and most pathetically desperate, cry for attention.  Next thing we know, the Browns’ selections will be announced by a guy dressed up like the Grim Reaper or read by the team’s garbage hauler.  One the Parrot Line is crossed, anything is possible

If somebody asks me on Monday whether I watched this weekend’s NFL draft, I’ll think of the parrot and say:  “No, because I have an actual life.”

The Losers’ Parade

Yesterday about three thousand people attended a parade in Cleveland on one of the coldest days of the year.  The parade was to commemorate the Cleveland Browns’ 0-16 season — only the second time in NFL history that a team has accomplished that dubious record.

The Browns’ players and, no doubt, the team’s inept management were embarrassed by the parade.  One player, Emmanuel Ogbah, tweeted:  “That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true browns fan if you go to that thing! Going 0-16 was embarrassing enough as a player. That is like adding fuel to the fire and it is completely wrong!”  Other players argued that the parade might discourage NFL free agents, or draftees, from wanting to play for the Browns, and that the team shouldn’t want to be known for going 1-31 over the past two seasons.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to play for a team that loses every game, and often found inventive and absurd ways to do so, so I’m sympathetic to the players.  But does having a tongue-in-cheek parade really send a bad message, and does it really discourage players who might be considering the Browns more than, say, the 0-16 season itself, and the obvious disarray in the front office and on the field, and the fact that the head coach for next year has to win 31 consecutive games to even reach a .500 record with the team?  Or does the parade, instead, send the message that notwithstanding years of futility and a horrible product on the field, there is still a solid core of Cleveland Browns backers who will freeze their butts off to try to send a demonstrable message that they still support the team and hope that this awful season marks a turning point?

I’ll be honest — I’ve been a Browns fan for as long as I can remember, but the years of failure and egregious ineptitude have caused me first to lose passion, and then to lose interest.  I tip my cap to those rugged and dedicated fans who still care enough to make a public demonstration of their commitment to the team on a frigid day.  If NFL players won’t come to Cleveland because of a parade, I think that says something about the character of the players, not the quality of the dedicated fans.

 

The Family Curse

The Cleveland Browns lost today . . . again.  The team is now 0-14.  Last year, the Browns were 1-15.  Can it get any worse?  I guess an 0-16 season is worse, so that’s what I’m expecting.

sadbrownsfansBut that’s not what really bothers me.  Frankly, the Browns have been so putrid for so long that it’s impossible for me to get emotionally invested in the efforts of this horribly mismanaged, poorly coached band of losers.  In fact, I don’t even watch the games any more.  When Sundays roll around, I just check my ESPN app to see whether the Browns have lost, and when I confirm that they have turned in another dismal performance, as they did today, I move on.

No, what really bothers me is that I have infected Russell with the scourge of Browns fandom.  Before today’s game, he texted me, with the eternal optimism of youth, that he “had a feeling” about the Browns’ chances against the Ravens.

Of course, he should have recognized the feeling as one of impending doom.

Russell, I am sorry that I infected you with the family curse!

Order Of Importance

To look at the news coverage, you’d think that the decisions of NFL players to take a knee, or sit, or stand at attention, during the playing of the National Anthem is the biggest news story in the world right now.  President Trump had to weigh in on it — of course! — and Facebook and other forms of social media are on fire with discussion of various perspectives on the protests.

jerry-jones-nfl-protestThe reaction to the NFL protests shows the uniquely powerful role of symbols like flags and the National Anthem — which is why they provide a very effective platform for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and have served in that capacity at least since the ’60s, when students protesting the Vietnam War burned the flag and American sprinters raised their fists while the National Anthem played during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics.  If you want to provoke strong reactions and draw attention to your cause, you can hardly do better than taking action that can be interpreted as showing some form of disrespect when the American flag is being displayed or the National Anthem is played.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the coverage of the NFL protests is ridiculously disproportionate. Whether athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to play sports are standing, sitting, or kneeling during the National Anthem doesn’t really measure up on the importance scale with, say, the increasingly aggressive tone of communications about North Korea and the possibility of some kind of confrontation about it.  Nor does it compare to the utter misery and loss that thousands of people are suffering in hurricane-ravaged areas, or for that matter whether the United States is ever going to actually tackle critical big-picture issues, like the ever-present deficit spending that threatens to cast us over the fiscal cliff.

I think the real reason people are paying so much attention to the NFL protests is precisely that it’s small stuff, relatively speaking.  It’s easy to stake out a position on the protests, pro or con, on the social media engine of your choice, and there are lots of juicy side issues to explore — like whether the protests will hurt already declining NFL TV ratings, whether sports in America has become overly politicized, whether athletes will lose lucrative endorsement deals, and whether the focus of the protests has become hopelessly blurred when billionaire owners like Jerry Jones are joining in and taking a knee.  It’s easy to discuss all of those topics — a lot easier than making sense out of the North Korean situation or discussing how America should respond to it.