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.

Bengals Failure, Browns Failure

Last night the Cincinnati Bengals gave away a game they basically had won.  After looking lost and overmatched for most of the contest, the team had fought back to take the lead against Pittsburgh, but a fumble and then two inexcusable penalties put the Steelers into position to kick the winning field goal.

This is an old story for the Bengals.  For five straight years, and six years out of seven, they have put together lots of talent, done well in the regular season, and then laid an egg in the playoffs.  The final score of last night’s loss was closer than some of them in that string of failure, but the result was the familiar one:  when the chips were down, the Bengals somehow found a way to lose.

635879849966702883-010916-steelers-bengals-ke-2132-1Cincinnati’s loss and running record of post-season collapse inevitably makes me think of Cleveland — because when you think of losing, you think of the Browns.  And I wonder, which is worse:  an organization so wildly inept that they have become an irrelevancy, or a team that has success in the regular season only to lose, again and again and again, in the playoffs?  Would you rather have your team be a running joke for its absolute incompetence, or the object of scorn because it inevitably chokes in the playoffs?

If I had to choose, as a fan, I would go for the chokers rather than the bungling failures, because fans of the chokers could at least enjoy the regular season and dream of the day when their talented team finally makes it to the playoff mountaintop.  But being fans of the chokers isn’t easy, either.  (As an Ohio State fan who barely survived the Cooper era, I know this deep in my bones.)  Each year you let yourself be convinced that this year’s team is different, and this is the year that the team will take that next step — and then you have your heart ripped out by turnovers and ridiculous penalties and find yourself once again knocked out in week one.

One last point:  last night’s game is an example of how the NFL has become almost unwatchable.  It was a dirty, penalty-filled affair between two teams that obviously hate each other’s guts and didn’t have the discipline to avoid the cheap shots.  The key penalty that let the Steelers get into field goal range was an unforgivable head shot against a defenseless receiver that is a poster child example of why the NFL has a colossal concussion problem.  NFL players are big and fast and amazing athletes, but the thuggish behavior is indefensible and just has to stop — it is ruining the game.

The Pleasures Of Kicking Some Steeler Ass

It’s pretty crass to use “ass” in a blog post headline.  I admit it.  But when your team has a record of utter futility against a divisional opponent and arch-rival — to the point that the opposing quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has an 18-1 record against you — we Browns fans feel like we can be forgiven a little crassness.

I watched the game with family and friends at a bar called Yogi’s over in Hilliard, and the prevailing sense among Browns fans in the bar was that of . . . disbelief.  Complete, utter, disbelief.  Was that really our Browns out there, beating the Steelers like a drum and making big play after big play on offense and defense?  Were the Browns really winning a game handily for a change, rather than forcing us to endure another nail-biter finish?

Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, the fans have been looking for something that might cause them to think that the franchise has turned the corner.  There have been false alarms before — so many that one win isn’t going to convince me of anything.  Still, it’s nice to beat up on the Steelers and to see this Browns team play a complete game.  Now let’s hope that this team can keep it up and string together a few wins so that Browns fans actually have something to care about as this season progresses.  Go Browns!

The Appalling Cruelty Of It All

I watched the first half of the Browns game today, and they sucked — thoroughly and completely.  With the score 27-3 in favor of the hated Steelers, the cause was hopeless.  Rather than waste the day watching a disaster, ranting incoherently at the TV set, I decided to do something else.  So, Kish and I ran an errand.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  I got a tantalizing text from Russell about how the Browns coaching staff had done some good work at halftime.  Hmmm.  Could the Browns at least be making a credible showing in the second half?  We were on the road, so I turned on the radio, and heard that the Browns had closed the gap to 27-17.  We ran our errand, and when I came out the score was 27-20.  Then, as we pulled in to the driveway, the Browns tied it at 27, and Russell sent another text:  “You watching this?”

And that was the decision point, right there.  Watch, and hope?  Or don’t watch, fearing that I would jinx the comeback?  I mentally flipped a coin and decided to watch.  Of course I did!  The evil demons of sports knew I would.  They knew I would invest my soul in hoping for a win, and the chances for tormenting me would be virtually endless.  So once I sat in the chair, the Browns offense basically ground to a halt, and things started to go wrong.  A missed assignment on a fake punt.  A chance to down the ball on the 1 that was muffed.  A last series that saw the Browns lose yards and hand the Steelers great field position.  And then, inevitably, some completions and a game-winning field goal for the Steelers as time ran out, and a final, parting shot of a grinning Ben Roethlisberger.

What could be more cruel?  I wouldn’t have felt more violated if I’d been kicked in the crotch by an angry dwarf.  So, after vowing that I wouldn’t lose my temper, with my insides scourged once again by the results of a game, I raged and cursed and frightened the dogs.  And the demons smiled, knowing that they had done a good day’s work . . . again.

Who Do I Hate The Most?

Surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns won’t be competing in the NFL playoffs this year.  Instead, the other three teams in the Browns’ division — the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — will be vying for the coveted division title and playoff spots.  These three teams are division rivals we play twice a year, so we hate all of them.  But a legitimate question for Browns fans is:  which of these teams do I hate the most?  For me, the answer is easy.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn2.sbnation.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/331699/128804917_standard_1349004141_352.jpgIt’s not the Bengals.  Sure, the upstart Cincinnati team shares the same state and stole the Browns’ colors when the Bengals franchise starts more than 40 years ago, but to be honest the Bengals really aren’t worthy of being despised.  For much of their history, the Bengals have been even more inept than the Browns, and that’s saying something.  Sure, the Bengals have been to two Super Bowls and the Browns have never been to even one (sob!), but the Bengals always come across as pass-happy, gimmicky glory boys rather than tough guys willing to slug it out in the AFC’s most rugged division.  The fact that the Bengals fans consist largely of front-runners who don’t bother with going to games when the team stinks makes the Bengals more worthy of contempt than hatred.

It’s not the Steelers, either.  You’d think Browns fans would hate the Steelers with every fiber of their being, given the Steelers’ many Super Bowl wins.  Many Browns fans give the pretense of hating the Steelers — but scratch that outward enmity and underneath you’re likely to find a deep reservoir of grudging respect.  It’s hard to hate those whom you’d like to emulate.  Browns fans want the Browns to be the Steelers, because in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s the Browns were the Steelers — they were the stable franchise, well managed and thoughtfully run, that found great players, ran a great scheme, and regularly appeared in championship games and brought banners back to Municipal Stadium.  The Steelers stole that mantle in the ’70s and have kept it since, and the Browns fans want it back.  In the meantime, we’ll secretly root for the Steelers because we all feel that they play football the way it should be played.

http://www.trbimg.com/img-50805de6/turbine/la-sp-sn-baltimore-ravens-ray-lewis-20121018-001/600That leaves the Ravens, and they are truly the team that I hate the most.  I hate them because, of course, they used to be the Browns, before the despicable Art Modell took the team away from the city and the fans that loved it — all for the sake of money.  I hate them because their new name sucks, they’ve had success in Baltimore, and they’ve won a Super Bowl that should rightfully have been Cleveland’s.  I hate their loudmouth, show-boating players who mug for the cameras and have forsaken the quiet classiness that used to define professional athletes.  The Ravens’ consistent winning ways confirms that no benevolent, sports-loving deity intervenes in games to reward goodness or promote fairness; instead, only capricious and mean-spirited gods could possibly favor the awful Ravens.  I despise the Ravens, and I rail at the fates that conspire to put them in the playoffs year after year, while the Browns wallow in seasons of embarrassment, failure, and futility.

Savoring Stadium Mustard — And A Browns Win

Stadium mustard is the best mustard there is — thick and and brown and spicy, with a nice little kick — and it tastes even better in a stadium.  Today, Russell and I were up in ice-cold Cleveland Browns Stadium to watch the Browns take on the Steelers, and we had to get some stadium dogs and some crinkle cut fries.  The $9.50 price tag put a dent in the wallet, but we were there to root on the Brownies and you just have to eat a dog before you can root for the Dawgs.

As good as the Stadium mustard was, the game itself was even better.  The Browns beat the Steelers for the first time since 2009 and one of the few times since Cleveland came back into the NFL in 1999.  It was a tough, hard-hitting game in which the Browns forced 8 turnovers, the rhythm of the game was destroyed by constant penalties, and the Browns offense was unable to put the game away despite repeated opportunities.  Still, a win is a win is a win, and lately any win over the Steelers is a win worth savoring — with a little mustard, of course.

The Season Limps To A Close

The Browns play their final game of the year on Sunday.  It will be a home matchup against their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The game means everything to the Steelers, who are fighting to win the division and get a first-round bye.  For the Browns, the game is all about pride and rivalry, as the Browns have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks.

This game should be a mismatch.  The Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL.  Their defense is terrific — the best in the NFL against the run — and their offense is balanced and productive.  They are a seasoned team that routinely makes the playoffs, and this game is important to their Super Bowl prospects.  The Browns, on the other hand, seem to have hit the wall both offensively and defensively.  Offensively, the Browns struggle to score points; they have not reached 20 points in the last four games.  Last week, the Ravens shut down Peyton Hillis and the Browns’ running game and picked off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy three times.  The Steelers can also be expected to focus on stuffing the run and harassing McCoy.  Defensively, the Browns seem to be getting worn down.  The Ravens and the Bengals both moved the ball on the ground against the Browns, and the Steelers will try to do the same with Rashard Mendenhall, one of the best backs in the league.  The Steelers, moreover, will bring Ben Roethlisberger and a better passing game, too.

It is disheartening for Browns fans to see another season grind to a close without a playoff berth, but the players and, in particular, head coach Eric Mangini and his staff cannot afford to be disheartened.  They are fighting for their jobs and coming to an end of a season that has seen some progress.  It would be nice to see the Browns’ final record come in at 6-10, rather than duplicating last year’s 5-11 mark.  And, of course, it would be sweet to see the Browns beat the Steelers and throw a wrench into their playoff plans.  Rivalries aren’t really rivalries if the underdog doesn’t rise up and win once in a while.  Now would be a good time for the Browns to do so.