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Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

GarrettThey really don’t have a lot in common; you could say that they are just birds of a different feather.  Both of these professional football teams could be defined as inadequate, provided you understand that it’s a relative term.  Maybe disappointing is the word, because you would expect more.  They play the same sport, and they even play in the same league of the National Football sort, but you’d never really say that the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns are in the same “ballpark”.

However, in a phenomenon where “it can’t get any worse” meets “almost there”, the Browns and Cowboys will co-exist in Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.  Some call it the Jerry Dome, but it will really be more of a Dysfunction Junction this weekend.  On the surface, I couldn’t think of a bad football team that has less in common with the Browns than the so-called America’s Team, but I can’t shake how similar the two can be.  Between the maniacal fans, an on-going question-mark with the Head Coaching position, front office concerns, and, most importantly, unfavorable results on the field, the NFL chapters in Cleveland and Dallas are two peas in a pod.

Of course, the Cowboys sit in a much more fascinating part of said pod, where they get to be media darlings and a national bandwagon favorite.  They get Daryl Johnston and Troy Aikman doing color commentary on their games, or keeping them in the conversation when they’re doing color on other games.  They have played in, and won, Super Bowls, but not since January 28, 1996; former Cowboys players speak of these Super Bowls in the same context that they speak of something that happened last Thursday.  Whether they’re in first or fourth place, they are always a go-to for the talking heads on syndicated radio and television.

AikmanOutside of Cleveland, the subject of the Cleveland Browns exists in conversation only as an object of ridicule or part of an anecdote that’s really unrelated to the Browns on the whole.  When the schedule is made, the Browns get their token Thursday Night game, but the prime time slots on Sunday and Monday night have been off the table for some time now.  The Browns don’t have much of a presence in the media; Gary Danielson calls college football games and forgets that Bernie Kosar won a National Championship at Miami, and Trent Dilfer used his platform at ESPN to broadcast just how dysfunctional things were in Berea during his brief stint with the Browns.  As far as the Browns actual games are concerned, they are usually but a blip on maps, and feature the renowned voices of Spero Dedes or Ian Eagle.

Now, I admit that the Cowboys are a little bit easier to watch, as long you aren’t rooting for them.  It’s true; the Browns tend to play some games that are just miserable to watch, even if you aren’t rooting for them.  Every team in the NFC East considers the Cowboys to be a rival of some sort, and you can throw the Arizona Cardinals in that group too, though the latter of the bunch certainly doesn’t reciprocate.  I doubt anyone considers the Browns to be among their chief rivals, not even the Steelers, and that’s probably the most depressing aspect of this whole miserable reboot.

The question was posed to me this week, whether Pat Shurmur and (Cowboys Head Coach) Jason Garrett were coaching doppelgangers, and my first thought was, “no way”.  Garrett played for the Cowboys and came up through their coaching ranks before being named their full-fledged Head Coach in 2011.  Pat Shurmur was hired by his uncle’s best friend out of left field after a few somewhat uninspired seasons with the Eagles and Rams.  Garrett won 8 games in 2011; it’s possible that Shurmur won’t win that many in two seasons with the Browns.  Before being named the interim Head Coach when Wade Phillips was dismissed in 2010, Garrett was considered as the head honcho in Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit, Denver, and St. Louis.  When the Rams found out the Browns were considering Pat Shurmur before the 2011 season, they may have wondered if Mike Holmgren was considering another guy named Pat Shurmur.

Shurm HaslamWith both coaches, there have been issues with clock management, coincidentally benefiting the Baltimore Ravens in both cases.  For Shurmur, you only have to go back to his latest game.  For Garrett, it was a brain fart on October 14th against the Ravens.  Unfortunately, these weren’t first offenses for either young Head Coach.  There are also doubts about who might be driving the bus when the offense is on the field.  Both Garrett and Shurmur claim to have autonomy over the play-calling, but there is some sort of breakdown between a suggestion from Bill Callahan or Brad Childress upstairs and what the Head Coach relays to his quarterback.

This decade of dysfunction for these storied NFL franchises carries blame much heavier than the current Head Coaches can be expected to shoulder.  Believe me; we’re being kind limiting this conversation to a decade.  The Browns last post-season victory came on New Years Day in 1995.  For Dallas, it was December of 1996 before they ended a 13-year drought in 2009.

It’s well-documented, and it’s been discussed on this site ad nausea, that the Browns reboot has reached a level of inept that cannot be properly defined by any word Meriam or Webster even knows.  From the bad luck with head coaches to the inexcusable draft mistakes to the enigma that is the quarterback position, the Browns find new answers to the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” every time they’re in the news.  Nobody seems to comprehend a way to stop the bleeding in these parts, and we don’t seem to know how to find someone who has the answers.

Alfred Lerner trusted Carmen Policy, and then Butch Davis to run the show.  When Lerner passed away, and Butch walked away, Randy Lerner decided to let the show run itself until some fans told him that he couldn’t do that.  So, he trusted Mike Holmgren, and Holmgren didn’t do well with that responsibility. 

RomoThe issues in Dallas are the same, but different.  Things are bad, but they’re just “pretend bad”.  At least, that’s the way I see it as a groundling that roots for the Browns, a fan who has lowered his expectations to “please win a game this year”.  The Cowboys expect to win the Super Bowl as a team, and expect Tony Romo to win the MVP every single year.  I don’t know if that’s really true, but it’s certainly the vibe you get from talking to a Cowboys fan, and it is the image of the Dallas Cowboys brand that Jerry Jones wants be potrayed.

Jones made waves when he purchased the Cowboys over twenty years ago by firing Tom Landry and bringing in Jimmy Johnson, his guy.  He hit a real home run with the University of Miami (Florida) Head Coach.  Johnson was able to build the team from the ground up, and he became the most successful, if not the only successful man to make the jumps from NCAA glory to Super Bowl glory.

Jerry Jones never hired anyone else to push buttons on behalf of the Dallas Cowboys.  He’s attempted to do it on his own, with tragic results.  Since winning his third Super Bowl in 1995, the Cowboys are 2-7 in the post-season.  Barry Switzer won that Super Bowl, but was gone after a 6-10 season in 1997.  Since then, Jones has tried out Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and now Garrett.

His drafts have been spotty, but not terrible of late.  Since 2002, he’s missed with Roy Williams, Terrance Newman, Julius Jones, and Bobby Carpenter in the first round, but he’s also hit on Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware, and (maybe) Dez Bryant.  You could also credit him with finding a quarterback, the good Tony Romo.  Unfortunately, appearances from the Evil Tony Romo are also commonplace.  He’s 51-35 as a starter, but just 13-18 since 2010.  We live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world, and Cowboys fans tend to have short memories.  That means problems in North Texas.

Romo losesIt’s okay if you aren’t sympathetic to the poor Cowboys and their pitiful four playoff appearances since the Browns were reincarnated in 1999.  The Browns still haven’t found a way to steal a victory from them in two tries since 1994, and we can’t laugh at their lone playoff win since 1996 because our beloved Browns have thrown up a Blutarsky in the post-season win department in that span.

The truth is that we’d kill for our Browns to be 4-5 (the Cowboys current record) right now.  I believe that a lot of us feel we could be there with this team, if they had a half-way decent coach.  I believe that Jason Garrett is half-way decent, which is sub-par by Cowboys standards, as it should be.  After that, I’m not sure how much more I’d want, given the opportunity to do some shopping off of the Cowboys roster.

With Romo, there’s some certainty at the quarterback position that doesn’t and probably hasn’t existed in Cleveland for many years.  Yes, I want stability at the quarterback position, the Browns desperately need it, but I don’t think I’d be content settling for Romo, who Jerry Jones seems to think is a Hall-of-Famer.  There’s no guarantee of anything with Brandon Weeden, but he seems like a good baseline; it’s either him or the promise of an upgrade at the position via the draft.  Advantage: Browns.

JonesObviously, if I could cherry-pick, I’d love to have a dominant go-to Tight End like Jason Witten or a few game-changing pass-rushers like Spencer and Ware.  Who wouldn’t?  I could envy their receiver situation with Miles Austin and Bryant, but I won’t.  What does Dallas have to show for it, a winning season three years ago that included a divisional round exit?  I admit that they were strong out of the gate this year; even I believed there was something real about them after dismissing the defending champs in New Jersey on Opening Night, but what’s special about them since?

Congrats on defeating Tampa Bay, Carolina, and a free-falling Eagles team; I’m honestly not sure if the Browns would go 3-0 or 0-3 against those teams.  But, the Cowboys are an unmitigated disaster right now.  I know, I know; I’m the one who supports the most lame of the lame duck coaches that have ever lame-duck coached a team, but Jason Garrett may just beat Shurmur to the unemployment line.

The Cowboys, in the present tense, are simply a glorified brand.  They carry high expectations based on a rich modern history that is becoming less modern by the minute.  As far as I’m concerned they are like the newer Star Wars Trilogy; perhaps visually stimulating at times, but they leave something to be desired.

Beware of Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, it promises to be Ground Zero for two disappointing football teams with dysfunctional leadership, but there’s a really big TV to distract you from the terrible live action below it.

Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will have the Cowboys call for CBS; I’ll see you Sunday at Dysfunction Junction.

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