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Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

sickThis is the time of year where people tend to get sick.  I know.  I get sick at this very time, every year, without fail.  I’m sick of this, what we put up with as fans and observers of Cleveland, but specifically for what’s behind us and ahead for the Browns, the un-deserving recipients of our adoration.  It’s not that I want to spite any individual here; we can’t pin all of this on any one thing, but everything that is Cleveland Browns falls well short of “cutting it”.

Whether it’s worse to be numb to it, used to it, and unbothered by it, or to be as frustrated as you always get when a season goes “thud”, it’s sickening.  Most of us aren’t actually part of it, but we wear it like we’re all on the 53-man, even if we’re wearing it on the couch.  We personalize it, and wonder what we’ve done to deserve this mental anguish for three hours on Sunday as it happens live, then again every hour of our lives that we spend thinking about it.

PhilThis thing is, it isn’t us; it’s them.  Five Head Coaches, five General Managers, and three owners from two different families have overseen this sinking ship.  Not to mention, this 53-man roster has turned over every spot, except one, several times over the last fourteen seasons.  And, though Phil Dawson is the one variable that has been here for every agonizing moment, we wouldn’t think to put any of the burden on him.

Another season is in the books, and once again the Browns failed to reach the number 6 in the win column.  That’s five full seasons of losing at least 11 games, and obviously zero playoff appearances in that half-decade.  That’s three pink slips, and two regimes given exactly 32 games to stock a very bare cupboard.  That’s two wins in ten tries against Pittsburgh, two victories more than the Browns have earned against the Ravens in the same time span.

Five years after finishing 10-6, everything has regressed.  Once again, we are uncertain who the Head Coach and starting quarterback will be the next time our team takes the field, as the ink dries on Week 17 in the record books.  We are filled with uncertainty.  I wouldn’t require any transparency from the new brain-trust in Berea if Browns history offered any recent precedent to believe success was around the corner.  If I rooted for a “real” team, these things wouldn’t make me ill on New Years Eve, but such is life.

thadI’m sick of everything.  How many of us use that statement to describe our assessment of the Browns, and how long have we really felt that way?  Since Day 1, it seems as if every passing moment creates more questions than answers as it pertains to forward movement, dare I say progress, for the Cleveland Browns.

Let’s keep what’s fresh on our minds fresh, so we’ll start at the end, the end of this season, that is.  We’ll work our way back to the big picture, which is really all that’s relevant in the grand scheme of things, even without the presence of Thad Lewis or Brandon Jackson.  For the record, every game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is important as we record new chapters in that once-great rivalry, but there’s a lot more what makes Browns fans nauseous than just those two often-soul-flattening outings a year.

Sunday’s game at Heinz Field provided the Browns an opportunity that’s rarely been presented to them, a chance to earn a season sweep of the Steelers.  They haven’t played the back-end of the Pittsburgh series with a win in their back pocket since their meeting in Cleveland in 2003, a game they lost 13-6.  Say what you will about Pat Shurmur, but didn’t allow the Browns one-time rival to blow them out of the building in any of their four contests during his tenure.

JoshToday, I’d scream about depth.  Josh Johnson is on the field in the fourth quarter because three other quarterbacks couldn’t stay healthy enough to run Pat Shurmur’s offense by Week 17.  Thad Lewis had never played in an NFL game, and he’s your starter against the Steelers?  But, you can’t scream about depth at the quarterback position; they can only take up so many roster spots, but why is it that when a quarterback gets signed in December and has to play before he truly knows the system, it’s always the Browns in that predicament?  I’m sick of losing to Pittsburgh, and I’m tired of being the most beaten and battered team at season’s end.

A bigger predicament is holding on to fans in the age of Fantasy Football, NFL Sunday Ticket, and the internet that brings the stories to the laptops, phones, and tablets of today’s youth.  That means the kids have no obligation to root for the home team, and I think it’s a language that a lot of adults don’t understand.  The Browns I grew up with were my only option; I could see up close at their Lakeland Community College Training Camp, Nev Chandler reported on them for the six o’clock news, and my News-Herald wasn’t on the beat for any other NFL team.

I hear Grossi on WKNR, talking about how the younger fans don’t have anything to hang on to with these Browns, and they’re just doing the Browns fan thing to honor their fathers and grandfathers.  Not me, I am on the Browns now because I was on the Browns as a child.  Maybe things would be different if I didn’t get Bernie and the Dawg Pound, but I remember enjoying the games enough that I never considered an out-of-market alternative.

Back then, it was all that I needed, but I don’t know that it would still be the case if my first Browns Experience was any part of this Lerner Family reboot.  I don’t play Fantasy Football, but with the various pools out there, I’ve found reason to take interest in non-Browns games.  Sometimes, some of these other teams make me wonder if I’m actually watching the same sport the Browns play.  I’m sick of not having anything special to root for and I’m tired of the Browns being a usual suspect for the week’s most boring game.

Isn’t it amazing what great fans we have?  We are the best fans in all of sports because our team sucks and we keep coming back for more.  It doesn’t make us great fans, it makes us suckers; that’s the truth.  Being once-bitten by the relocation bug, we have no recourse.  We have to show up and sell out to support whatever product we end up with on Sunday, or they’ll take them away from us again.  The truth is we can’t be a good enough fan base to take a stand because we remember how Baltimore did the unthinkable, and those folks down by the harbor that bribed Modell to uproot our heart and soul were mere guppies, compared to the sharks in Los Angeles that want to fill the NFL void there. 

HadenSince we simply do not have the luxury of pointing to the scoreboard, or leaving games knowing that it reads in our favor, we seek alternative ways of being the “best fans”.  Outsiders would recognize such behavior as obnoxious.  It usually involves the words “altercations” or “disorderly”, and ends in the courtroom or worse—in the media.  I’m sick of seeing my fellow fans extorted by the threat of another move, and I’m tired of making any false claims about our fans because my team validates nothing in any argument ever.

What will end the annual feeling of infinite sadness that comes with watching the seconds tick away on another Browns season is ultimately about winning the games.  For that, we need a well-oiled machine that includes good players at every position and serviceable depth.  By week 4, the Browns were without both of their veteran outside linebackers for the year, and we were anxiously awaiting the return of a 4th-round rookie from Nevada.  By the team’s tenth game of the year, they had Buster Skrine, Treven Wade, Tashaun Gipson, and Johnson Bademosi in the secondary, matching up with the best receivers Jerry Jones money could buy in Dallas.

On the offensive side of the ball, the season seemed like a season of learning, which we level-headed folk can deal with, but the one constant, and a solid building-block for the future is the offensive line, which was dealt a blow when it lost Jason Pinkston early in the year.  Pinkston is actually one of the rare success stories for the Browns, a 5th round project thrown into the fire as a rookie in 2011, but a piece they depended on to play right Guard in 2012.  Blood clots caused him to miss the majority of the year, and the position became a bit of a black hole with John Greco assuming the weak link role until he went down against Pittsburgh, and we replaced by rookie Ryan Miller.  Miller demonstrated the art of the Ole’ blocking method, causing the fourth option the Browns had at QB in 2012 into action.  I’m sick of every single injury exposing the Browns as a team that lacks talent and I’m tired of being reminded that they lack talent even before the injuries pile up.

benardSince there isn’t a lot of talent to be found, we find ourselves thinking higher of more marginal players because they’re our own.  We tend to tell everyone to be patient with the players of Marcus Benard or Alex hall; throw Coye Francies in that group too, and it isn’t because they’re good.  It’s because we want to tell everyone we have talent all over the place, but the truth is the talent exists mostly from players that are drafted highly because the Browns are always bad enough to have high picks.  Fans desperately want this trend broken, endlessly rooting for Carlton Mitchell, Peyton Hillis, Evan Moore, or Chris Ogbonnaya to be the answer.

We want Josh Cooper to be better.  We want Kaluka Maiava to be an impact player.  I, myself have had two long conversations about Craig Robertson and LJ Fort in the last two weeks.  I want to believe that Brandon Weeden’s big arm can be translated into a quarterback that’s actually better than his rookie-year statistics.  I watch Adrian Peterson in a real football game, amazing by the way, and I start reminiscing about the pre-draft talk about how Trent Richardson is similar, and that’s why you draft him high.  I see Mitchell Schwartz as a guy that better be good enough as a bookend on the offensive line opposite Joe Thomas, that’s good enough to justify not addressing concerns at Wide Receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Speaking of Wide Receivers taken in the draft, I see Travis Benjamin as chip that justifies giving Josh Cribbs his walking papers.

Why do we think about Cribbs and Schwartz?  Because they are “our guys”, guys we think go unnoticed by the rest of the league because Cleveland gets no love, but the truth is that I don’t know who returns punts in Denver, or who plays Right Tackle for Green Bay.  They probably do a good job, but I’m too focused on the fact that those teams have players at the positions that matter.  They have Von Miller and Jordy Nelson; the Browns don’t have players of that caliber, not at the postions that matter.  I'm sick of not having any impact players, and I'm tired of identifying everyone that the Browns missed to fill said role.

Weeds RichTake the positions that matter on offense, quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.  Let’s say that Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, and Josh Gordon are the best players that the Browns offer at their “Big 3” spots.  Now, look at the 12 playoff teams, and keep in mind that I’m cherry picking three names to leave depth out of the conversation.  Now, pick a Big 3 from each of the 12, and ask yourself if Weeden, Richardson, or Gordon would stand a remote chance of unseeding any of them.  I’m made to be sick by the reality of this comparison, and it is tiring to accept the reality of just how far the Browns are beneath the curve, even with the obvious upgrades the roster has seen in the last two years.

Five wins, eleven losses.  It isn’t acceptable, and if you ignore how much they were set up to fail as an expansion team in 1999, the math adds up the most properly when you consider their Head Coach-Quarterback combination.  It wins Super Bowls.  It wins playoff games, and I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between regular season winners and losers based on the caliber of said combination.  Sometimes, once can carry the other, but more often than not, the weaker link will pull the stronger force down.

When it’s Belichick-Brady, I think it’s mutually cohesive.  Norv Turner brings Phillip Rivers down a bit, while Tom Coughlin keep Eli on the straight and narrow and his brother does a bit to carry John Fox.  Shurmur and Weeden is a dumpster fire, but Mangini and Quinn or McCoy wasn’t exactly brilliant.  We have to figure Shurmur is not a part of the future, which puts the concept of the future into a state of doubt, but the door is open for Weeden to remain part of it.  Can any Head Coach get enough out of Weeden for us to forget 2012?

Is there a Head Coach that could pick this Browns team up in the middle of the process?  For that matter, is there anything worth salvaging in the first place?  Is there a candidate that’s up for the task, legitimately up for it, I mean?  Even if all other things were equal, which they’re not, if the Browns had only these two questions to answer, they have their hands full.

  1. Who coaches the team?
  2. Who plays quarterback?

If those are the only two questions, the Browns have more questions than answers.  It’s just business as usual for the Browns, and that’s what makes me the most sick about any of it.

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