The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Browns Browns Archive A Cleveland Horror Story
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Cleveland Browns Horror StoryWe had a preview of something to look forward to.  Then things got exciting and intense, which was immediately followed by scary.  Ultimately, it was just sad and painful to watch.  So, went the life and death of the Peyton Hillis era in Cleveland.  By the time it had ended, we didn't even care; we were just completely disinterested and ready for it to be over.  Then, it just kind of happened.  Off to Kansas City he goes, it’s Romeo Crennel’s problem now.  He's gone, but not completely forgotten; we'll always have our video game cover.

The Peyton Hillis era is done, even as his Madden ’12 poster hangs on the wall in my home office, I’m left to wonder if there was anything worth being excited about in the first place.  He came on the scene so quickly, like a fad of sorts, and we were so blinded by what was happening that we missed the signs.  I don’t what the signs were, but they had to have been there.  I’m not above being blinded like the rest.  It was the 2010 pre-season, which began just weeks after Jim Gray made his cameo on ESPN as a softball pitcher, and Cleveland was in the midst of another miserable season from the Indians.

Now, Hillis didn't put on a Browns uniform and transform into Jim Brown that August, but he did look good from the get-go.  While not impressive on the ground, he pulled in three catches for 34 yards in his Browns debut against Green Bay, and you could help but think that you were looking at the next Tom Rathman.  I don’t think anyone was thinking “featured back” at that point, but he looked like a nice little complimentary piece in Brian Daboll’s offense.  He followed it up with an impressive outing that saw him gain 51 yards on 12 carries in a loss to the Rams, and that’s when people started to notice that #40 is a player.  The hype gained a lot of momentum when he racked up 66 yards on eleven touches against Detroit in the “important” third game of the exhibition season.  With Hillis, the Browns fans saw a solid reason to watch the 2010 chapter of their beloved losers.

Similar hype surrounded the FX Network’s An American Horror Story, from the people who brought you Glee, and I’m not sure that’s a great tagline for the demographic you want for a suspenseful show.  I mean, who wants the silly unrealistic soap opera type of drama in their horror stories?  Hillis ran the ball fairly well as a rookie in Mike Shannahan’s offense in 2009, but everyone ran the ball well in Denver; it’s one of those things that just happen.  He struggled under the charge of Josh McDaniels, amid rumors of a personal riff between the head coach from Northeast Ohio and the kid from Arkansas.  Of course, those rumors weren't a big deal in Cleveland, not in year one, not in a year where it seemed the Browns had its first 1,000 yard rusher with 500 receiving yards in Cleveland Browns history.

HillisWe didn’t wonder about the low price tag, Brady Quinn for Hillis and a 6th round draft pick.  When Cleveland catches a break, you don’t question it, you just enjoy it.  That sentiment was on the table as I saw more and more about American Horror Story; the guy from The Practice, Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend from Spin City, and a big scary house where effed-up things happen; it didn't necessarily sound the like the formula for success, but it seemed like it was working at first.  Like most NFL fans, specifically those poor souls who aren't interested by the Cleveland Browns, weren't watching Hillis from Day 1, Horror Story wasn't appointment viewing, but it did find its way on to the DVR.  And that says more about Yours Truly than it does about the show.

In the age of the serial drama, especially with the advent of the DVR, I find myself bundling episodes, in order to let a story flow without that week-long interruption of life getting in the way.  I don’t have a need to do that with the Browns because plenty of plot points develop in Berea in that time between Sundays.  In the beginning, I only lived Horror Story through its previews on other FX shows, most notably Sons of Anarchy and the Gus Johnson College Football Extravaganza.  It was also receiving quite a bit of acclaim from my Facebook friends, but it’s important to know that none of them critique television shows professionally.  I finally caved and watched the show.

TwinsThings started off well.  We had creepy twins, a la The Shining, going into the big scary looking house, despite being warned that they were going to die in there.  We also had our main character philandering, and getting caught by his emotionally fragile wife, who my father recognizes as the coach’s wife from Friday Night Lights, the TV show, though she also plays the coach’s wife in the movie version.  Now, the two minute glimpse of the creepy twins life we were privy to demonstrated that they were assholes, so it wasn't so upsetting when they did, indeed, die in that house.  The family that moves into the house is moving from Boston to run from their problems and there is nothing like the California sun and a Murder House to solve those problems.  The guy from The Practice turned out to be a shrink named Ben who saw patients in his home, and his first patient was a sadistic teenager named Tate, who has a thing for the doc’s rebellious daughter.  Everyone is creepy and there’s no emotional attachment to be had with any single character, not the creepy old maid that Ben sees as a young seductive harlot and not the realtor who seems to know more than she cares to disclose.

In an almost equally inspiring debut, Peyton Hillis runs for 41 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries, while splitting carries with Jerome Harrison, in a loss at Tampa Bay to open the 2010 season.  He’d add a touchdown in a loss to Kansas City in Week 2 while Harrison got the lion’s share of the carries, but his breakthrough performance came in Week 3.  He accumulated 200 yards of total offense, 144 of them on the ground, and found the end zone once again as the Browns fell to 0-3 with a 24-17 loss to the hated Ravens.  The team was 0-3 because of some defensive breakdowns and borderline comedy with the quarterback situation, but Peyton Hillis gave Browns fans something to get excited about.

Horror Story stayed interesting for a few weeks; we learned more tales of the house that is known in the neighborhood and by tourists alike as “Murder House” for its murderous history.  We get a run-in with some copy cat killers, who unsuccessfully tried to re-create a crime from the 1968 slaying of the house’s residents, and make our sadistic Tate into a hero.  The back story behind the maid and the next door neighbor is revealed, viewers are introduced to the gay couple who previously occupied Murder House, and the two part Halloween episode provided all kinds of twists and turns while bringing new plot points to the table, including a glimpse into Tate’s past.  Halloween is to the horror genre what beating Bill Belichick’s Patriots is to Browns fans, a joyous occasion.

Hillis and BelichickThough the Browns struggled, like usual, in 2010, there were some bright spots.  Hillis’s numbers did suffer from the quarterback situation, especially after putting up back-to-back 100+ yard performances against AFC North rivals, but a third string rookie quarterback came out of the gate well enough after injuries to the #1 and #2 to keep defenses honest against the run.  His performance of the season came in an emotional win over the 34-14 rout of Belichick’s Patriots, which meant the world to his head coach Eric Mangini.  He had been held to under 70 yards in each of the previous three games, so in bouncing back here, Hillis established himself as more than just a flash in the pan.  He finished the season just 23 receiving yards short of the 1,000/500 rushing/receiving plateau that no Cleveland Brown has ever reached, but 1,177 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns was enough to have everyone looking forward to Season Two, or a second first year in Holmgren-speak, of Peyton Hillis in Cleveland.

Horror Story didn't finish Season One off in such a promising way.  After the Halloween episode, things just spiraled downhill, and you wondered if you were watching the same show.  It was as if the creators decided to ride the momentum of the thrilling start, and put things in cruise control to focus on Glee, but I’m told that show has taken a turn for the worst as well.  After getting teased with Tate’s incident on Halloween, we see the Columbine-esque truth to the end of Tate’s life in 1994, and it ended up being a pop culture talking point in the aftermath of our tragedy in Chardon, Ohio last month.  Though, it’s not a fun topic given the current situation as we mourn those victims, it made for good theater at the time, but it was the beginning of the melodrama that ruined the show for me.

AHSNot connecting with the characters was one thing, but losing interest as a viewer so quickly, that’s a problem.  Between the gay couple’s post-mortem bickering, Tate’s influence on everything, the girl on the side haunting the head doctor, and the “way-too-many” former residents of Murder House coming to the forefront, our American Horror Story had become a paranormal Days of Our Lives.  After cramming so much unnecessary of the gratuitous theatricals into the season, things seemed rushed and over-done towards the end.  I wondered if I had been watching this show week-to-week, would I notice it falling apart so quickly, or would the gradual disappointment be different.  The season finale was not part of the marathon, and to tell you where I honestly was with this show, it sat on the DVR for a week or two before I watched it, going against my wife’s advice and wasting 44 good minutes of my life.  We heard there would be a Season Two of American Horror Story, and are left to wonder why they would bother.

Season Two is destined to suck, but that wasn't how it was supposed to be for Hillis and the Browns going forward with an offensive minded head coach.  I mean, this guy was on the cover of Madden, which made him a lot more than just a local celebrity.  He was someone for Cleveland to embrace after Zydrunas Ilgauskas followed another former Cavalier to Dade County, Florida.  The Browns had shored up their defense in the draft, had an easy schedule, the Texas version of a Kosar-like phenom at QB, and they were going to lean heavily on their Mega Star to take them places in 2011.  And, early in the season, things were going to plan.  Hillis’s contract negotiations were a point of contention, but everyone was confident that it would get done.

Hillis sidelineIf not for the defensive coaching faux pas, or whatever you want to call it, in Week 1, the Browns could have come out of the gate at 3-0.  Of course, a loss is a loss, and they were 2-1.  Hillis had just 87 yards of total offense in the opening week, but the Browns offense found their groove in the passing game and played well enough to win that game.  Things seemed back to normal in Indianapolis a week later, where he ran for 94 yards and 2 scores in a convincing win.  Some took that as evidence that there is nothing to the Madden Curse. The Browns found a way to win against the Dolphins at home in Week 3, but no thanks to Hillis.  Now, they did win the game, but questions started coming up about why Hillis didn't play.

We were told he had strep throat, and was sent home.  Of course, Michael Jordan played a historic NBA Finals game with the flu, and you could see how ill he was, but can we really put any other athlete on the same plane as Michael Jordan?  However, weeks after the game, a game that was a “W” in the standings, we discovered that his agent advised him not to play.  That would have been the same agent that was stone-walling the Browns brass with contract negotiations, and Hillis went along with the plan.  So, was he sick or not?  Malingering is a serious charge, even for people that just make 5 figures annually.  If SportsTime Ohio catches Bob from Accounting catching a foul ball on Opening Day after calling in sick, it might be curtains for Bob.  Hillis made $555,000 last year; he needs to show up for work.

The drama only got worse, and the rhapsody of Peyton Hillis wore my patience thin.  He was ducking personal appearances with children, no-showing radio interviews, demonstrating poor tip etiquette, and most importantly not performing up to his 2010 standard or the money he thought he deserved.  He had an nagging ankle injury that he kept him out of a few games, in addition to the strep throat game, but was magically cured after a few impressive performances from Chris Ogbannaya threatened his starting status.  Basically, he went from being a hero to a jerk in the course of a season.  It’s enough to make Browns fans stop playing video games.  We can deal with disappointment, Cleveland has written the book on disappointment in sports, but at least be nice about it.  We all know the story of Earnest Byner, but he would play for the Browns again after the unfortunate incident in Denver on the field.  We can even deal with the jerks, provided they rise above the expectation of disappointment in Cleveland, but you can’t be a jerk who under-performs.  The fans in Cleveland expect demand better things.

hillis v cardinalsSo, in signing with the Chiefs, joining the guy he was traded for, Brady Quinn, that chapter of the Cleveland Browns Horror Story ends.  It would have been better off without a season two, to be perfectly honest.  And, it’s not that he necessarily went out on a bad note on the field.  After all, this was a “walk year” with his contract expiring and the Browns were playing hardball with his agent at that point.  So, he finds a way to put together some strong performances, averaging 105 yards per in Weeks 15 and 16, but it was no dice (10 carries, 30 yards) against the Steelers in his Cleveland Browns finale, and that sums the Peyton Hillis era in Cleveland up better than his 1764 yards and 16 TD’s.

Sometimes, we wonder if it can get any worse in Cleveland, and the answer is that no matter how bad we think things are, they can always get worse.  For those wondering, what’s the worst thing that could happen, I think this demise of Peyton Hillis in Cleveland belongs in the conversation.  Overall, it was just horrible and painful to watch these things happen with him and to us; it reminded me of this horrible television show I tried to watch.

The TCF Forums