This time it's supposed to be different.
Brand-name Super Bowl winner Mike Holmgren is in charge now, and he's got his guy now as the new head coach. Since Art Modell took the real Browns to Baltimore, we've weathered 12 seasons that produced two winning records and zero playoff wins; in the NFL, parity is the rule and the Cleveland Browns are the exception.
Yet here we are, being asked to buy into the league's corporate media consensus once again. And the consensus is as uniform as ever. The NFL's ever-explosive popularity, combined with a job market for journalists that's never been so uncertain, has created a hothouse for safe and easily digestible opinions on the league — and a tendency toward conformity in the press. So it's probably inevitable that as much as the word "fan" presupposes a measure of insanity, I'm finding it as hard as ever to back the Browns.
Carmen Policy, Phil Savage, and Romeo Crennel were all brand-name Super Bowl winners too when they were tapped to bring the new Browns to glory. Even NCAA champ Butch Davis was a popular choice when he took over in 2001. By 2010, it might have been clear that building an NFL winner in Cleveland would require something other than following the model that's failed the Browns so consistently for so long.
And it ought to have been especially clear, given the Browns' restoration to relevance in 2010 with head coach Eric Mangini at the helm.
Mangini, of course, was the very opposite of the NFL press consensus. Producing two winning seasons in three years while toiling for the Jets at ground zero of NFL corporate whoredom, Mangini had been nakedly sacrificed for the failures of his quarterback, league idol Brett Favre.
The New York media never forgave Mangini's mentor, Bill Belichick, for his open disdain for the hacks who chronicled the league and for spurning New York for New England. And they took it out hard on the legend's protégé. The Jets' front office, meanwhile, was all too happy to take advantage of Mangini's whipping-boy status when the Favre experiment they forced on him failed spectacularly.
When Mangini was immediately given the chance to right another NFL ship in Cleveland, it should have been the beginning of a uniquely uplifting sports story. The Browns had finally broken the cycle of playing to a New York-driven mandate that had never and could never work in Cleveland.
The cable-newsification that was ruining everything else in America wasn't going to ruin the Cleveland Browns. Whatever New York had on Cleveland, a certain talented young football coach was going to be given the space to do his job here, which would show something important that Cleveland had on New York (and by extension, the forces of evil at large).
If only the possibility of any such differences between Cleveland and New York hadn't long been lost on the credentialed local press, not a single member of which bothered to sniff the angle that we might have gotten a bargain on a guy who'd gotten a bad rap in the Big Apple.
How we moved so quickly from here to President Holmgren and his decision to fire Mangini after only two seasons is a subject that will keep historians and scientists busy for decades. But the upshot is that Browns fans aren't just being asked to buy into the newest brand-name product once again — we're being asked to do this after having just fired a head coach who, finally, was doing something that was working.
Nobody who paid attention last season would argue with CBS' Clark Judge that Mangini "took a team that didn't have an abundance of talent but did have an abundance of injuries, as well as the NFL's toughest schedule, and made it a factor" — "one of the league's toughest outs."
So much for all that, and for the presumption of job security for a decent man who's making obvious progress at what's proven over the last decade-plus to be an historically difficult job.
If Holmgren does manage to restore the Browns to a bona fide Super Bowl contender, all will be forgiven, at the cost of my realizing that I can't summon as much insanity for NFL football as I used to.
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