One of the advantages of being a Cleveland fan living far from Cleveland is that I don't have to feign a level of interest in the Browns that they don't deserve. I've always been a baseball guy. My father was a baseball guy, and my son is a baseball guy. Baseball is like that. Football, on the other hand, is a more geographical, social-consciousness sort of thing: In Texas, they say that the three sports are football, spring football and pre-season football, and Northeast Ohio feels much the same way. But while I have rooted for the Browns for as long as I can remember, the emotional investment is not necessarily a constant.
After the original incarnation of the Browns moved, I found myself barely an NFL fan at all. When the Browns returned, my head knew they would struggle, and my heart ignored the rationality of poor performance, simply embracing the new startup as my own.
That the team was truly execrable was no real surprise, given little time to start up and less to plan. Under the carefully crafted ineptitude of Carmen Policy's Merrye Bande of Weasels, the Browns foundered, changed course, briefly emerged and sank back into the morass. After Butch Davis finished immolating himself on his own petard (a difficult task, to be sure), Phil Savage rode in and Changed Things This Time for Good Boy Howdy. Last season, the Browns briefly emerged once again, and pundits throughout the sportosphere proclaimed them the Next Big Thing.
Whereby, against the Ravens, they completed yet another Phase Two, sinking once again into a morass so deep, so foul, so Cincinnati Bengals-y that one is forced to ponder: Who are these mooks, and why are they pretending to be my favorite team?
Meanwhile, the Indians, playing out the string in a lost season, showed character, heart and talent in a sweep of the Tigers, a series punctuated by Fausto Carmona's brief audition to be the fourth Blue Man by performing a percussion solo on Gary Sheffield's noggin. They came from behind to win that game, then dismantled Detroit behind a pair of left-handed starters who probably have no business starting in the major leagues.
What is the baseball analog of Derek Anderson's performance against the Ravens, a pitiful 14-for-37 affair in which he showed the deft touch of Einsturzende Neubaten and the accuracy of Jim Ignatowski with a blunderbuss? Would it be Tom Mastny's hilarious four-out "start" against the Rangers, in which he allowed five runs and a pair of homers? Fausto's season-ending one-inning start against Boston? What is the common factor here?
1) They were atrocious.
2) They were pulled.
Instead, we are treated to more and more Anderson and the vision of Romeo Crennel, standing on the sidelines, blankly making the Art Shell Face while looking like a cross between the Walrus from Alice in Wonderland and Grimace from McDonald's commercials. Oddly enough, I have never seen this listed as a requirement for successful NFL coaching.
Given a second chance to redeem themselves, the Browns came up with an effort so desultory, so entropic, so ta-ra-ra-goon-de-ay, that the Bengals (yes, the Bengals!) were within a touchdown with Professor S.J. Gumby at QB and having the running game of the Stephen Hawking All-Stars. I have never felt less encouraged by a team that actually won the game. Between the masterful squandering of opportunities and the leadership normally associated with Vichy France, I don't know how the Browns could sink lower, unless it would be to lose their Week Five battle against Bye.
And, in contrast, playing three games against a team fighting for playoff survival, on the road, with nothing more than a .500 record and pride at stake, the Indians clubbed the White Sox in two of three games.
Which is, ultimately, the contrast between the two teams at this juncture: pride. The Indians have some; the Browns, less than none.
I am looking forward to the day when Cleveland is once again awarded an NFL franchise. Steve Buffum writes for theclevelandfan.com. He lives in Austin, Texas. [email protected]