By DARIN PAINTER
It has been 37 games since the Steelers lost back-to-back times, dating to Week 13 of the 2009 season. It has been 37 hours for the Browns.
So when I woke this morning and turned on Cleveland sports/talk radio, I was surprised to hear most callers acting impassive and blank, almost detached, showing the energy level of Aunt Ethel after her third helping of dark meat on Thanksgiving.
What I “learned” from Cleveland callers amid 5,879 clichés, before they faded off to sleep in mid-sentence: Brandon Weeden just has to “take care of the football” because “he’s a real gun-slinger.” Trent Richardson is solid “at the point of attack” and looks “good in the trenches.” (I’ll break the monotony: Joe Haden should have inhaled a Red Bull instead of Adderall in Vegas.) Also, the defense needs to “go out there and execute.” Maybe “stop the big play” and “stick to the game plan.” Yadda-yadda, 0-2, coming up we have traffic and weather together!
COME ON, CLEVELAND! WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GO? Where’s the venom and vitriol that makes you take off your shirt and bark like dogs? Where’s the bitterness and bile that serves as the catalyst of your kinship and brings you together as a community?
I’m worried about Browns Town, Joe. Always in fandom (and often in life), anger is a healthier sign than indifference, because at least anger requires expectation. You never want your sports city’s reaction to collectively morph from “Oh shit!” to “Ah well.”
And you probably never want your NFL team’s coach to say exactly this about your starting quarterback during a post-game press conference: “So he learned some things. It’s as a quarterback in the NFL. You know, I think. But we still did enough to win and so I think that’s — stuff there.”
Well put, Pat Shurmur! Eloquent and succinct! (Great story. Compelling … and rich.)
So, Joe, can you speak to both remaining Browns fans and ratchet up the Scorn Meter to something familiar and contemptuous, perhaps a level between 10.0 and “The Decision”?
I’m here to help this cause, and I’m joined now by my fun-loving 5-year-old daughter Anna! She has been practicing rhyming words in kindergarten, and before bedtime, I’ve been showing her footage of infamous AFC playoff games from the 1980s. She’s so cute! What’s this?! She just came into the den and handed me a poem, which she titled “The Fumble”:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Byner’s in the end zone!
Ball’s on the two.
Wow, great job, Anna! Well done! Joe, what did you think of the poem? I agree, it wasn’t exactly iambic pentameter, but she really captured the essence of that important moment in Cleveland sports history, and hopefully the ending caused you to throw a claw hammer or wooden spoon across the kitchen. THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S A HEALTHY START! WHIP YOUR CUTLERY INTO THE AIR! Jose Mesa should have had that kind of speed and accuracy when throwing baseballs during Game 7 of the 1997 Word Series. (Please tell me I’m helping.)
I speak for Pittsburgh fans everywhere (and goodness, I know, we’re everywhere, which must totally suck) when I say that we’re going to need more maliciousness, sarcasm and scorn from Cleveland fans if this relationship is going to work out long-term. (Also, it would help our rivalry immensely if the Browns would stop trying to “take it one game at a time” and “give it your all out there” and “get better on both sides of the ball” and win a freaking game at some point. My best-case-scenario 3-13 prediction is still within grasp.)
As for the Steelers, they played well on Sunday against the Jets. Cleveland sports/talk callers would have appreciated how we “kept those drives alive” and “punched it in there” and played “smash-mouth football.” From my perspective, I’m most pleased that Big Ben looks cheerier these days and seems to be acting significantly less rape-y, dodging pressure and tossing balls instead of showing them. This happened Sunday when he stepped away from linebacker David Harris and lobbed a deep pass that Mike Wallace for a 37-yard TD. It also happened later that night, when he went for dinner and elected not to expose any male reproductive organs. His decision-making has been solid this year.
At 1-1, the Steelers now head west to play the Raiders. What we will become in 2012 will be affected by what we are not at the moment — a team with a healthy Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall and guard David DeCastro (my predicted secret weapon in the playoffs).
At 0-2, the Browns go home to play the Bills, assumingly before a large gray cloud casts a pall on both cities until late April 2013. Meanwhile, Joe, we’re going to need to see some passion from Cleveland fans. Just keep it tempered. I know your 78-year-old rookie quarterback just threw for the Browns’ fourth 300-yard game in the last 66 games (39 games of under 200 passing yards in that span.) And I know your surgery-laden rookie running back broke a few tackles, but YOU NEED YOUR FANS TO BREAK OUT OF THEIR SLUMBER!
Come on out there. Keep the drive alive. Orchestrate a comeback. You’re knocking on the door, about to break it for a big one. I think you just need to keep playing Browns football.
Oh, God, I don’t even know where to begin. I hate losing to the Bengals. Hate it. You want the anger, D-Paints, here it is. I think I hate losing to the Bengals more than losing to the Steelers. The Steelers are supposed to beat the Browns. (Yes, I now have a full-blown case of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to Pittsburgh. Darin, it’s similar to how Pirates fans traditionally feel about facing every other team.) But Cincinnati? The Bengals, even when they’re good, they’re always capable of losing to the Browns. They always choke and blow it and lose 56-54 or something like that. They’re just like the Browns—capable of great bungling and torment, wearers of hideous uniforms, quarterbacked by a ginger, founded by a Brown, supported by a permanently angry fan base…I could go on. Point is, it’s bad losing to a clearly superior franchise, but it’s awful losing to a team that is bad in all the ways your franchise is bad.
Not that anyone in Cleveland is unhappy. You see, only in Cleveland does anyone celebrate losses. The immediate fan reaction after the game: Oh, at least the offense looked good. That was a GOOD loss. It was a moral victory. We have hope for the future. At least we weren’t blown out. Cleveland fans sound like the Republican Party in California, where I live. Hey, our gubernatorial candidate might have gotten drubbed by 80 percentage points in the polls, but at least he did not vomit (solids) on himself during any of the debates.
It Pittsburgh you guys complain about wins. You yinzers are insufferable. Oh, yeah, we beat the Jets, a perennial playoff team, but our run game was awful and those Ike Taylor penalties really hurt. But I guess we’ll take it.
I would take a 2-0 win over the Titans even if it meant we gained negative-600 yards on offense and Phil Dawson finished the game at quarterback. I’d be thrilled. Yeah, we lost 50 yards every time we had the ball, and all of our quarterbacks were knocked out, but we won!
On the plus side—and there isn’t always a plus side following a Browns loss, sometimes there is just a negative side and an even more negative side, which might be called an integer (I don’t know, I am not good at math, and apparently I am not good at English either, because I just put a parenthetical comment inside an em-dash in what is rapidly becoming a run-on-sentence)—it appears that Week 1 total draft busts Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson are legit.
As Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto so optimistically writes, “Maybe the Browns will have a real offense this season.”
Maybe. Weeden looked like an average NFL quarterback, which is exactly what we’ve been pining for on the North Coast since Bill Belichick and Art Modell cut Bernie Kosar while Vinny Testaverde was injured in 1993, replacing Kosar with the legendary Todd Philcox, who would go on to win the Super Bowl several times while playing Madden ‘97. Since then the Browns have been quarterbacked by string of nonsense that included Tim Couch, Spergon Wynn and the dog from “Air Bud.” Weeden looked like Otto Graham Sunday compared to those guys.
Trent Richardson has me excited. He made defenders miss. OFTEN AT THE POINT OF ATTACK! This is a new twist in the Cleveland run offense, because mainly what we have become accustomed to are our running backs charging for the nearest linebacker and then falling down in front of them and then getting cut. But T-Rich has moves. He scored on a run and caught a touchdown and went for more than 100 yards in only his second career game. Even Jim Brown, who this summer dogged Richardson hard and said he would have died in the first 30 seconds of “The Running Man,” says he is impressed. Based on this performance alone, I am guessing he only has another three to four games left before the career-ending knee injury comes, but maybe if Cleveland is lucky we’ll have him until at least the bye. Pardon my optimism.
Speaking of injuries, the most concussed team in America (do Browns players wear helmets or just paint their heads orange?) suffered two more concussions as defensive tackle Billy Winn (who was supposed to be a backup this season but was put in the lineup when Phil Taylor was injured which means we will move forward with a backup-backup) and Alex Smith (the only tight end to make any plays this season) are out. On top of that, Joe Haden remains suspended for another three games and Sheldon Brown is injured, so now our secondary, which was sketchy, is all used parts.
I am going to throw three names at you, Darin: Buster Skrine, Dimitri Patterson and Trevin Wade. Oh, you’re no doubt thinking, aren’t those the guys from Blink 182? No, those are the Browns’ cornerbacks right now. Andy Dalton knows their names real well. He should send them something nice from the Pro Bowl.
And what makes this all so much worse is that the Steelers beat the Jets without two of the NFL’s defensive players of the year over the past four seasons, injured linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers can lose the best players in the league and some guy no one has ever heard of who has a name like the guy who sits in the cubicle next to you (Ryan Clark) can replace one of them and look all-world.
Oh, and Darin, the subtraction of Hines Ward has done nothing to diminish Pittsburgh’s rep as the dirtiest team in the NFL. Lawrence Timmons kept it real classy on that helmet-to-helmet hit against Mark Sanchez.
I can’t wait until we beat you dirty cheaters again. I hate losing the Bengals the most, but I love beating the Steelers the best. And every other Cleveland fan might be shell-shocked into submission at this point, but I’m still stupid enough to be massively disappointed every time the Browns lose.
This is what being a Browns fan feels like.
Photos stolen from the Associated Press