The notion of "Limbo" has a number of variations.
It was first proposed by medieval theologians as an explanation for the fate of infants and those born before the time of Jesus. In Christopher Nolan's brilliant Inception, limbo was a long-term deep dream state that was nearly impossible to escape. In the Matrix Trilogy, limbo was depicted as a train station where you can talk to a child of either Indian or Pakistani descent before running off to chase a wild-eyed guy who looked like someone who was in Road Warrior.
I didn't understand the last one, either.
Fortunately, I know what limbo really is: it's the 2010 Cleveland Browns season.
As the Browns clumsily stroll through the 2010 season, it's clear that whatever future they have is very much on hold. The team is in the NFL's waiting room, with the key decisions that will decide its fate pushed off until some point in the near future, possibly until after this season, possibly until after the league and players finish sparring over billions of dollars.
Few, if any, believe that the team's current quarterback or head coach will be leading the team if and when they are champions once again. Those are changes lying somewhere in the near future, as the organization tries to build a long-term winner around new faces who will inject excitement back into the franchise.
We're floating in limbo, the result of decisions made by the team's new leadership, who entered the season knowing that the 2010 campaign would be, at best, a year to find new talent and evaluate the old. We'll have to be happy looking for some positive nuggets in this campaign: the emergence of a Peyton Hillis, the maturation of young talent, perhaps a glimpse of Colt McCoy.
With the team at 0-3, the season is only of interest to the hard-core fans, who will watch regardless, looking for small signs of hope amidst the cluttered mess of another defeat.
The future starts to arrive in 2011, assuming that it's not pushed back to 2012 because players and the league's owners decide to engage in an insane struggle over a sea of wealth large enough to drown them all.
Another year of waiting, another year of holding.
* * *
After the game, I read a respected local sports columnist preaching that the team had improved over last year, and suggested fans show patience. This is undoubtedly the mature and common-sensical thing to say.
Emotionally, though, it's a different matter. Patience and time, like oil, are not infinite resources.
There's a concept which has been out there for quite a few years called "Peak Oil", espoused by futurologists and fearmongers of various stripes. It's defined as the point at which oil production peaks and then begins to decline, setting off vast changes in our socio-economic and political structure.
I suspect that the Browns passed "Peak Patience" a few years ago. Maybe it was 2000, when the team seemingly moved backwards after their expansion season. Perhaps it was 2003, when the team gutted their playoff team from the year before, or 2005, when new leadership arrived to again reboot the franchise. Or perhaps it was 2008, when Rob Chudzinski's offensive juggernaut disappeared during the off-season.
But it was the time where the wellspring of patience was maxed out, and could never be met again. All I know for sure is that we're past it now. The resource of patience has been quietly ebbing, the water line dropping slowly every day for years, even when angry fans in Dawgbone hats aren't making it obvious.
When the team resurfaces, the fans will return, but the longer the void, the less special it will be. At least that's how it feels to me now.
* * *
We all know that the new front office should be granted time to make a difference. It's obvious that we should acknowledge improvements made even in defeat.
We need to be patient. That's what logic dictates, and what the analytical portions of our minds tell us. It is unreasonable to demand immediate results and unfair to scream at qualified men who have been on the job less than a year.
We know all this. We can argue for it convincingly.
So, by all means, let's go ahead and ladle another layer of patience on top of the forty-six that are already there. Maybe the layers will wind up thick enough that we can see Canada by standing on top of them.
But none of that helps a lot of folks.
Patience is a luxury best enjoyed by well-compensated media members and football executives still on their honeymoon with Browns fans and reporters. Their checks still roll in every two weeks and they will still be here in a few years.
But there are a lot of older fans who wonder if their time will ever come again. Lots of economically desperate people wondering if even the little things will ever go right again.
Hold on.... let's not overstate things: Another year of rebuilding is not the end of the world.
It's just football. It's just another year.
But there's something I've learned as I've grown older, and watched my children grow up and get ready to leave. As I've watched people my age pass on to the next plane. Something that's become apparent as the hair thins and the clock ticks on without remorse.
Promises have expiration dates.
Next year, I can afford to take my youngest daughter to Disneyworld. My son and I will get to that project next time I have a weekend free. I promise to adopt a healthier lifestyle after New Year's Day.
Just another year.
Just another year.
Just another year.
And then there are no years left.
Barry McBride is a one-time useful member of society who now runs the Orange and Brown Report. He hates it when his email client mistakes email messages for spam, so please contact him via the OBR contact form, via Twitter, or on the forums.