Another December Sunday in Cleveland dawned, dark gray and misty. I had settled down to the computer to get the OBR web site ready for the Browns 13th game of the season, and had worked my way through breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee.
"A candy bar sounds good right about now. Or a trip to Dunkin Donuts", I think to myself, and stop.
My holiday food-devouring habits are the stuff of legend among my family. They have a strong focus on anything deemed unhealthy by the AMA, with a lot of attention spent on sugar, fried foods, caffeine, and alcohol. But my horrible eating habits are just part of the overall package of sheer joy that I become during the deepest part of December and January.
It happens every single year, like clockwork, each winter: My weight goes up, I want to sleep more, I feel tired all the time. Less gets done. The reclusive aspect of my personality goes into overdrive.
In the Summer, I'm a different person. My weight declines, my email box empties, projects get done. I might even willingly socialize sans alcohol. With other human beings, even.
Every June my life changes for the better, every winter becomes another of my discontent. Over the last decade, the Christmas season has changed from my favorite time of year to an exercise in pushing myself through various levels of jolliness for the sake of those around me.
The amateur psychologists in my family are convinced that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, an annoyingly-worded medical term that humorlessly carries the acronym "SAD".
In general, "Seasonal Affective Disorder" is used to describe the onset of a depression during the winter or fall months that dissipates in the spring and summer. It goes beyond the usual angst of being trapped inside to avoid things like freezing to death. It's a palpable change of mood and personality.
Exhaustive analyses have been done that tie Seasonal Affective Disorder tightly to latitude, providing a clue as to its causes, and at last providing the long-sought scientific basis for Jimmy Buffett's music.
Because of the increasing frequency of seasonal depression the farther north you go, a prevailing theory is that SAD is tied to sunlight. You get less sunlight at higher latitudes, the theory goes, so there's a physiological chain reaction that occurs, resulting in less Vitamin D, Serotonin, and other types of useful biological mood goop.
Other theories have to do with decreasing hours of light messing with our biological clocks, and blah blah blah, and give me a break, and so on.
This is all well and good, but it's clearly a bunch of pseudo-scientific nonsense.
Even a cursory examination of the scientific literature shows that the analysis to date has ignored one key contributing factor also tied to latitude, which is this: The higher the latitude, the greater likelihood that your favorite NFL or college team is going to really, really suck.
Think about it: Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo, the northern midwest Nexus of Suck over the last two couple of decades, are all among the higher latitude NFL teams. Minnesota is another, and can't even keep it's stadium roof or their starting quarterback appropriately erect.
Buffalo has their Scott Norwood and Music City Miracles. Cleveland has our litany of woe. Detroit is Detroit, and for a while knowingly harbored Matt Millen.
And, Seattle. Oh my. Add the University of Washington football team to the local football mix and you're talking Seasonal Affective Disorder in very dark spades. Oh, mix in the SEC and USC's recent college football dominance as well.
If you doubt my wisdom on this, just ponder the last two Browns-Bills games. Psychologically, it's impossible for fans of either team could come out of both games without utterly giving up any residual hope for eventual happiness, ever, in life. No football fan could witness such a thing without deep, permanent scars generating monsters from the Id.
You know this to be true.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has now been adequately explained, and the federal government will undoubtedly march in soon with executive orders to make Northern football suck less in order to reduce health care costs.
I don't know if there's a Nobel Prize for psychology and human behavior but, if there is, thank you in advance. I'll find a direct flight from Cleveland to Stockholm, and will be there straight away to pick up my medal and briefcase of scientist cash.
* * *
It seems like a lot more than 18 months ago since John Taylor and I got some time to talk to Browns owner Randy Lerner and head coach Eric Mangini. This was in the early early days of the Mangini era, shortly before the Plain Dealer and Pro Football Talk started savaging Mangini with stories about critical football issues like water bottles and bus trips.
In those days, the biggest concern on the part of our gang here was how the team was organized, and how the Browns were going to thrive without a football man at the top of the organization. The notion that George Kokinis and Mangini would peacefully co-exist as equals seemed unlikely to succeed. Fortunately, within six months, that concern was universal, and Lerner reacted by bringing in Mike Holmgren.
While pestering Mangini about how decision-making would take place, we also talked to him a bit about the quarterback position, as the eternal question of Quinn vs. Anderson was on everyone's minds in early 2009.
Mangini didn't answer the question directly, of course, but challenged us as to our opinions regarding the dismissal of Bernie Kosar as quarterback of the Browns back in 1993. His point? The media and fans are usually the last people who should be influencing a head coach about quarterback decisions.
The idea that a head coach has insight into what is happening on the field that escapes the attention of fans and the media is something I can believe, but can be insulting to the public nonetheless, especially following a horrendous game like Jake Delhomme had against Buffalo on Sunday.
As a disciple of Bill Belichick, Mangini may at some point want to take another page from the Belichick playbook and share his insight with media and fans. Belichick, at times, would sit down with the media, show them film, and explain to them some of what he sees that might not be obvious.
At this point, Mangini's seeming inflexibility on a quarterback problem that seems obvious to the rest of the planet isn't helping his odds of sticking around for another year. Explaining and teaching, as Belichick has sometimes tried to do, rather than the obscurity and obfuscation he practices on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday might be a better alternative to appearing overly stubborn or hopelessly oblivious.
Of course, if there's any head coach blood in the water at all, folks will use any perceived weakness to mock and attack, so it could backfire.
The guess here is that Mangini is just hoping McCoy is ready to play, so that the whole mess can quickly recede into history like bogus kid-tackling stories or any other disposable sports controversy-of-the-week.
* * *
Since my writing has been so dark in recent months - one blogger/friend calls me "The Joy Division of Cleveland Sportswriters" - and because this is the time of year for top ten lists, I will now provide you with a list of ten things that bring me unblemished joy, in no particular order:
1. Anything that has "Samuel Smith" or "Great Lakes Brewing" on the label.
2. Realizing that I've managed to raise three kids and marry a woman who can, each and every one, make me laugh.
3. Readers who wade through this sort of nonsense on the off-chance that there will be an occasionally relevant nugget.
4. That the Cleveland Browns have not embarrassed our community by relying on players whom I would personally flee a room to avoid.
5. Soma.fm's Groove Salad channel
6. Being lucky enough to find great new co-conspirators like Don Delco and Dave Kolonich to go along with long-time compadres Fred Greetham and Lane Adkins.
7. Managing to stay nearly 100% oblivious to the latest political shouting matches
8. My iPad, which I got last May. Sorry Apple haters, but it's just freaking awesome. My wife is less of a fan, welcoming it with the phrase "Great. Now you never have to disconnect". Also, Scrivener and Reeder for Mac. Double amazing.
9. Remembering how we all felt after beating the Patriots, and knowing that feeling isn't really that far in the distance.
10. Humans and dogs who tolerate you when you hug them.
With that, back to our shared group horror at being Cleveland Browns fans.
* * *
Paul was my best friend all throughout college, and my best man on my wedding day. Starting with freshman year at Ohio State, we were different people in similar paths. We were both members of Ohio State's debate team for a couple of years, majored in electrical engineering, and wound up as members of the same off-campus fraternity. After school, we both moved on, raised families in different parts of the state. Now we talk a couple times every year and promise to visit when our responsibilities allow, which they rarely do.
We were very different guys in a lot of ways. I was always the more impulsive one - drinking too much, getting involved with wrong girls, chasing strange and frequently shifting notions of what I wanted to be. Paul, meanwhile, was always steady as a rock, the guy who always warned me away from the cliff's edge. Hobbes to my Calvin, except real. A great friend. Better than I deserved.
Paul was also, and remains, a much better electrical engineer than I could ever hope to be. He innately understood how circuits worked, and could fix or design electrical devices, whereas the real-world use of my engineering knowledge was limited to my admittedly uncanny ability to be able to plug electrical cords for my overly-loud stereo into outlets without electrocuting myself. So far.
Despite Paul being the far better engineer, I consistently got better grades throughout college, even in the main electrical engineering courses. After four years of enduring this, Paul finally threw up his hands and told my future wife that even though I wasn't that great of an engineer, "had a strange ability to be able to predict what the test questions were going to be".
He was right. My strength wasn't in engineering - I never retained what I learned or practiced it enough to turn book learning into permanent knowledge. I passed all the way through grad school looking on courses as games that I could win, unlike Space Invaders. But I wasn't a very good engineer.
Instead, my strength was recognizing what instructors wanted and then being able to learn enough, quickly enough, to be able to answer the challenge of the mid-term or final. I would then forget most of what I had quickly jammed into my brain, and go back to drinking, video games, and whatever I considered to be more fun at the time.
It's that pattern recognition that curses me now. I see an unrelenting sameness in the Browns' Sisyphean struggles, what the media will say about them, and who many will blame, and in what order. Hint: The latter goes quarterback, offensive coordinator, head coach, general manager, owner. I that order. Right up the tree.
If you are one of those folks to pull yourself out of the yearly roller-coaster ride, you probably see the same things, and sigh heavily knowing what phase we're going into once more.
We need something to break the patterns, badly, while the Browns still have a national presence worth celebrating.
Like a Super Bowl championship, for instance. I hope my instincts are as good as they were in my twenties. For the first time in the last two decades, I suspect we may be closer than another soul-sucking game against Buffalo makes it appear. Joe Haden and Colt McCoy are the reasons.
Put this Sunday aside. Live through the recycled patterns. Float above those waves. Keep the faith.