FORT GRATIOT, Mich. -- This had better work.
This is the sort of thing that makes or breaks the careers of coaches and players, and either leads to a Super Bowl or the scrap heap.
The Browns are at that juncture. An untested, young and suspect defense and an offense that finally has some weapons -- will Cleveland be the Cinderella story of 2003, or tumble back to the ranks of the inconsequential while Baltimore, Pittsburgh and even Cincinnati contend?
For better or worse, we're stuck with an undrafted Middle Tennessee State graduate -- with a degree in something called exercise science -- that spent the first seven years of his career laboring on the sidelines in anonymity.
Of course, Holcomb, 30, first has to make it through the rest of the preseason, something Tim Couch, 26, failed to do last year and opened the door for the understudy.
Naturally, this being the odd-cosmic karma Browns, Holcomb will face his former team, the Colts, when Cleveland opens the season at home Sept. 7. Irony is never in short supply along Lake Erie's south coast.
If nothing else, the debate has ended for now. While California convulses through a grotesque freakshow of a gubernatorial election, Cleveland at least knows who its new leader will be. And hell, the lights are back on.
Odds are, Couch will start for Cleveland again at some point. The brutality of the NFL is a truism in Browntown, where backup quarterbacks ascending the throne are the norm.
Hell, the Browns saw both Couch and Holcomb get hurt against the Ravens last season. Josh Booty, stay warm.
Wait, Booty's already hurt. Troubling omen … anyone have Don Strock's cell phone number handy?
What do we make of the decision to ensconce Holcomb as the starter? Butch Davis and the franchise brain trust will keep the real story buried deep within their lair at the team's headquarters bunker in Berea. For now, all we have to go on is what the key participants have had to say, and that's very little. Everyone has done a bang-up job of talking to the media without saying anything. It's all platitudes and coach-speak. Safe and saccharine. In other words, lies and gibberish. Holcomb is half-secretly gloating, Davis knew his decision in January and Couch wants to kill both of them.
Meanwhile, well-coiffed Carmen Policy, with shiny silk suit and sparkling diamonds, continues to plot Couch's trade to Dallas and lines his pockets at the expense of contending.
For Couch, it's an indignity. The bottom line is, he lost his job because of an injury. Holcomb didn't lead Cleveland to the playoffs in 2002. Couch did.
It was Couch that led comeback victories against the Titans, Jets and Ravens – some of the AFC's best teams and all on the road.
Certainly, Couch had his share of blunders last year, but if he's being benched for inconsistent play, there should be 21 others starters from 2002 next to him on the bench. His broken leg suffered in the season finale against Atlanta in December cost him his job. It opened the door for Holcomb.
Of course, Couch has no one to blame but himself, although Butch Davis' agenda certainly seems suspect. Make no mistake, no one was ever going to put Couch's on-field mental abilities in the same sentence as those of Bernie Kosar. In the end, Couch was a bit slow on the draw sometimes. It cost him. That's not to say Couch is stupid. He may be able to explain arcane economic theories and quote 18th century French philosophers for all I know, but the game never seemed to slow down for him enough to take his execution to the next level.
What's going through Davis' mind? He is said to have spent Saturday consulting with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians -- who brought Holcomb with him from the Colts in 2001 -- and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith.
Certainly, Davis spent serious time in reflection before making his decision. He seems to have done it with far more class than the blundering buffoonery in which Bill Belichick handled the Bernie Kosar situation in 1993.
Davis isn't stupid. He knows that if this moves backfires, it could cost him his job. Benching the starter in Cleveland has proven a career-buster in the past. Remember what happened when Bud Carson sat Kosar for Mike Pagel against Buffalo in 1990?
For Belichick, the move worked three years later. Testaverde led the Browns to the playoffs in 1994, but little was demanded of the quarterback position that year. Cleveland relied on a tough defense that allowed just 204 points and a conservative offense that played mainly error-free and burned up the clock.
Holcomb is being handed the keys to a potentially high-powered Browns offense that will rely on the downfield pass.
Who is Kelly Holcomb? I've only had the chance to chat with him briefly on a couple of occasions, both in the preseason last year. He seems nice enough. He has a wife and children. There's nothing especially remarkable about him at first glance.
On the field, it would seem, it's a different story. At least in Cleveland, he's made the most of his opportunities.
Holcomb's potential flashed prior to 2002.
He took the field for the first time for the Browns on Dec. 2, 2001, against the Titans in relief of Couch. Statistically, Couch wasn't terrible that day – he was 17-of-26 for 110 yards with a TD pass to Kevin Johnson and an interception – but he wasn't effective in moving the team.
Holcomb entered the game with Cleveland trailing 31-7. Facing a mixture of second-teamers in the fourth quarter, he connected on seven of 14 passed for 110 yards, including a 20-yard scoring strike to Johnson.
Holcomb's only notable NFL action prior to coming to Cleveland in 2001 was as Peyton Manning's backup with the Colts. Holcomb was with Indianapolis from 1996-2000, but he only played in 1997. That year, his passer rating was Mike Phipps-like 44.3 as he connected on 45 of 73 attempted passes (61.6%) for 454 yards with a single touchdown and eight interceptions for the Linde Infante-led Colts. His lone start, against Cincinnati on Nov. 9, 1997, saw him hit on 19 of 32 passes for 236 yards and a score while being picked off three times. The Bengals won 28-13.
Prior to that, his last significant professional action came as quarterback for the World League's Barcelona Dragons in 1995. He hit 191 of 319 passes for 2,382 yards with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 10 games. His passer rating was 76.9.
So, that's our quarterback now. The stores will be filled with No. 10 jerseys soon. If Holcomb stumbles, cynics will be quick to ask if the No. 10 is for Mike Pagel.
Let's not be surprised if history repeats itself in Cleveland. If Holcomb falters or goes down with an injury, and Couch steps back in to win a game, fans will again bust out the No. 2 jerseys and call for the Kentucky Kid to take the reins. Holcomb is only a three-pick off performance away from the type of criticism Cleveland's short-tempered, jaded fans have dumped on every quarterback to lead this team since Otto Graham was there.
So, as fans, where do we go from here?
We do what we've always done: File into the stadium every Sunday, wishful of a glory that's eluded this town and team for more falls and winters than we can count.
The conductor of this 17-week football symphony has changed, but the music remains the same.
Former Ohio newspaper editor and reporter Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernie's Insiders. He now spends his hermit-like days tending miniature dachshunds deep within the misty forests along the storm-swept Lake Huron shores of Michigan's untamed Thumb. He can be reached at email@example.com.