After yet another stirring, come from behind victory against a talented San Francisco squad, the Browns return to Cleveland for a little home cooking. On the menu Sunday? Bengal Tiger, with a little Swiss cheese defense on the side.
Of course, the real focus of the fans is not on the game, but on the health of starting quarterback Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb was abused all day long by a blitzing 49er defense. Initial reports out of the Cleveland Clinic seem to confirm the worst: Holcomb has a broken ankle and faces a 4-6 week recovery. But Butch Davis defiantly claims that the injury is "a wee, tiny break of a non-weight bearing bone in the leg that bears no weight. Did I mention it's a non-weight bearing bone?"
Local sports columnists are having none of it. Outrageous rumors begin to fly, including one that claims Holcomb had his right leg amputated at the knee and will play Sunday in a prosthetic. Supermarket tabloids report that Holcomb has actually been placed in cryogenic suspension, and is hanging upside down next to Ted Williams in a sealed vat. Terry Pluto notes that the frozen Holcomb would suffer no loss of mobility on game day. All the rumors agree on one point: Holcomb will start Sunday.
Doctors implore Davis to keep Holcomb off the field, but Davis is having none of it. Practices for the rest of the week are held under air tight security. Two reporters found trying to sneak into the facility are shot with tranquilizer darts by Lew Merletti and held in an undisclosed location until after the game.
When game time finally arrives, fans get their first look at Holcomb. And apparently the damage is worse than reported. The QB rolls out onto the field in the Rollamatic 2000—a Star Trek/Captain Pike whole-body life-support wheelchair contraption that comes complete with blinking lights and beeping tones for calling audibles at the line. The officials, taken by surprise, huddle at midfield to discuss the legality of the bionic supports even as Butch Davis jumps around the huddle arguing his case. Less than a minute later, the officials declare Holcomb ineligible. The gutsy-but-fragile QB spends the rest of pre-game warm-ups rolling up and down the sidelines, reviewing plays and serving as a handy Gatorade dispenser for the players. Terry Pluto notes that Holcomb looks surprisingly mobile in his rig.
Tim Couch is warming up on the sidelines, zipping passes to Kevin Johnson. But he gets a rude shock when Davis tells him to take a seat. Determined not to undermine his new starter's fragile psyche, the coach has pulled Holcomb from the Rollamatic 2000 so he can still play in the game. Holcomb is barely conscious, with both legs in casts and his left arm in a sling.
That doesn't stop Davis from putting Kelly in the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Holcomb lines up in the shotgun. William Green and Jamel White are at his side, propping up the signal caller and moving his head around to scan the defense. It's like a demented scene out of the movie Weekend at Bernie's. White is moving Holcomb's jaw with his hand as Green calls out the snap count. Holcomb/White/Green receives the snap and the ball gets handed to Green, who races off left tackle for a six yard gain.
Coach Davis smiles craftily. The Bengals defense is so transfixed by the specter of the semi-conscious Holcomb that they are being pushed on their heels. Davis runs three more running plays, gaining seven, ten, and finally 34 yards on a long scamper by Green. That's when he decides to air it out.
Green calls the snap count even as White slaps Holcomb's face in an effort to rouse the quarterback enough to make a play. Holcomb comes around just as Green puts the football in his right hand. He looks downfield to see Andre Davis coming free and tosses a perfect rainbow into the end zone over a surprised Tory James.
Fans worry how long the Browns' "Sleepy Holcomb" offense can run it up against the Bengals, but they needn't be concerned. The Cleveland defense takes over on the very first Bengal play, when Gerard Warren manhandles rookie Eric Steinbach and center Rick Braham on a Corey Dillon run up the middle. Andra Davis flies into the hole with such force that the impact leaves a smoking, six-foot wide crater at the 18 yard line. Bengal coaches and forensic experts spend 20 minutes combing the scene trying to find Dillon. Backup RB Brandon Bennett plays the rest of the game for the missing running back.
The very next play, Jon Kitna drops back to pass and gets put in the spin cycle by Courtney Brown. Rather than take the sack at his own 5 yard line, Kitna tosses the ball wildly straight up into the air. Guys are underneath the ballistic ball, jockeying for position like basketball players under the hoop. Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye get an idea, hoisting Daylon McCutcheon and hurling the smallish cornerback into the air as the ball drops toward the ground.
It's like the world's greatest dwarf toss. McCutcheon flies over the other players' outstretched hands, snaps the ball out of the autumn air, and sails into the end zone for the score. Defensive Coordinator Dave Campo is so impressed, he works the Dwarf Toss into his defensive playbook, including a Dwarf Toss Blitz that Campo describes as "an air strike on quarterbacks."
The Bengals never recover from the humiliation. William Green runs for 397 yards and 12 TDs. Kelly Holcomb, despite having to be defibrillated twice during halftime, completes 77% of his passes on his way to a 450-yard, six TD day. Holcomb is listed as Probable for the next week's game against the Steelers.
And that's the way I see it.