Doc Gonzo: The October War

Your faithful narrator has been stricken with a truly vile throat ailment this week. Despite his weakened state, he's pulled himself from his sick-house bed and given you his latest mad ravings. All made worse, of course, by the endless flow of sinister drugs now coursing their way through his frail system. All legal drugs, of course. For the most part. He is, as Uncle Duke once put is, "stoned to the gills." Enjoy, and remember, management is not responsible for this ridiculous, asinine swill.

Content advisory: Fan commentary, some non-football content.

"The business of psychology is to tell us what actually goes on in the mind. It cannot possibly tell us whether the beliefs are true or false." -- Hastings Rashdall (British historian, philosopher, theologian, 1858-1924)

FORT GRATIOT, Mich. -- Let the profuse gratitude and recognition begin for my vital role in Sunday's epic defeat of the dreaded Steelers.

As many of you know, and have been willing to point out ad nauseam, I wrote last week that were was no logical reason for the Cleveland Browns to defeat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Of course, the more clever amongst you immediately saw through my ruse.

Since we all know Tim Couch and Butch Davis read my stuff religiously, many readers understood my ploy for the "reverse psychology" for what it was. Everyone knows "Bernies Insiders" is devoured faithfully every day by the players and staff deep within the Berea training bunker.

Once Butch and Tim read last week's column, something clicked in their heads. From their anger at me sprung Sunday night's heroics. My faux vitriol drove them to greater heights.

See the power of the press? The pen is truly more mighty than the sword.

Thank-you notes and checks can be sent to

Oops, time for more codeine! Mr. Throat is feeling a bit sore again, so let's mix ourselves a little cocktail. I think the little blue pills are the antibiotics. We don't want them to get lonely, so let's wash them down with a couple of these white ones left over from my kidney stone attack.

Ahhh. Much better.

The highlight of this illness came Wednesday afternoon. After watching the French flick "Delicatessen" on IFC, I dozed off in pain and dreamt I was Paul Simon reuniting with Garfunkel at a golf course in Lorain.

Bizarre. I've never felt that short before. Why Paul Simon? Why not dream I was boyfriend to a horny Liz Phair?

Cruel, cruel sickness.

Meanwhile, back to football …

Despite a wobbly start to this season, we have spectacular victories over San Francisco and Pittsburgh to savor. If the stars are aligned properly, this team will take the karma from those and apply it to some home games now.

On the menu are a couple of very winnable games. Coming into town Sunday are the rapidly fading Oakland Raiders.

The elder statesmen of the NFL, we all saw what happens to a gang of old farts in this league when the Bucs laid a whoopin' on ‘em in the Super Bowl. It's been steadily downhill from there.

In fact, the Raiders remind me of the 1989 Browns. That year, Bud Carson kept a patched-together team of oldsters playing well enough to win until the Broncos exposed them as old and inept in the AFC title game.

Same thing with Oakland in 2002. Much like 1989 Cleveland, they started well, went into a major slump, then relied in experience and guile to bounce back for a playoff run.

The following season in Cleveland saw the Browns stumble to a then-team record 3-13. It was a truly dreadful season I thought couldn't be matched. Of course, we all remember the Year 2000 team … things can always get worse.

As for Oakland, it peaked last year. The paint is flaking. The wheels are about to come off the wagon. There is no way to mask age for this long.

By all logical reasoning, the Browns should shred the Raiders, aka Team Viagra. If nothing else, for revenge. Remember, that last time the OAKLAND Raiders played in Cleveland, it was the 1980 playoff game. Think "Red Right 88" and you'll be with me Sunday cheering for blood.

Unfortunately, two factors work against the Browns: 1. They're playing at home. 2. None of them remember Red Right 88.

This game, like every other game Cleveland plays, is a crossroads. The division is up for grabs. No one, including themselves, believes the Ravens will do anything of note. They're in first place by default. Time and justice will correct that.

Cincinnati, as everyone likes to point out, is playing better. And still losing.

And the Steelers are oozing downhill into the morass. Watching Bill Cowher rage against the dying of his team will be a rare thing of joy. Tommy Maddox, as I've said from the start, is a fraud. Charlie Batch will be the starter by the end of the season.

The Steelers are at Denver on Sunday. Clinton Portis will run loose on them.

That means a victory by the Browns gives them the division lead … providing the pathetic Cardinals beat the Ravens. I have no seer's prediction on that one. The Ravens are a house of cards with a rookie quarterback. He ain't Dan Marino, so they have to collapse at some point. And despite Jamal Lewis' impressive numbers, that alone isn't enough to win the division.

So, if things fall into place, the Browns will lead the division going into the following Sunday, when they play at home against the Chargers. Again, a game that should be won. San Diego has LaDanian Tomlinson and David Boston, and little else. Of course, that's exactly the sort of team Cleveland plays down to.

But that's too far ahead to even think about. We have 48 minutes of football to get through this Sunday before the real action begins. One-hundred twenty seconds, or so, at the end of the Browns-Raiders game will likely tell us where this team is going … and where it's not.

WARNING – CONTROVERSIAL COMMENT TO FOLLOW: It's taboo to say, but the NFL has a horrid track record when it comes to race. Rush Limbaugh got himself in a quagmire by pointing out the media want a black quarterback to play well, so Donovan McNabb's abilities may have been hyped.

Let me point out a few things:

  1. Donovan McNabb is black.
  2. I am white.
  3. I am a sports writer.
  4. I want him to play well because it's further proof the NFL's racist history at the quarterback position was vile.
  5. I want him to play well because he's my Yahoo fantasy quarterback.

Rush was trying to make Point No. 4, but did a ham-fisted job of it.

That said, Rush may have done well to temper his comments or put them into a historic context, but he wasn't being racist and I'm not sure he was all that wrong. Sports writers, apart from a few examples, are predominantly white. And a good number of them are unskilled at anything but sports writing, so when race rears its head, they panic. And race remains an issue for the NFL.

We're all aware of our nation's racist past. Has anyone over 30 forgot the infamous Super Bowl Week question posed to Washington's Doug Williams: "How long have you been a black quarterback?" That question at the time wasn't meant to be racist; it was a slip of the tongue during a line of questioning, but it came to represent the issue.

Now, the media isn't racist. Sure, some individual boobs most certainly are, but the media as a whole leans to the left and in fact led the civil rights charge in many cities. What the media falls over itself on is race today. One reason is because race is so much less of a factor that it was 20 years ago. Black college quarterbacks are no longer automatically turned into safeties, and if they are, it's because they can't play quarterback. Same goes for whites (Example: Scott Frost).

Capitalism, dear readers, trumps race every time. Jim Brown knew that. It's why he championed blacks to gain economic rights along with civil rights. The market will always handle vile extremes. Stupid owners who didn't want black players -- the Redskins' vile dimwit owner Preston Marshall comes to mind -- don't last long. And they don't win, and that means they don't make money.

Most people simply no longer care if the quarterback is white, brown, red, yellow, pink, chartreuse or plaid. They care if he can hit the split end between the zones.

Winning matters. Making money matters. If we as a people have been slow to accept those who do not look like us, economic forces jump-start the process. Sad, but true. Perhaps it's nature's way of giving us a swift kick in the pants.

As for Rush, I knew what he was driving it. His blabber mouth past -- and Disney/ABC/ESPN's yellow spine -- did him in, but it doesn't mean he was wrong completely. After the first three weeks of this fantasy football season, McNabb sure looked over-hyped. In fact, he's killing me. But it's not because of the color of his skin, and Rush never said it was. He was taking the scribes to task, and those of us with some wits about us knew in our hearts he might be right.

HISTORY LESSON: Thirty years ago this week, the world was treated to yet another installment of grotesque Middle East violence when duplicitous Syria and Egypt launched sudden attacks against Israel.

Caught unawares, the Israelis found themselves pinned between full-scale invasions. To the southwest was the Egyptian Third Army springing across the Suez Canal into the Sinai. To the northeast, Syrian tank forces rumbled into the thinly defended Golan Heights.

Israel is a tiny nation with a population and military dwarfed by its Arab neighbors. Bent on seizing lands and destroying the Jewish state, the Egyptian and Syrian troops quickly overwhelmed the unprepared Israeli Defense Forces.

In past wars, the IDF relied on its superior morale, tactics, training and equipment to repel Arab invasions. Puffed by its stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the IDF and Israeli leadership had grown complacent in its pride and were convinced any Arab attack would be a suicidal repeat of that last conflict.

They were wrong.

But not completely.

Thanks to massive amounts of Soviet aid, equipment and training, the Arab divisions launched the invasions with high morale and confidence they could fight toe-to-toe with the Israelis.

For a time, they did.

The Israelis in the end recovered, thanks in no small part to a massive American airlift of ammunition, spare parts and weapons. The tide was turned and the Egyptians and Syrians were driven back.

Reading a book about the Yom Kippur War this week reminded me of the Browns. Comparing war and football is usually silly, but the sense of urgency, desperation combined with some good luck at the last second is a universal theme: Don't give up.

It was easy to give up on the Browns the past two seasons. A 2-4 start last year and a 1-3 start this year looked gloomy. But when it mattered most, the Browns, like the IDF, rallied.

And man, what a feeling. To crush the Steelers on the road is a rare, rare joy to be savored.

WOO HOO!: Let us end this week on a gigantic positive note. Anyone with a sense of humor and appreciation for true parody will rejoice to learn that legendary comic strip BLOOM COUNTY will return this November. It will be a Sunday-only feature called "OPUS." I have no idea what newspaper in Ohio will carry it, but I know mine here in Michigan will be picking it up (or there would have been a riot on the City Desk …).

As someone who owns all cartoonist Berkeley Breathed's books and 22 stuffed Opus the Penguins (and one Bill the Cat doll), this news has made my year. It makes Liberals tolerable. It makes things right with the world.

Forgive my childlike joy, but "Bloom County" is what got me into the newspaper business.

And there's only so much "Nancy" and "Family Circus" you can take each Sunday …

For more on some of the above subjects, visit these fine Web sites:


Former Ohio newspaper editor and reporter Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernie's Insiders. He now lives along Lake Huron in Michigan, but for four dreadful years lived in Pittsburgh, a city best described as "a poor man's Calcutta." After years of intense therapy, he's completely cured of the ill-effects. He can be reached at

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