"By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy casbah sound"
– The Clash
CLEVELAND – I spent Monday morning supine in a steaming bath, reading Boswell's riotous Life of Samuel Johnson while the CD player on the sink oozed the Velvet Underground's languid "Venus In Furs" on constant repeat. A soundless television perched on the toilet seat aided my somewhat lax effort to keep abreast of any breaking news that might demand my instant return to the City Desk. CNN and I ride together again.
Deep, content sleep had come quickly and easily Sunday night. The forces of Good were prevailing all over the globe. I'd witnessed the Browns play the kind of game not seen in Cleveland in a very, very long time, and I'd staged my own very public one-finger demonstration against ignorant pacifism in front of the Terminal Tower.
The morning bath was the perfect elixir to remove the chill in my bones from windswept Lake Erie. After a few chapters of Mr. Boswell, I put the book down to reflect on the preceding day's events. The ancient Chinese proverb has come to pass: We're living in interesting times.
The war is now part of our everyday lives, even at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Before my ticket was torn, I was unzipped, searched, patted, spun around and had my pockets emptied. The wait to get in was minimal at the Steris Gate, but by game time I could see long lines of fans waiting to enter. It reminded me of sheep queued up for the slaughter, and from my seat high in Section 525 I could see jetliners steadily heading west. Notions of Black Sunday entered my head, but I shook them off by kickoff.
The Browns did nothing early on their part to dispel any feelings of impending doom. Indeed, the offense looked Palmer-esque in the first quarter. The team was going backwards instead of forwards, and Doug Flutie was chomping at the bit to shred Cleveland's defense. In the pit of my stomach was that old feeling, the nervousness bordering on resignation that the Bad Guys were about to lay a whoopin' on the Men in Orange.
Not so, however. The Browns' defense was able to keep Flutie from doing any significant damage with his strong right arm and wunderkind running back Ladainian Tomlinson, other than a single long cut-back run, was a non-factor. In fact, it seemed the rookie was getting caught in the backfield on every other play, especially in the critical second half.
It was around halftime when I got the initial inkling of something afoot in Central Asia. The fellow behind me got a cell telephone call. He didn't say much, and I didn't pay all that much attention to him. But when I overheard "Cruise missiles, eh?" my ears perked up. His conversation ended quickly after that, and the action on the field picked up again, but I had the feeling a different game was afoot. The United States, half a world away, was unleashing the terrible, swift sword of justice.
Unlike other stadiums in the NFL, there was no official mention of Sunday's military operations in Afghanistan, which got underway about 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. No speech on the Jumbotron from the president, no announcement over the public address system. Perhaps management didn't want any distractions or panic. I have no real feel if the team should or shouldn't have done something. I'm just a fan, and will leave such decisions to those in charge.
Despite my eagerness to learn what was happening in Afghanistan, the Browns and Chargers did a yeoman's job of keeping fans' interest on the field.
The Chargers knotted the game at 10-10 before a pair of field goals gave them a tenuous 16-10 advantage in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. Panic time in Section 525. Sweaty palms, churning stomach, gnashing teeth.
I'm old enough to remember the Kardiac Kids, and this team is quickly going down that path. Other than the Detroit game, Cleveland's fortunes have come down to the final minute. In the opener, it was an unlikely 52-yard field goal into the wind as time expired. At Jacksonville, an interception return for a touchdown secured victory while on Sunday, it was Mr. Couch's critical late-game passing and touchdown completion to Kevin Johnson – and the defensive play that followed – that elevated the Browns to the top of the AFC Central Division.
The quarterback orchestrating much of the excitement is no Bernie Kosar clone. Tim Couch may never get the hometown love and affection that's still evident every time Kosar's name comes over the loudspeaker, but he could earn himself a place in team history not unlike Brian Sipe.
Whereas Kosar was the cerebral passer with little athleticism, Sipe was more lithe and a genuine risk-taker. In the Kardiac Kids years, he was a gunslinger. Couch appears to be made of the same stuff, but with a stronger arm and faster wheels. He may yet prove he has the same mental brilliance that Kosar used to mask his physical handicaps. If that comes to pass …
How long has it been since stadium-goers have seen a Cleveland quarterback able to consistently keep drives alive with his arm AND feet?
Not since Sipe.
Couch still shows the penchant for unorthodox play that sometimes translates into silly interceptions. That's just part of the package. He seems to be learning what risks to take and when. Maturity and experience may elevate Couch past Sipe's level to the place fans only dream: a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. But like the rest of this enigma known as the Cleveland Browns, only time will tell.
DOC 1, PACIFISTS 0: The fourth quarter's expiration wasn't the end of Sunday's pleasantries for me. A quick postgame trip over to Tower City for some shopping netted me some much-needed fresh Browns gear, including a fabulously tasteless aloha-style shirt. The short jaunt back to the parking garage, however, was interrupted by a gang of America-hating pacifists not far from the statue of Gen. Cleaveland.
They were gathered on a street corner (Superior and Euclid, maybe?), and Clevelanders were gathering to hear their chants. I wandered over, packages in hand, to investigate. I still hadn't heard officially that the strikes on Afghanistan were underway, but the sudden appearance of peaceniks was a pretty good indicator.
The protesters were in all their resplendent glory. Clearly well-fed and from homes that allowed such idle activity, they'd brought their signs and bullhorns, well-prepared to bombard anyone who'd listen with their tired slogans and empty rhetoric. The pacifists were a motley collection of young people, twentysomthings who looked in dire need of a bath and more than a little liberal application of common sense, like refugee groupies from a Grateful Dead concert.
I don't recall their faces or even their specific slogans. It didn't matter. If we'd been in Kabul, they'd all have been killed on the spot, of course. Little room for dissention in the militants they were defending.
Standing in front of them, words failed me. There was nothing I could say that these unwashed, unthinking little fools didn't have a snappy comeback for. I was sure of that. So where language wasn't appropriate, action was. That was clear.
It only took a split second. I stood in front of the throng of pacifists. There was no one else on that corner. Regular Clevelanders were across the street, staring. So, naked in front of such a display, I did the only thing I could. There was no thought pattern or justification, it just happened.
I flipped ‘em off, long and high for all to see.
That's nothing big. Americans waive their middle fingers millions of times a day. I occasionally employ the gesture in traffic, especially here in Michigan.
But on Sunday, it was different. I'd spent the afternoon with thousands of my closest friends cheering a football team. It was pure, unadulterated joy. Then it was nearly ruined by a gang of morons. My simple gesture, as sophomoric as it was, saved the day, for me at least. The language of it was universal and unequivocal. Neither side misunderstood where the other was coming from. No need for violence or argument. They shout their hate of this nation on bullhorns and signs. I engage them on a much quieter level.
I don't dispute anyone's right to protest or disagree. But the right to disagree doesn't mean that it's appropriate to do so.
Walking back to my car after my "showdown" I thought back to a comment I'd read long ago that summed up the situation. P. J. O'Rourke, longtime champion of Liberals and Leftists everywhere, once penned a little gem in one of his books that has stuck with me for many years. Let me bastardize it for my own purposes:
"What's the difference between a Liberal and a Conservative? A Conservative will tell you that you SHOULDN'T make fun of the handicapped. A Liberal will tell you that you CAN'T make fun of the handicapped."
That speaks volumes about the mindset of the American Left, which is drifting aimlessly in the wake of Sept. 11. Leftists have long made the assertions that the Brown and Yellow peoples of the world are noble and right in their struggles against the Imperial and Fascist West. The East has a moral supremacy over the West, they say. But a new creature from the East has emerged that has Leftists everywhere in a tizzy.
The Taliban doesn't fit the mold of most causes championed by Liberals. The Taliban abuses women, kills homosexuals and tolerates nothing but its own radical interpretation of Islam. It's a foreign government occupying Afghanistan and it harbors terrorists.
Hell, it's one of the few nations on Earth without a Browns Backers Chapter (yet …).
While bombs rain on the Taliban's instruments of war and oppression, little yellow packages of food float to Earth for the country's starving population. Humanitarian aid for a suffering people is part of the military mission.
Of course, destruction of the Taliban may be the most humanitarian thing we could do in Afghanistan.