FORT GRATIOT, Mich. -- Last Sunday's NFL broadcasts on CBS featured tawdry, Sweeps Week references during commercials to a 60 Minutes report that says more Americans watch porn than sporting events.
Sunday's game was the most frustrating football game I've watched in the past four decades. Chance after chance was squandered by turnovers, bad passes and penalties. What made it truly maddening was that the sloppy performance came on a day when the Pittsburgh offense could muster nothing. And Cleveland was able to pass and run with little interference from Steeler defenders, at least outside the red zone.
What should have been a rout, a natural carry-over from the previous week's dismantling of the featherless and flightless Cardinals, instead became a gruesome spectacle of opportunities lost.
That was the theme for last Saturday and Sunday. Coming on the heels of Ohio State's limp effort against Michigan, the disappointment reached vulgarity-pitch in the Gonzo household. How many passes to wide-open receivers can be overthrown, Craig Krenzel? How many balls can be forced into triple coverage, Kelly Holcomb?
Is it possible to take a mulligan on the entire weekend?
Hands down, porn would have been the better viewing option Sunday in Cleveland.
The football gods were especially cruel. Not content merely smiting the Browns and Buckeyes, the Lords of Football allowed the godless ravens (Editor's note: baltimore ravens will no longer be capitalized in this column) and the overachieving Bengals to scratch out undeserved victories.
Hence, the NFL season is over, for all practical purposes in Cleveland. There are games yet to be played, but Cleveland has shown it cannot compete on a consistent basis with any team. The franchise is drifting aimless in the NFL's sea lanes. Until a general manager is hired, the Browns will continue to make poor moves on the field, on draft day, signing free agents, handling the roster, negotiating contracts and interacting with fans. That's just about every aspect of fielding an NFL team.
Goody Policy and Goody Davis have failed to field a solid team. Instead, week after pathetic week features another assault on the good sense and intelligence of the fan base. None of us need a degree in NFL Salary Cap Economics, business or interpersonal relations to know this team is in trouble. A general manager with a wit of ability could do wonders on the public relations and competition fronts for this team.
Of course, the question remains: Are Policy and Davis big enough men to allow someone else to make critical decisions for this franchise? Or must all power be concentrated in the hands of two men who've failed the fans?
On paper, Cincinnati and Baltimore are not as good as Cleveland. Yet, instead of the Browns running away with the division, they find themselves tied for last place and begging for scraps from the tables of art modell (again, note purposeful lack of capitalization) and Mike Brown.
How wretched is that?
Worse, we had to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers smiling, laughing and mugging for the camera at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday. The salt in the wound is that Pittsburgh played a dreadful game, yet the players could monkey around cheerfully because they KNOW they will beat Cleveland. It's institutional anymore with the Steelers. No matter how down they are, they know they have an orange-and-brown present to unwrap next to Lake Erie.
Can there be a worse crime? Who is being held accountable?
Then there's the savior, Kelly Holcomb. Whilst he was busy tossing the football willy-nilly to the Steelers, effectively killing the season, Cincinnati's Jon Kitna was throwing four touchdowns at San Diego. Meanwhile, someone called Anthony Wright pitched four scores for the ravens.
Holcomb? Couch? Does it matter? Couch won more games in the clutch than he ever lost with boneheaded interceptions. The only reason Cleveland made the playoffs in 2002 was because he rallied the team for victories at New York, Tennessee, Baltimore and Jacksonville.
Holcomb? For all the sound and fury from the fans and media about him, all I've seen is wasted Sundays. Some big numbers posted in defeat, and sometimes not very big.
Clearly, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians didn't like the Couch-Kevin Johnson duo. So, Couch is on the bench and Johnson is in Jacksonville. Arians wanted Holcomb and, well, I guess Andre Davis, Dennis Northcutt and Quincy Morgan.
So, who feels confident about that foursome tearing up the Seahawks on Sunday? That's what I thought. We all know the Browns will leave the rainy Northwest on a cloud of hot air from Butch Davis. More excuses and likely even some straight-out honest self-assessments. This team is great at taking the blame for blowing games.
That misses the point. We don't want to hear blame, excuses or mea culpas.
We want victories, and lots of them.
It's OK for Clevelanders to get a little greedy. We've been living in the shadows of self-important, arrogant cities like Chicago, New York, LA, Pittsburgh and Miami for decades. The Indians at least shot the monkey and went to the World Series. The Cavs managed to lose their way into landing the new Jordan.
The Browns? Well … they're the team you're supposed to beat.
It wasn't always like that. Some of us are old enough to remember when teams feared coming to Cleveland, when it was a race to see which broke your spirit first: A nasty winter wind off the lake, or Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar zipping passes down the field.
To our younger readers, those aren't even memories. They're old tales or grainy video. Did they really even happen? Before long, the Kosars, Newsomes, Matthews, Byners, Sipes and Pruitts will pass from living memory into legend. They will become when Otto Graham and Dante Lavelli are today to me: The mythic gods to be revered, but not the mortal stuff of flesh, blood and bone.
We appreciated and venerate what the heroes of long past did for city, but we need heroes for today. Who will step up and say, "Enough losing. Things are going to change in Cleveland. No more stupid mistakes. No more babble. No more defeat. It's a simple game – block, tackle, run, throw, catch. Nothing more, nothing less and we're going to be its masters."
Until those players step forward, we must settle into more of the same.
Of course, in this NFL season, that may not be such a horrid thing.
What glory is there in sidling into the playoffs with an 8-8 record? Is there honor in being playoff cannon-fodder for others? No, let the Bengals and Ravens vie for the false nobility of stumbling into the post season with a second-rate team and no hope for anything save a close defeat.
Meanwhile, the Browns must play their remaining cards close to the vest. Circle the wagons, keep the games close and play out the string. No sense in getting anyone hurt in a useless, pathetic grasp at a playoff berth that will serve nothing but to inflate player values at contract time.
No, Cleveland must lick its wounds and keep things respectable. If the Browns are going to eventually win the division, they will do so in grand, dominating style, like Sherman marching to the sea. None of this limping to an inevitable defeat business in which the Bengals and Ravens will soon find themselves.
Cleveland has to rest, retool and rethink the franchise direction come January. To rout Arizona is nice indeed, but the season featured an appalling loss to then-winless San Diego and an inexcusable defeat by a flailing Steelers squad. The Browns cannot field a talented team that still provides the tonic to all those that ail.
As Seneca the Younger, once said, "Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem."
In English, that's "It is not goodness to be better than the worst."
More appropriate may be the words of Curtius Rufus: "Canis timidus vehementius latrat quam mordet."
That is, "A timid dog barks more violently than it bites."
Loud, timid hounds have become all too common in Cleveland, where it may be said of Butch Davis: Rex regnant sed non gubernat.
The king reigns but does not govern.
So, to quote to final words of Augustus Caesar: "Acta est fibula."
The play is over.
Former Ohio newspaper editor and reporter Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernie's Insiders. He is not fluent in Latin and has only enough command of French to know Gaul is a nation of silly, smelly people. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.