Fear and Loathing: The Great CBS Collapse

LBJ's Dirty Laundry Still Safe From View … Total and Utter National Humiliation … The Night Chicago Lied … Jeremiah Castille Lives … How D'ya Say ‘Horror' in Welsh?

"Cyfrgolli! Cachu! Plentyn gordderch! Annwn!"
- Welsh vulgarities.

WADHAMS, Mich. - This? This is why I and the nation missed 60 Minutes' exclusive public airing of Lyndon Johnson's secret sex tapes?

Leading the Chicago Bears 21-7 inside the 2-minute warning, the Browns get a fatal case of hubris and the Bears get a dose of fortune not seen outside of Las Vegas casinos. A touchdown, a recovered onsides kick, a Hail Mary tip-and-catch score, an interception return in overtime and then disgrace.

Bears win 27-21, and the Browns are sent limping back to Berea, tail twixt legs.

Defeat and humiliation before a national audience. America watched in bemusement, no doubt, as they tuned in looking for Morley Safer, and instead found the Browns looking bewildered. The most telling image across the nation of the new Browns today is Tim Couch on his ass, stunned.

Cleveland will be reeling for some time to come, and deservedly so. There are no excuses. This was a team defeat. And it will be 50 years before the Browns play on national television again.

Who do you blame? The defense, especially Courtney Brown, was outstanding all afternoon, then collapsed quicker than a Latin American democracy. How does a team record five sacks, a trio of interceptions and a defensive touchdown and still crumble?

The offense struggled for most of the afternoon, but Couch executed when he needed to, and offensive coordinator Bruce Ariens kept the Bears on their heels in crunch time. But when the clock needed killed, the Browns abandoned the successful passing game for a running game that looked like it never left Ohio.
Meanwhile, the special teams recorded several long returns for the first time this season, but then couldn't execute an onsides kick recovery.


If I wasn't blessed with the ability to hold my alcohol tolerably well, I'd have splattered the television with a rancid mixture of gin, cherry brandy and scotch vomit. Disappointed hasn't been doled out on a Biblical scale such as this since Ernest Byner's AFC Championship game fumble in January 1988.

As soon as Mike Brown crossed the goal line with Couch's tipped pass Sunday, I quickly expended my reservoir of English-language vulgarities, then exhausted my limited supply of foreign foul slang. After that, it was a mixture of talking in tongues and coining an entirely new four-letter vernacular.


In an interview with Browns News Illustrated's David Carducci, Couch said: "I've never felt this bad after a game."

Hell, Tim, neither have the rest of us in a very long time. Mr. Couch was an 11-year old in the hills of Kentucky when Byner was stripped of the ball at the 2-yard line of Mile High Stadium.

All fans can do this morning is sigh, and recall the words of the Shirelles: "Momma said there'll be days like this."

What Momma never said, though, was that some days are luckier than others. She always was a pessimist at heart.

The Chicago Bears are living proof of the old adage that it's better to be lucky than good. That's not to say they're not good. They are. But on Sunday, luck played a far bigger role than talent. You combine good fortune with a needlessly cocky coach and team, you have the recipe for a shocker. And Bubba, Cleveland's pro football got the shock of its young life.

The Browns had no right to be smug, and that includes the front office and coaches. Butch Davis was all smiles in the waning minutes. The defense relaxed. Trash was talked. There was no way they could lose, right?

Wrong. Incorrect. Mistaken. Erroneous. False. Untrue.

The Gods of Football and Lords of Karma smiled on the Bears. They meant to show Cleveland that pride and complacency is immoral in the NFL.

Now, instead of a showdown for the division lead next Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium against Pittsburgh, the Browns face a desperate, must-win contest to avoid falling farther back in the division. It's November, a month when pretenders are exposed in this league, a desperate time.

It's too early to tell how the Browns will respond to Sunday's disaster. A foreboding feeling says it was the beginning of a collapse and Cleveland will be fortunate to finish the season 6-10. Hope, however, dictates that I long for the Soldier Field Nightmare to serve as a rallying point, much like the loss at Cincinnati. If things go that route, the Steelers will pay a heavy price for playing the Browns next Sunday.

As for the Bears, they will be the darlings of newspapers, radio talk shows and the networks. It's all a mirage, of course. Chicago will waltz into the playoffs on the strength of its running game and defense, perhaps as far as the Super Bowl. Then history will rear its unmerciful head and send the Bears the way of the '85 Patriots. You don't win it all with quarterbacks whose mothers have trouble recalling their names.

Jim Miller? Shane Mathews? Please. And Mike Brown will disappear as quickly as he exploded onto the scene, becoming a difficult trivia question for those outside Chicago. Ask a Bears fan who Jeremiah Castille was and you'll get a perplexed look. True Browns fans still cringe at his name.

For now, though, Chicago has earned the right to feel good. Several hundred miles to the east, however, the joy is sapped along the southern shore of Lake Erie. The luster has worn away, revealing the ugly warts on the nouveau Cleveland Browns, whose tragic history, borne on Sunday's bitter Lake Michigan winds, came back to haunt them.

For players like Couch, that history isn't even a memory.

Mr. Carducci quotes him: "You feel like you could win one for your team on the road and take a big step forward, but everything changed real quick."

That's right, Tim. Just like Bob Dylan said, things have changed.

How so? We'll see Sunday.

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