Hoping to put the nightmare that was the 2000 season behind them, the Cleveland Browns front office spends the off-season cutting players, trading players for draft picks, and feeding expansion draft busts into a wood chipper. (Reports say that Darius Holland wouldn't fit and that Butch had him chipped by hand.)
By the time Butch Davis and his cutting crew are done, the Cleveland area press reports that the Browns will have 215 picks in the 2002 draft--almost all of them in the sixth and seventh rounds. Unfortunately, only three or four players remain on the roster, and remarkably, one of them is Phil Dawson. Tony Grossi disapproves.
So it's no surprise that Seattle Seahawks' coach Mike Holmgren likes his chances against the Browns, despite the fact that injuries have cut through Seattle cornerbacks like the Spanish Flu of 1918. Starting corners Shawn Springs and Willie Williams are out, as is first backup Ike Charlton. That leaves rookies Ken Lucas and Harold Blackmon, and third-year player Paul Miranda, whose NFL stat sheet reads zeroes across the board.
The situation got so bad that on Thursday, Holmgren was seen in a Seattle-area Sears trying to steal a pair of mannequins. When questioned by police, Holmgren replied: "These two are faster than what I've got left on the roster. Hey, either of you guys play ball?"
Holmgren and his mannequins have a bigger problem than they know. As it turns out, Butch and Browns president Carmen Policy weren't entirely honest with the press. In fact, only half the team was traded or cut, and very few players actually found their way into the chipper. What Mike Holmgren thought was going to be a cakewalk would quickly turn into an outright disaster.
Seattle sports a truly woeful defense (last in the NFL in 2000), and Butch Davis knows it. The very first play of the game, Tim Couch drops back, fakes a hand-off to James Jackson, and lets one fly 45 yards downfield to a wide open Kevin Johnson. The season is less than 25 seconds old and the Browns are on the board with seven points. Lucas twists his ankle on the play and leaves the game. A mannequin is seen on the sidelines warming up.
Things don't go much better for the Hawks on offense. QB Matt Hasselbeck has never started an NFL game, and first-round pick WR Koren Robinson has missed so many practices with nagging injuries that he barely knows his routes. But at least Seattle has a running game. Ricky Watters reels off four runs for 25 yards behind guard Steve Hutchinson, when Holmgren makes the mistake of spelling him with promising second-year back Shaun Alexander.
Watters goes berserk, screaming in Holmgren's face, tipping over the Gatorade tub, and throwing a first down marker onto the field. Watters' agent, Leigh Steinberg, is at the sidelines in a New York minute. As Ricky smashes a boom mike and a sideline camera, Steinberg and Holmgren hammer out a deal. An instant later, Steinberg's on his cell phone making a call across the field to Butch.
"We'll trade you Watters and two Sears mannequins for Travis Prentice and Darius Holland. What? You fed 'em into the wood chipper? OK, we'll take the wood chipper then."
It's done before the end of the commercial interruption. Watters gets a new deal with a no substitution clause. By contract, at least 80% of hand-offs have to go to Ricky, unless he's on a respirator or deceased. To make space on the roster, Butch cuts kicker Phil Dawson on the spot. At halftime, the weak-legged kicker is fed into the wood chipper at midfield. The crowd goes wild. Tony Grossi doesn't approve.
Trading Watters may have saved Holmgren's hide, but it doesn't help his offense. Shaun Alexander simply has not seen the likes of Cleveland's front seven. The first time Alexander runs into Gerard Warren, he spends a full minute on the ground trying to regain feeling in his limbs. With Alexander sidelined, Hasselbeck opts to air it out. But when Koren breaks off his route, Percy Ellsworth--of all people--comes up with the pick and returns it 56 yards for a touchdown.
By the third quarter, things are just ugly. The Seahawks' dottering defensive line gets plowed under by Verba and Johnson, springing Watters for 217 yards on the day. Tim Couch throws for 412 yards and six touchdowns. Punter Jeff Feagles and third string quarterback Trent Dilfer--pressed into service at cornerback--both succumb to heat exhaustion near the end the game.
For Butch Davis and the new-look Cleveland Browns, the game is a triumph. But Watters doesn't stay a Brown for long. By 10 pm Sunday night, Butch has dealt him back to the Seahawks for a conditional sixth round pick.
Final score? Browns 273, Seahawks -3
And that's the way I see it.