When the press began working the angles on the Browns-Pats tilt on Sunday, one very obvious story jumped off the page. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is widely (and rightly) reviled for his role in wrecking the old Browns franchise. A well-respected defensive mastermind, Belichick was a train wreck in his first stint as head coach. His relationships with players and the media could be described as strained, at best. But it was Mumbles' decision to dump local hero Bernie Kosar that broke the patience of the fans and broke the back of the franchise. With only Todd Philcox available in Kosar's absence, the Browns tanked the rest of the 1994 season. One year later, the team was shuffled off to Baltimore in the guise of the Ravens.
It's nearly a decade later and the Browns still haven't recovered from Mumbles' tortured rein. The offensive line consists of so many cast-offs and projects, you'd think head coach Butch Davis was casting for a remake of the movie Meatballs. The QB situation in Cleveland is murky enough that Davis insists on making his starter a game-time decision. This despite the fact that reliable sources report Kelly Holcomb was seen in a Kroger's supermarket motoring around in an electric wheelchair.
If you want to be a guard on the Cleveland Browns, remember this simple mantra: It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!
In fact, the whole thing is a ruse. With all five offensive linemen, both quarterbacks, and the franchise running back out with injuries, the Browns are forced to dig deep to even field an offense—much less mount one. Fortunately, Davis has crafted a roster positively bursting with receivers and centers. And for once, Davis and offensive coordinator Bruce Ariens create a game plan to suit.
With Kevin Johnson under center the Browns go to a roll-and-shoot offense. KJ rolls left. KJ rolls right. KJ runs from pressure. The fifth year player mixes a pair of short sweeps with a trifecta of pretty downfield throws to scramble the Patriots defense. The Browns score only 10 points in the first quarter, but all the running and chasing has the Patriots D so exhausted they are weak in the knees.
A moment later Butch Davis unleashes Lee Suggs. The fourth-round draft pick takes his first NFL hand off at the Browns' 10 yard line, slips through a half-hearted Rick Lyle arm tackle and shoots right past a surprised Roman Phifer. At the 25 yard line, Suggs puts on a juke that snaps Rodney Harrison's hamstring and causes Tyrone Poole to throw a shoe. Gillette Stadium goes quiet like a tomb as Suggs sprints 90 yards for the score.
The very next play, Tom Brady looks long for Troy Brown. Instead, he completes a very pretty but ill-advised pass to Daylon McCutcheon at the Browns 40 yard line. The interception is Brady's third in the game. By halftime, he would set a new NFL record with seven INTs in a half.
Just like that, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick reverts to old form. He's mumbling at the assistant coaches. He's mumbling at the referees. He's mumbling at the players. And when he mumbles at CBS sideline vixen Bonnie Bernstein at halftime, the odd noises earn Belichick a spirited on-camera perv-slap. It is, by far, the most entertaining moment in Belichick's dour career.
You wanna mumble sweet nothings into her ear? Better wear a helmet.
Belichick may not be much with the ladies, but he's certainly got a way around the locker room. Trailing by 53 points at halftime, Coach Mumbles decides that Tom Brady's career as an NFL QB is finished. Done. Kaput. Brady's agent, it turns out, is nearly as quick at Belichick. Brady is seen leaving the stadium at halftime wearing a Denver Broncos' jersey. Two weeks later, he would join Jake Plummer and Steve Buerlein on the Broncos' Amazing List of Crippled QBs.
Damon Huard lasts exactly one play in relief, crushed beneath a Gerard Warren sack that leaves the backup QB in traction for six weeks. It takes nearly 25 minutes for the Gillette Stadium grounds crew to extract Huard from the turf.
The crowd erupts in cheers when big second-year QB Rohan Davey enters the game. At 6'2" and 245 pounds, Davey is a side of beef with capable legs and a strong arm. But what Rohan Davey doesn't have are eyes on the back of his head.
With Courtney Brown crashing the pocket from his right side, Davey never sees a freight-training Chaun Thompson steaming in from the left. Thompson hits Davey so hard that the young quarterback is launched right out of his cleats. The football squirts into the air, where Courtney Brown thrusts out an arm and snags the ball in stride, racing 35 yards for a touchdown.
Mid-way through the fourth quarter, the fans have had enough. People are tossing paper cups and balled up food wrappers at Belichick. But things explode when the stadium jumbotron shows Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little enjoying the game in a loge with no less a celebrity than the infamous Headphone Guy from Wrigley Field. An enraged mob quickly gathers on the luxury suite deck, overwhelming the security detail and pulling Grady from his seat.
Minutes later thousands of fans are storming the field, screaming in rage for Grady's head. What follows is perhaps the first ritual execution in the history of professional sports. Local cops in riot gear loose a sustained barrage of tear gas grenades and rubber bullets, only to be overwhelmed by the infuriated mob.
And you thought YBD had a tough time of it in the Dawg Pound last week… Try breathing this stuff.
The Headphone Guy is later found at a FedEx facility outside of Boston, bound inside a crate addressed for Soldier Field in Chicago. Grady Little is less fortunate. It takes two weeks for the forensics laboratory to confirm the identity of the Red Sox former manager. The local media reports that the vicious on-field ritual may have—at last—broken the Curse of the Bambino.
Sure enough, the Red Sox in 2004 would win 114 games and sweep the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The events result in a unique halftime tradition for the first Patriots home game each October. Fans drag a Red Sox assistant manager to midfield and perform a ritual human sacrifice to placate the baseball gods.
None of this does a thing for Bill Belichick and his Patriots.
And that's the way I see it. GMD