What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, when ABC execs sat down to craft the Monday Night Football schedule, the Cleveland Browns looked like a ratings bonanza. There was the fanatical, nationwide fan base; the rich football tradition and storied history of incredible Monday night games; and—of course—that heart-stopping streak of comeback victories in 2002. If any team could keep viewers in their seats until 1:30 in the blessed A.M., surely it had to be the Kardiac Kids release 2.0.
Oh, there was reason to hope. Taut contests like those against San Francisco, Oakland, and Indianapolis—not to mention that pistol whipping in Pittsburgh—showcased a young Browns defense and an offense that could occasionally catch fire. But then came the inevitable run of offensive line injuries, player suspensions, bad tackling, and fumbilitis. Just like that, a young team that seemed poised to make a run at the division fell to pieces.
You had to look no further than the painful MNF promo spot that the network ran the week before. Kelly Holcomb may or may not be an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, but as a spokesman he's got all the television appeal of rotting beef. He looks like he should be a court stenographer, or maybe a third-rate accountant. ABC quickly pulls the ill-advised spots when real-time Nielsen data shows a sharp drop in viewership within seconds of Holcomb's face appearing on the screen.
You're a highly successful advertising executive for ABC. Would you put this face forward to sell your product? Yeah, me neither.
The nation may be yawning, but at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Monday night the atmosphere is electric—a heady mix of anticipation, fear, and ritual self-loathing. Predictably, the fans make an honest go of it, conducting a day-long tailgate session that evolves into a pitched back-and-forth battle between fans and police. News copter footage shows thick clouds of BBQ smoke and tear gas mixing over the Muni parking lot. The caustic mix would inspire YBD to concoct a new recipe—called YBD's Pepper Spray™ BBQ Sauce—that would catapult him to culinary stardom.
A customer receives treatment after a helping of YBD's Pepper Spray™ BBQ Sauce. Despite numerous lawsuits, the extra-spicy recipe would become a nationwide hit.
Police in full riot gear huddle behind plexi-glass shields as a hail of dog bones and biscuits rain from the sky. At one point, local news outlets report that no fewer than six beer trucks have been hijacked and diverted to the stadium by renegade fans. In other words, it's just another game day at Cleveland Browns Stadium. And the St. Louis Rams are doomed.
Mike Martz opens the floodgates with one of his patented Martz Coaching Moments™, an onside kick that is intended to catch the Browns special teams off-guard. Instead, Martz helps launch Chaun Thompson's Hall of Fame career. The rookie linebacker project snares the ball at the 40 yard line, blasts through Bryce Fisher and Fred Weary, and steamrolls kicker Jeff Wilkins on his way to a touchdown. Wilkins would be lost for the season with a torn ACL.
You can hear the sigh of relief coming from the ABC's New York offices. There's a game on. Madden actually breaks his own record on the play, saying "boom!" thirteen times while telestrating the action.
The Browns quickly turn the tables on the Rams, serving up a little onsides action of their own. Phil Dawson's onside kick bounces off the turf and high into the air, and once again Chaun Thompson is there to make the play. Thompson tips the ball over a Rams wideout and into his own hands, springing himself up the right side for his second score in less than ten seconds.
In fact, the Browns score five special teams touchdowns before either team's offense or defense can take the field. With a 35-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, Martz decides to open the bag of tricks. But when Isaac Bruce launches a 30 yard pass into the hands of Anthony Henry (returned for yet another Browns TD), it is more than a frustrated Brenda Warner—stewing behind the Rams bench—can stand. The shrewish wife of former NFL wunderkind Kurt Warner leaps over the sideline barrier and jumps onto Martz' back. In an instant, she has Martz' Motorola headset cord twisted around the coach's neck. It takes three Rams' linemen, two cops, and a shot of YBD's Pepper Spray™ BBQ Sauce to finally pry the enraged spouse off of Martz' unconscious body.
And just like that, the coup is on. Brenda Warner seizes control of the franchise, immediately firing offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and trading QB Marc Bulger to the Browns for a conditional seventh round draft pick and a tasteful chandelle feather boa. Horrified team executives try to intercede, but when they arrive at the loge, they find Rams owner Georgia Frontiere's lifeless body next to a neatly written suicide note. Conveniently, the note includes a signed contract turning over control of the team to—you guessed it—Brenda Warner.
Brenda orders Kurt Warner back into the lineup. The very next play, Kurt breaks his right hand on the helmet of an onrushing Courtney Brown. The veteran QB tries to come off the field, but Brenda isn't having it. She shoves the ailing quarter back onto the field, calling an out-and-up route to Tory Holt.
There's just one problem. Warner can't hold the ball. Rather than face the wrath of his wife, he attempts the pass with his left hand. The result is a weak looking interception that falls right into the waiting paws of Orpheus Roye, who rumbles over Warner like a pickup truck over roadkill on his way to the end zone.
The fans in Cleveland are ecstatic, but the death threats are already hitting the Rams' email servers in St. Louis. By the end of the fourth quarter, Brenda Warner has achieved a league first by becoming the first person to both cut and divorce an NFL player on the same day. She also hires actress Gabrielle Carteris—formerly of [i]Beverly Hills 90210[/i] fame—to act as a body double. The threats become so severe that Warner moves the Rams franchise to Evansville, Indiana—deep in Bible Belt country—renaming the team the Evansville Lambs of God.
And that's the way I see it. GMD