FEAR AND LOATHING: The Dharma Browns

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money … Which Way To The Boar's Head Tavern? … Nero Fiddles, Cleveland Burns … My Kingdom For A Decent Blocker … All Those Years Ago

WADHAMS, Mich. - It's no secret the National Football League is a den of rogues, rascals, vagabonds, dreamers, mystics, fools and villains.

Despite the best spit-and-polish spin doctor efforts of Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, the league has always been a haven for fringe elements, from flakes like the aptly named Joe Don Loony to criminal dope fiends like Lawrence Taylor.

The trend of nefarious behavior reared its ugly head in Cleveland a couple of weeks ago when H-back Mike Sellers was busted on felony drug charges.

The story is unremarkable in the NFL, but it took a weird twist when the team unceremoniously dumped Sellers in the wake of his private meeting with coach Butch Davis. That little summit obviously took an unexpected and twisted

direction that freaked out Davis. The details of the meeting remain secret despite the public bleatings by Sellers' agent for unrestricted disclosure.

Sellers' warped drama is a model lesson for his former teammates.

While no Puritan, Davis is seen in the college and pro ranks as a man with little tolerance for the sort of reprehensible behavior of which Sellers is accused. No, Davis has a reputation as a rebuilder. He was part of Jimmy Johnson's resuscitation effort in Dallas, then rebuilt the disgraced Miami Hurricanes not long after the dunces at Sports Illustrated called for that college program's elimination.

Sheriff Butch arrived in Boca Raton with a mission. He took over a team that was a hornet's nest of crimes and misdemeanors. By the time Davis left, the program, on paper at least, was clean and nearly won the national title. He came as no one, and left as football's Oliver Cromwell.

Impressive, indeed. Still, Davis is no doubt a pragmatic man. If that was Tim Couch charged with a crime, it's unlikely he'd be handed his walking papers - no matter what sort of bizarre excuse he'd lay on Davis. Franchise quarterbacks rarely are in the headlines for such stupidity, however.

No, Sellers screwed up at the wrong time. Davis is still putting his stamp on the team, and Sellers' large contract and paltry production translated into the perfect warning signal: You mess up, I mean really mess up, you're gone no matter who you are and no matter what we're paying you.

It's a wise move by Davis. Such a signal should be crystal clear even on a team as young as Cleveland.

OK, I've avoided talking about Sunday's abomination long enough. That was a repugnant display of offensive football. Top to bottom, the Browns should be ashamed. Hell, if I'd have been there I'd want my money back. The 31-15

thrashing has me in a funk and seeking solace in a bottle of rancid Falstaff.

To put the disgraceful atrocity in context, let us revisit some ancient history.

"Carthago delenda est!" was the rallying cry of Roman senator Cato the Elder (234-139 BC) before the Third Punic War. "Carthage must be destroyed!"

Once Cato got the war he so badly lusted after, Roman general Scipio Africanus Major did the deed, soundly defeating Carthaginian warlord Hannibal at Zama in 202. Scipio's adopted son, Scipio Africanus Minor, soon laid waste to Carthage, destroying the North African city house by house and selling the population into slavery.

On Sunday, Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher played the part of Cato to perfection. He understands the Titans need to win all of their remaining games to salvage shot at the playoffs. To accomplish that, he'd need his team to devastate Cleveland. With Eddie George slowed by injuries, Fisher asked quarterback Steve McNair to be Scipio, and the veteran signal-caller came through.

McNair, with a trio of touchdown passes, obliterated any realistic chance the Browns had at the post season. He made the Browns look like the Browns of 1999 and 2000: toothless, punchless and hopeless.

Of course, Cleveland's offense did more than its share to help the Titans along. Quincy Morgan set the tone by fumbling away the opening kickoff, setting up a quick Tennessee touchdown. Apart from a scoring drive in the second quarter, it was a dreadful afternoon by Lake Erie.

Apparently, the Cleveland Browns are paying Tim Couch tens of millions of dollars to throw 3-yard passes.

Not being privy to the inner circle, I don't know if it was Couch or the coaches who made the decision not to attack Tennessee's suspect secondary, a unit already hamstrung by injuries that proceeded to lose three more players during the game.

Instead, the passing game was dinks and dunks for a couple of yards each time. That, combined with a non-existent running game left the defense in several untenable positions.

Each offensive lineman, each receiver, all the running backs and Couch should apologize to the defense. Calling the offense pathetic is an insult to pathetic teams. Even Cincinnati can run the ball.

Sure, the offense isn't as bad as it was under Ty Detmer and Terry Kirby in the prehistoric days of 1999, but it's all a matter of context and perspective now. Some parts of the Browns' roster are playoff caliber, but the remainder of these wretches are squandering a miracle season.

The bottom line: If this team could score with some regularity, it would win the essential field position battle. That fight sets the tone of any game. Whichever team has the short field wins. The logic is sound. Sunday was proof.

The coaching staff made one of its few wise moves when it gave Couch the hook early in the fourth quarter while the team trailed 31-7. Tennessee was prepared to pin its ears back and turn Cleveland Browns Stadium into sack central. Couch was roughed up enough.

Backup Kelly Holcomb was able to complete passes over the middle and downfield because the Titans changed their tactical philosophy on defense at that point. The rush was off and the defensive backs played in a soft zone. Also,

Tennessee was playing very sloppy in the final few minutes, drawing several dim-witted penalties and allowing Holcomb and Kevin Johnson to connect for a 20-yard scoring pass.

Which brings us to a critical situation for Davis. He has to squelch any notion of a quarterback controversy post haste. To the average fan, and some of the more dense sports writers and radio hacks, it looked as if Holcomb was the missing spark. He wasn't. The situation was different. His repeated attempts to force the ball to the ham-fisted Scott Frost in the end zone was proof of his greenness. Garbage time ain't prime time.

Davis needs to make it clear Tim Couch is the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

It wouldn't hurt if Mr. Couch would make it clear as well.

NOTES: The title is a play on Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. … I was never much into the Beatles, but George Harrison's "Something" and his solo hits "My Sweet Lord" and "All Those Years Ago" are among my favorites. Thanks, George. Sometimes it's better to be the Quiet One. … Why do all Cleveland's notable recent backup quarterbacks wear No. 10 or No. 18? Gary Danielson and Mike Tomczak wore No. 18 while Mike Pagel, Eric Zeier and Kelly Holcomb wore No. 10. And why is Bernie's No. 19 off-limits? The team didn't retire Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome's No. 82. They should retire No. 82, No. 19 and No. 17 (Brian Sipe). … Tim Couch is the first Browns regular quarterback in the history of the franchise to wear a single digit jersey (No. 2). … Let's give some credit to the coaches for the option play call. Scott Frost ran it well at Nebraska, and he did a great job Sunday with it. Now, if Ben Gay wouldn't treat the football like a live grenade every time he touched it …

Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. He now lives in a remote part of Michigan's Thumb, safe from knaves, fools and Ratbirds. He can be reached at docgonzo19@aol.com.

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