The Tao of Teddy
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
-- Teddy Roosevelt (U.S. president and rugged bon vivant, 1858-1919)
If Butch Davis hasn't done much reading lately, he oughta. And I'd recommend he start with a biography of the original Bull Moose, the imposing, mythical and majestic Theodore Roosevelt.
Politics and policies aside, Teddy remains a fascinating figure, and he was president in a time that eerily reflects our own. But what is most compelling are some of his speeches and this thoughts on life.
A quick Google search brings a wealth of Teddy-isms and quotes, and it's worth noting many of them could apply to the 2004 Cleveland Browns. We shall start with the man at the eye of the storm, Paul Hilton "Butch" Davis.
The quote atop this column should be etched in stone outside Cleveland Browns Stadium.
As much as anyone, I've been a critic of Davis, but I discovered a few TR quotes that could accurately apply to him, the fans and the team:
"The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything."
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing."
Well, we can't accuse Davis of doing nothing. His mistakes are left on the field for all to see.
Another good lesson for Davis to learn comes from this quote:
"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."
Meaning, shut up and let the coordinators coach and for Godsakes, draft quality players. Our history of first-round draft picks, from both head coaches since 1999, is a frightening and sickening litany of failure (Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green, Jeff Faine and Kellen Winslow II). Couch is officially a bust, Brown may never play again and Warren is banged up while never living up to the hype. The jury remains out on Faine, who is buried between two clumsy, useless guards and Green appears to have lost his job. Winslow succumbed to the injury gremlin that plagues with franchise. The bottom line is, Cleveland is getting very little production from its high picks.
That said, Teddy reminds us that things could be worse, and not to complain to bitterly:
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."
Of course, the president was a practical man, and had little use for blinkered Pollyanna nonsense -- a disease not unknown among Browns fans.
"Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness."
From across the vast sea of time, Roosevelt uttered a statement that should be the epitaph on Art Modell's tomb (a structure that can't be occupied soon enough for some of us):
"No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency."
There's even a Teddy quote for those of us calling outright, or hinting around the edges, for regime change at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.: "Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe."
Lunatic, indeed. Guilty as charged, I s'pose.
Let us turn now from ancient history to the more recent kind. Such as last Sunday's defeat of the Washington Redskins.
For the sake of honesty and self-disclosure, I must admit I missed parts of the game. My paintball team ran late, so I didn't get back until the start of the second quarter. But from all reports, it looks as if I missed nothing I hadn't seen against Baltimore, Dallas and New York: A bumbling, out-of-sync offense being bailed out by a surprisingly good defense. But the fourth quarter showed some growth, which is encouraging.
Of course, one could argue Joe Gibbs' mercurial and baffling clock-management led to Washington's defeat, but even if that's the case, the Browns did what a team should do: Capitalize on the mistake to earn a victory.
If the defense maintains its current level of play, even cantankerous, petulant killjoys like Sean Porterhouse will be forced to acknowledge that the Browns aren't the doormats they wish them to be.
(Editor's note: Fans should be reminded that Bitterman Porterhouse, in a 1987 playoff game at Cleveland, completed two passes in his six attempts. One to his own Colts, and one to the Browns, which was returned for a touchdown by Frank Minnifield.)
If there was a time to seize momentum, this is the week. Cleveland visits a 3-1 Pittsburgh team that is an optical illusion in pads. The Steelers rallied to beat a weak Raiders team in the season opener, then collapsed against Baltimore. In the two following weeks, Pittsburgh beat a ham-fisted Dolphins team in a freakish monsoon, and survived a battle of rookie quarterbacks in a sloppy win over helpless Cincinnati.
Not the stuff of which playoff teams are made.
Of course, we get the usual empty bluster and tired rhetoric from the mob of crude hooligans that are Steelers fans. But in their hearts, they're crippled with fear. They understand what the Browns defense can do to a wilting offense. And with Cleveland's offense showing vital signs thanks to Lee Suggs' return, they know a rout could be in store.
Such a victory could repair the shaken psyche of the Browns' offense, a unit that hinted at what's possible with the victory over Washington.
Things are still not running smoothly on offense. All four games have been shaky at best, downright grotesque at worst. A potent running game will work wonders for the frail Browns passing game. This team is built around the play-action pass (both drop-back and on bootlegs coming of fake sweeps), and without that running threat, it simply doesn't work. The Browns don't have the rhythm or talent yet to have Jeff Garcia drop back every down and fire away.
That said, the Steelers appear ripe for plucking. Butch Davis will repair some of his damaged credibility if his team can capitalize on the opportunity given him. A victory over Pittsburgh going into a home game against Cincinnati could be the tonic to right the ailing ship.
A pair of victories over the next two Sundays allows the Browns a slight moment to breathe, and the bye week gives them time to work additional kinks out of the offense.
A defeat followed by a loss to Cincinnati, and the violent bonhomie of the Dawg Pound may quickly swell into an inexorable force demanding Butch's head, and Randy Lerner would be hard-pressed to long ignore his most steadfast rabble of fans. The Dawg Pound remains the erratic heart and soul of BrownsNation, and when angered, they are most difficult to placate.
Except by winning. And sometimes, it's that simple. Just ask Teddy.
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Except when he doesn't. He can be reached at email@example.com. Feel free to e-mail him esoteric literary references to be worked in future columns written at 3 a.m.