Les Levine takes a look at a rivalry that was supposed to be red-hot, but has turned out a little different than NFL planners expected. Plus, some thoughts on what the off-season might hold, as well as the team's big miss on the best Miami player ever (maybe)...<BR><BR>
When the Cleveland Browns got back into the NFL in 1999, there were a
lot of people who thought that the Browns-Baltimore Ravens rivalry would replace
the Browns-Steelers in the minds of many Cleveland fans.
After all, the
Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry didn't get heated up until the early 1970's, when
the Steelers finally got good. Prior to that, the Browns could count on two
wins a season, plus a bunch of drunk Pittsburgh fans coming to town for Saturday
night games, pumping money into the local economy.
When Art Modell shipped his team to Baltimore, the former radio flagship
station of the Browns continued to carry the Ravens games, and the local
television stations made sure that the bulk of the Ravens games were carried
locally. Local fans rooted for them to lose every game, but there was a
curiosity to see how Modell's team would fare, coupled with a desire to see the
former Browns players do well.
It continued when Brian Billick turned down the
Browns offer to coach the expansion team, but it died down quite a bit as time
went on. For the most part, after the first year or two, Cleveland fans put the
Ravens out of their minds, to the point that when they won the Super Bowl, it
wasn't as big of a problem for Cleveland fans as you would expect.
And now that Modell is out
of the picture, and only former Browns Matt Stover and Orlando Brown remain on
the Baltimore roster, the Ravens are just another division team on the
While there were many reasons to root against Art and David Modell,
it is pretty hard to root against Ozzie Newsome. In fact, most fans around
here think that Newsome would be the answer to the front office problems.
doubt that Randy Lerner could get permission to talk to Newsome about
returning the Cleveland, and because of his popularity here, it is doubtful
that Butch Davis would think very kindly about his return. But just such a
hire would inject some much needed confidence in the Browns front office
As the Browns return after their bye week, they face a stretch of five
games that will make or break the rest of the season.
At last Monday's press
conference, Butch Davis looked and talked like he had just returned from an
all-out street fight. That is what tough overtime losses to do players and
coaches, especially ones who are fighting for their jobs.
This week the Browns
are in Baltimore for a nationally televised ESPN Sunday night game, followed by
games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York Jets, and the Super Bowl champion
New England Patriots. Although it is not always a true indication of the
outcome of the games, they will not be favored in any of these games, including
the home games.
The off-week, especially at this point of the season, gives coaches,
players and owners a chance to take a look at where things stand.
for the Browns the overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles magnified the
outlooks of all concerned, especially the negative ones. A win would have put
the record at 4-3, instead of the other way around, and it would have been a lot
easier to prepare for this rugged stretch of games.
I've got to believe that
any loss taken in that stretch of games will be harder for Butch Davis to
justify, and for owner Randy Lerner to accept. He clearly very passionate
about the team that he owns, and his frustration level probably will rise.
I wouldn't expect any major
changes to be made during the season, but I do believe that Lerner has a
re-structuring plan in mind once the season ends. It began last off-season,
and will continue this off-season.
After an almost unprecedented five straight wins coming out of the box,
the Browns and their fans figure to match up with Big Ben twice a year for the
next ten years or so.
Granted, he has been give a better running game and set
of wide receivers than the Browns have given their QBs in the past six seasons,
but it has been a long time since a rookie quarterback has looked this good from
Butch Davis was criticized for not ‘throwing the kitchen sink'
at him in their first meeting, blitzing on four times by Butch's count, but Bill Belichick didn't fare much better last week, when every possible defense was
utilized, and Roethlisberger looked like he was a ten year veteran.
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