Our long national nightmare is over.
No, not the election.
The bye week.
It's been six years, but the bye week is a chilling reminder of that feeling I had every Sunday from 1996 through 1998. There's little more depressing on a fall Sunday than to have nothing on television worth watching.
Of course, the Browns play this weekend, but the bye awakens that awful sense of emptiness. Those were long, lean years when the Cleveland Browns were little more than a wisp of a dream, a wonderful notion that existed only in our minds and memories.
Sundays were meant for Cleveland Browns football. The crisp air. Falling leaves. Bright sunshine that fades into long shadows as the cool afternoon gives way to night. In living rooms around Northeast Ohio -- and from the teeming sea of humanity in Asia to dusty African villages to mod London flats to a lonely mess tent in Iraq -- televisions air those precious images and radios crackle with the electric thrill of each Sunday's epic saga.
Browns football is a collective experience that transcends all barriers and becomes part of who you are.
Its absence, even if just for a week, conjures dark memories of a gloomy era. Only anticipation of 1999 and things like BTNG kept fans going, burning as the lone beacon in the deathly still darkness of that enforced, cruel oblivion.
But let us cast these demons back into the shadows because the Browns, for better or for worse, are back and not going anywhere.
Well, on Sunday they're going to Baltimore, but only to inflict sadness on the pathetic schleps that genuflect at that altar of greed, vice, vanity and intellectual and moral bankruptcy known as the Ravens.
The pro football team in Baltimore serves as a living reminder of the great evils of which men are capable. The Ravens are a testament to all that's wrong in this world, but they can serve as a sort of moral compass for the rest of us. Whichever direction they point, the opposite is the pure path devoid of malevolence and sin.
But as brutal a reminder of sad times and wickedness these flesh-eating ghouls are, we must still venture into the mouth of that beast once a year, marching boldly with noble purpose into a place where angels truly fear to tread. Baltimore is a fearsome opponent, and we must remember that good does not always triumph. Just knowing that we are on the side of righteousness, however, is sometimes enough.
But not Sunday night. Cleveland must let slip the dawgs of war in this crucial game. By unleashing the hounds of hell, the Browns can level the playing field against a team they must defeat if the season is to be salvaged. They did it in September. Can they do it in November, when so much more is on the line?
Entertaining any notion of a playoff berth begins by emasculating these useless runty trolls, which are their fans, and annihilating the gruesome collection of degenerate criminal thugs that the NFL shamefully allows to play football as a team in the stench-ridden human cesspool-ghetto called Baltimore.
Ironically, "Baltimore" is Latin for "Mayflower Moving Vans." I wonder if they offer special rates still for midnight bulk moves to Indiana? Sources tell me Sunday's game is "Free syringe and 2-for-1 penicillin night" at their stadium. Pimps, winos and addicts get in for half-price, so expect a big crowd.
I'm going to keep this short this week. Honestly, I'm exhausted after 24 straight hours on the City Desk, coming to grips with an inhuman amount of election coverage. Football has been on the backburner, so other than thinking of new ways to insult the Maryland Mistake, I've not had much time to ponder the Browns' situation.
A quick glance at the schedule and standings reveals that a defeat Sunday all but seals the deal for the Ravens and Steelers to take command of the division. A 3-5 mark looks insurmountable with the remaining schedule.
A victory Sunday would be followed by a visit from Pittsburgh and its lowlife fans, a species of creature normally found in seedy zoos, jails, freakshows and free clinics. A 4-4 record going into the Pittsburgh game (which hopefully has them coming off a loss to the Eagles) could set up a pivotal showdown that spells either a run at the division title, or the final nail in 2004's coffin.
In the meantime, embarrassing the loathsome nebbish Brian Billick, former Match Game contestant and all-around fey jackass, is what I live for this week. And no matter what happens Sunday, we can rest assured of two things: We are not Ravens fans and our team will be back next season.
And that's a comforting thought on any chilly fall day.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for him at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Nov. 14 when the mentally defective degenerate ape-men from Pittsburgh visit.