Gonzo: Steeler Blight and Bligh

Doc endures primates festooned in yellow and channels Fletcher Christian...

Maybe it looked better on television, but from Row 23, Section 525 it looked like a grotesque display of pathetic football that soiled the proud legacy of the Cleveland Browns.

Seated amid a sea of lowlife Steeler fans, several of whom were eventually led away in handcuffs for their trademark boorish behavior, I was subjected to an insulting afternoon of shoddy performances while surrounded by illiterate cultists whose affection for the Pittsburgh franchise is about as healthy as the devotion people showed at Jonestown.

Nothing like a rabble of ugly little ape-people -- it's difficult to differentiate the men from their women – goofily waiving dingy, stained yellow rags to drive home the point that your team is now firmly entrenched alone in the basement of the AFC North.

"Yinz ain't n'where as good as dem Stillers!" one creature festooned in a black and yellow feather boa told me in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. The thing speaking to me had both male and female physical characteristics, so I was unsure how to address it. Instead, I put two of the foam fingers handed out at the gates that day together to form a rather realistic middle-finger configuration.

There was little more I could offer amid the ugly spectacle unfolding before us several hundred feet below on the stadium grass, so my defiant gesture had to speak for me.

The universal message of the middle finger was not lost of this creature, who proceeded to babble various epithets and boast of the gridiron prowess of "Big Bin" which I took as a mealy-mouthed Pittsburghese  warping of "Big Ben" -- a reference to rookie Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger.

I couldn't argue.

No amount of "Steelers suck!" chants, which ring hollow these days, will dispel the notion that "Big Bin" looks like what Tim Couch might have on a well-established football team. Not dominating or a liability, Rothlisberger instead appears to be an excellent on-field game manager who is well protected by a massive line and a sound, safe game plan. He benefits from being on a team that has direction and talent evaluation skills throughout the organization.

Let's not kid ourselves. The city of Pittsburgh may be the physical embodiment of civic venereal disease, but the Steelers do not suck. Twice this season they've manhandled the Browns and Rothlisberger has been instrumental in their destruction. They are going to win the North.

Meanwhile, Butch Davis has completed his transformation into Lt. Bligh.

That, of course, begs the question: Who will be the Fletcher Christian that sets him adrift?

Bligh was certainly, by all accounts, a martinet of the worst sort. But he was also one of history's greatest sailors, as evidenced by his harrowing survival from the Bounty incident.

Unlike those frustrated British sailors two centuries ago, the Browns are reportedly rallying behind their Lt. Bligh. The team is saying all the "right" things, as those surrounded in bunkers do, but the evidence remains that Davis has mismanaged games, botched personnel decisions and generally acted like a man both out of control and out of touch.

Like William Bligh.

History, rightly or wrongly, has judged Bligh harshly.

Butch Davis still awaits his verdict, but that time draws near. Owner Randy Lerner hasn't said anything in public himself about his confidence in Davis. Of course, what comes out of an NFL owner's mouth is true for only as long as the words are audible, and usually not even that long.

But how long can Lerner ignore the mob's call for Butch Davis' blood?

How much losing is too much?

As fans, we'll continue to watch each Sunday, but more and more, it feels like returning to the scene of a crime, and we're 73,000 witnesses.

Wonderful things once happened on that sliver of lakefront.

Not anymore. The legacy of Sunday afternoons of long ago is being clouded by men unable or unwilling to measure up to the fierce standards demanded by Cleveland Browns fans.

Someone must be held accountable, and I suggest Davis, his coaching staff and the front office be dismissed, as they are the ones responsible for subjecting the fans to humiliation. Much of the roster should be pruned of these talentless dilettantes and has-beens.

The Cleveland Browns have a worse record than the Cincinnati Bengals, the NFL's litmus test for futility, and got swept by the Steelers. Those are crimes that require punishment.

All we have is pride in our shared past, and hope for the future. Ruin those, and being cast adrift in the South Pacific will be the kindest fate for which Butch Davis and his band of most-unmerry men can hope.

Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. He plans to move to Pitcairn Island immediately after the season and write nothing but Latin haiku about Condoleeza Rice. He can be reached, for now, at docgonzo19@aol.com.

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