Doc Gonzo: Two Observations on the Unwatchable

Anyone else feeling jaded these days?

What's left to say?

The Cleveland Browns are an embarrassment with no talent, no luck and, for the remainder of this year, no hope of winning.

But we already knew that.

Of course, we stick with them. Everyone cranes their neck to watch the car crash on the other side of the highway. And the Browns are a helluva wreck each Sunday, disintegrating to new depths of shocking ineptitude.

Cleveland was stunningly bad against a Buffalo team that has a Jekyll-and-Hyde offense and tough defense. What sort of new record for staggering badness will Cleveland set when a hot San Diego team visits Sunday?

As fans, we suffer a lemming-like trait of following this team no matter what sort of abuse they heap on us. We rally 'round the flag even when it's a surrender banner, and we'll continue to do so. But sheesh, what did we do to deserve this nonsense?

The Browns of yesteryear have been described as the "Yankees of football" because they dominated the landscape in the 1940s and 1950s. By 1970, however, things were running down hill. There were briefs up ticks in 1979-80 and 1985-89. The team briefly flashed promise in 1994 and 2002. But those teams faded instantly.

So what are the Browns now? We've had two winning seasons since 1990. That's merely two more than Cincinnati, meaning the Browns are flirting frighteningly close with the stigma of being the league's worst franchise.

That's cause for panic, in my book.

The rest of 2004 is a write-off, of course. Nothing will be gained for the future benefit of the team this year. It's playing out the string with an ugly collection of has-beens and never-will-be's. It's possible they could upset someone, but doubtful.

And to make matters worse, the Browns are the NFL's worst team, but likely won't get the top overall draft pick.

Being the Browns, they naturally would botch the pick, anyways.

Anyone else feeling jaded these days?

This has been like watching a friend or relative succumb to a disease. We are sad and frustrated and there's nothing we can do but watch. Mercifully, the end is near for this version of the Browns. And I'm being charitable by even calling this collection of people the "Browns."

My devotion lies with the franchise and its colors and history -- sacred things to me. The players themselves are merely those graced to wear the colors and are of secondary importance. This group of players, and the coaches who lead them, have disgraced the colors.

They are simply awful and the future can't get here fast enough to wipe out the memory of this year.

The only good news lately, and it's purely personal, is that I'm now able to type these poisonous little diatribes on a brand-new Dell 8400 Pentium IV that sports a GeForce 6800 graphics card. That means I can run the latest top-notch video games with zero problems. The "Director's Cut" edition of "Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault" is an especially beautifully rendered game, and in 5.1 surround sound, it blows one out of the chair.

Unlike the Browns, who just blow. They're better watched an a fuzzy, loosely tuned black-and-white RCA Victor. Perhaps they wouldn't look so bad if the television reception looked as it they were broadcasting from Jupiter during a solar storm.

Because during a simple snowstorm in Buffalo, on Earth, it's a nauseating spectacle devoid of hope.

If forced to seek positives from Sunday's wretched defeat, one could point out that no one died. Sure, the veteran quarterback and starting center were lost for the season, but that's expected in 2004 every time Cleveland takes the field. Call it a value-added benefit for the betting fans: Which Browns will be lost for the year on any given Sunday?

After having a few days to digest the unsavory disaster at Ralph Wilson Stadium, here's a few observations:

1. Terry Robiskie is not a candidate to become the permanent head coach.

He made a terrible decision to wait until the end of the third quarter to replace Luke McCown with Jeff Garcia. At some point, the learning process stopped for the rookie, and he was being subjected to negative experiences that would hamper his growth as a quarterback. Unless you're a prostitute, you don't learn on your back, and McCown was sacked eight times. Some were his fault, some were not. As the Browns fell farther and farther behind, the Bills were able to employ very basic defenses while pinning their ears back on an unrelenting pass rush.

At halftime, a switch to Garcia would have given the Browns a chance to at least not look so awful. He's a veteran who can read a defense and make the correct throwing decision. Buffalo is aware of that and would have been forced to play more complex schemes and blitz less. A veteran like Garcia, even behind a poor line, is far more likely to eventually beat the blitz and make a long throw. And if he'd entered the game before it was out of reach, Buffalo had not yet resorted to the full pass rush, so he might not have been injured.

Love him or hate him, Garcia was a live body. Now, the Browns have been forced to resort to stealing a rookie even more raw than McCown, Bowling Green product Josh Harris, off, of all teams, Baltimore's practice squad. He's not going to know the offense better than McCown, so if McCown goes down Sunday against San Diego, we could very well see a worse performance that we did against the Bills.

I hold Robiskie entirely at fault. Even casual fans expected to see Garcia after halftime. Instead, we saw McCown continue to struggle, the Browns slip from contention and Garcia get hurt. That's a tremendously bad coaching decision. Robiskie should be dismissed, along with the rest of the coaching staff, the day after the season ends. The Browns must shed all links with the last regime. Any stragglers will only serve as a bitter remind of these failed, wasted years.

2. I don't expect the Browns to contend for the post season for at least two more years.

Certainly, other teams have made the jump in one season from dreadful to dominating, but I believe the Browns are an institutionally weak franchise that is rebuilding off the field as well as on. It's not a question of adding a few key players; it's a question of revamping the entire roster and building an entirely new front office. And quickly, making me wondering if the new regime will be in the same bind as the 1999 staff. Will they have enough time to properly analyze the current roster, free-agent pool and college talent for the draft and signing periods? If not, this team will merely repeat the last six years under its third failed coach. If owner Randy Lerner gets it right, the Browns will contend for the Super Bowl by 2007.

Next year is when tight end Kellen Winslow II and safety Sean Jones will be rookies. For now, they are talents on paper. Until they get a full NFL season under their belts, they're nothing more than paper tigers. My guess is that both will be excellent players who make Cleveland a better team, but they still will make rookie errors and spend 2005 learning the NFL game. They will be getting experience at the same time a hopefully talented batch of 2005 rookies will be coming on board. I don't know if there's a franchise-building offensive lineman available in April's draft, but if there is, there is no excuse in the world why this team shouldn't move Heaven and Earth to get him.

The rookies next year will be learning their trade while the free-agent acquisitions will be learning to play as a team. And free-agency is where the Browns will shape their future. Not a single season-making player has been inked by the Browns since they returned from the abyss in 1999. This is the year Lerner must open his checkbook at sign at least two NFL-caliber starters for the offensive line. There simply is no other priority on this team. Until the line is addressed, the Browns have less than zero chance of competing. A couple of guys who are quality starters would make a world of improvement. A merely average line is good enough to make a Super Bowl run. Right now, the Browns do not field offensive linemen that should be in the NFL.

The bottom line is, the 2005 Browns should be a competitive team with a goal of reaching .500. The addition of even more talent, under a quality coach, in 2006 should translate into a team that makes the playoffs.

And three years from now, there is no excuse for the team to not be returning to its old neighborhood: The AFC Championship Game.

And this time, they're bringing it home.

I hope.


Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. His Christmas list includes items that, because of decency standards, can't be listed here, but we can say they are illegal is most states. Write him at

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