F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously wrote that there are no second acts in American life.
He was also a football fan and a lousy drunk -- when not authoring The Great American Novel and being hectored by his shrew wife. That was all while the embryonic NFL of the 1920s barely registered upon the national consciousness, but it's not a stretch to imagine Fitz would have made the ideal Browns fan. He was prone to fits of melancholy that lasted for months and his debauched capacity for self-destructive boozing would have made him king of the Dawg Pound.
Nevertheless, Fitzgerald defied his own famous statement and made a comeback.
Of course, he was dead when it happened.
There will be a second act for the Cleveland Browns. The cyclical nature of team sports guarantees it. The question is, will any of us be around to witness and enjoy it?
Meanwhile, the first act of the second edition of the Browns cannot end quickly enough. That odor from your television is the stench is the moldering corpse of 2004, left to slowly rot in the dry, unforgiving winter sun until the drifts mercifully cover it from view.
The residue of defeat stains this franchise, and great care must be taken to cleanse the body football before the 2005 season. The upcoming season will be one of change, which means competitive games, but little chance of the playoffs.
Because 2005 will be what 2004 should have been: The formative year.
If the new coaching staff and front office adopts the proven formula for consistent winning, then 2005 will see the acquisition of quality, veteran NFL offensive linemen, the development of 2004's heralded rookies, and the continued growth of the roster into a team. That's difficult to do in a single season.
So, it's not unrealistic to view the next Browns season as Cavaliers fans see the present NBA campaign. The addition of LeBron James and a few other players have made the Cavs competitive, but not the odds-on favorite to win the title.
Right now, that's good enough. After years of losing, tangible evidence of sustained progress is the initial payoff for fans who invest their emotion, time and money into a team. Progress has been absent for two years at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.
That abomination in Miami isn't worth commenting upon except to say it was a game played by people who don't deserve to wear the orange and brown, and mercifully, few of them will return in 2005.
Every team, even the winless 1974 Tampa Bay losers, has a core of legitimate players worthy of building a team around. The Browns have a dozen, or so, of those players. It will be up to the new general manager -- I predict it will be Ozzie Newsome -- and his hand-picked coach -- I have no idea who that will be -- to identify which players remain, and which will be replaced through free-agency and the draft.
The players on the field now have had most of a season to audition for a job. Almost all of them have failed. Precious few of them should return in reserve roles, or even be in the league. But some will flourish as backups where they flounder now as starters. Again, that's the first critical task facing the incoming staff: Who stays, who goes?
What sort of team the new staff envisions will also dictate who remains, but it would be disturbing if the new team handlers didn't build the offense around the combination of fullback Terrelle Smith and running back Lee Suggs. That, to me, looks like the backbone of the offense, and the passing game should be constructed around it. And, of course, the offensive line should be slabs of muscle that devour whatever's in front of it.
Christmas may be over on the calendar, but it's just starting for Browns fans. In the coming weeks, we're going to see good things happen to the team: A new general manager and a new coaching staff. Then comes the draft and free agency, during which I expect Cleveland to be an active participant. My belief is that the 2005 Browns will be a very different canine than the present mutt.
For Browns fans, it's been an awful season. We live and die by this team. The fanatics devote their lives to this franchise, and its fate affects their well-being. Losing physically, mentally and emotionally touches fans, and we've been through a lot.
Winning affects us, too. But it's been a long time since we've seen much winning. Too long.
It seems the fans made a Faustian deal to get the team back, and thus far it's been an epic tragedy of Wagnerian proportions.
Someone queue the Valkyries.
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Look for a collection of his favorite columns to be published in book form next summer. Write him at email@example.com.