He Could Have Owned This Town

Rich Passan looks that the sad (to date) Kellen Winslow saga

Kellen Winslow Jr. could have owned Cleveland.

He was a star coming out of college, an unpolished jewel waiting to gleam. He had everything going for him – talent, confidence, looks, a swagger, an aura. He stood out from everyone else. He was someone special.

When he held out in training camp last summer, the anticipation of his pending arrival excited Browns fans. Even stalled contract talks and angry posturing did not dampen that enthusiasm.

And when Winslow finally reported, the PR machine revved up to warp speed.

The 6-4, 250-pounder became the poster child of the new Browns. On his shoulders, the Browns finally would become the team fans hoped for when it returned in 1999.

Winslow had the speed, the size, the moves, the hands, the attitude. An All-Pro waiting to happen, said some.  He'll be the greatest tight end in the history of the game when he's all through, said others. It was just a matter of time.

The bloodlines paved the way. Dad was an All-Pro for the San Diego Chargers after an outstanding career at Missouri. His bust resides in the Hall of Fame.

Junior's legacy foretold greatness.

He could have owned Cleveland.

Today, Kellen Winslow Jr. owes Cleveland. He owes Cleveland big time. He owes his teammates and Browns fans that talent, that swagger, that aura.

He had Browns Nation in the palm of his huge hands when he arrived. And now, through a series of unfortunate events, Winslow's career hangs in the balance.

And he has no one to blame but himself.

He lies in a hospital room not knowing whether he has a future in the National Football League because of major injuries sustained after going head over handlebars Evel Knieveling in a parking lot 10 days ago.

The situation echoes a Nationwide Insurance commercial on television these days. You know the one where a football player is waiting for the announcement of the top pick in the draft.

He's waiting at the top of a steep staircase, listening intently for the pronouncement that he is the No. 1 pick.

After his name is announced, he strikes a Heisman Trophy pose for the photographers, takes his first step down toward the podium where the owner of the team that picked him awaits with a jersey, then slips and tumbles head over ego all the way to the bottom and lands flat on his back.

"Life comes at you fast," intones a voice.

It sure does. Winslow found that out the hard way.

He no doubt is relieved his injuries are not life-threatening. Most fans share that relief. But they are angry. And rightly so. They feel cheated. They feel as though they have been kicked in the teeth again.

More evidence to support the notion that it's not easy being a Cleveland sports fan.

The forgiving fans rationalize Winslow's actions by writing them off as the impetuous actions of a young man. We all make mistakes, they claim. He's just a kid. He's entitled to make one mistake and should be forgiven.

When you're almost 22 years old and a pro athlete with millions of dollars in your back pocket, you're no longer a kid. And you shouldn't be forgiven. There's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with such stature.

Winslow reminds me of a character named Joe Btfsplk in the old comic strip "Li'l Abner" who walked around with a rain cloud over his head all the time.

Wherever little Joe, a harmless sort, went, he was accompanied by doom and gloom. Bad luck always lurked.

No one dared get near him. He was shunned like the plague. Getting too close guaranteed imminent trouble. He was an accident waiting to happen.

Let's see. Rancorous  contract negotiations. A broken leg in game two last season. Now this.

After the latest incident, one has to give serious thought that Joe Btsfplk lives and is a Cleveland Browns fan.

And instead of being the poster child for the Browns, Winslow is the Joe Btfsplk poster child of the last 12 months.

Passing harsh judgment on him for the predicament that most likely will cost him at least another season is too easy. Besides, you guys have done a good enough job of that in the numerous threads on this Web site.

The Browns should act swiftly and severely once the whole story is unveiled. Winslow breached his contract the moment he mounted his bike and should be made to pay the price. An excessively stiff price.

The Browns face some thorny decisions. Do they terminate the contract? They should. Do they take away most of his money, only to try and give it back in an incentive-laden way? That's the easy way out and  probably what they'll do.

If their decision alienates the player, so be it. If it results in attitudinal behavior, so be it.

It's not the club's fault. The Browns didn't put Winslow's butt on a motorcycle. They did their part with contract restrictions.

Fingers of guilt should be pointed inward.

The Browns invested a lot of money in Winslow and this is how he shows his appreciation? If anything, the club should be more ticked off at him than he at them if money is extracted from his wallet.

No doubt Winslow felt invincible and indestructible when he made the decision to buy a motorcycle. He was young, life's path was well laid out and, shoot, what could go wrong?

Sadly, the answer has landed him in a hospital bed contemplating his future and wondering how he could be so stupid.

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