Pills, Shots, and Football: The Doctor is In

Doc Gonzo returns to these pages with a look forward at the 2005 Cleveland Browns season. A year ago this week, the doctor diagnosed the sickness afflicting the team. What's his diagnosis this year? And how is a leisure suit-wearing Brian Billick involved?

Do you want to see my scar?

Let me be more specific, because there's more than one.

There's a fresh scar in my mouth from a particularly nasty root canal surgery through my gum that involved long needles, drills, files, probes,  scalpels and other sadistic instruments taken straight from Dr. Mengele's cabinet.

Speaking of sadists, the other scar is on my psyche.

That one was a long time in the making, and no single person was responsible for the wound.

Instead, it comes from many decades of Cleveland Browns football, a phenomenon that mixes one's soul, intellect, psyche, heart and guts into a blender – and often flips the switch to "puree."

We're about to embark on another season, standing on the precipice of a year filled with more unknowns than perhaps any other time in Cleveland history.

Or at least recent memory. My recall-ability is thankfully shot from my usual blend of Vitamin V, a concoction of Vicodin and Absolut vodka that assuages all pain, from last week's mouth trauma to last year's neurotic Butch Davis meltdown after the bizarre shootout loss in Cincinnati.

One memory not erased is of what I wrote a year ago. It was a couple days before the season opener that I penned a vitriolic screed condemning just about everything associated with the 2004 Cleveland Browns.

The backlash was instant, caustic and noxious.

It was also dead-nuts wrong.

The team imploded and embarrassed the city and the fans. Davis went insane, everyone got hurt, Jeff Garcia got too metrosexual and Randy Lerner nearly soiled his beloved Browns pajamas.

As 2004 closed, the team was heap of unrecognizable smoldering wreckage alongside the NFL's highway.

What followed was a purge that would have made Stalin proud. The roster was cleansed. Brought in were two men to co-captain the recovery effort, Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel.

Gone are the nauseating, apocryphal post-game assessments and boneheaded personnel moves. Gone are the vastly overpaid underachievers, malcontents and half-wits.

Also gone is my dread.

I was certain 2004 was a bullet train speeding toward a washed-out bridge. It enraged me that my beloved team was in the hands of unstable joyless fools better suited to manage a hillbilly tenement in the Ozarks.

I have no idea what 2005 holds, but I do know the train is headed in the right direction on secure tracks.

What has me guardedly optimistic is what happened in the off-season: Problems were addressed. Not in the offhand, weak manner they were tended to under Davis, but a real effort was made to fix the obvious.

Even if every single free-agent signed this year is a failure, the fact remains the Savage recognized the glaring weaknesses of this team, and made bold efforts to fix them.

At least they're bold compared to the half-assed measures taken the previous six seasons. Davis and Carmen Policy inexplicably never were able to solve the deficiencies that even the most illiterate, witless and diseased Baltimore fan could recognize.

Recognition of the problems was Step 1.

Doing something about them was Step 2.

Assessing those efforts after the season is Step 3.

That's why we're now in the hands of fate. All that can be done for 2005 is done. Other than tinkering with the starting lineup or the game plan, this is our team.

I've never suffered from blinkered optimism nor congenital pessimism, so it's never easy to make predictions. The team is nowhere close to what its master planners want it to be, but it's better than last year's squad.

So what does that mean? I have no idea.

There are too many variables. Injuries, for one. I suspect the 2004 Browns may have won another game or two had not everyone gone down to various ailments.

This Browns team doesn't have the depth to stave off disaster if a flurry of injuries happens again. If they do occur again, I'd look for another 4-12 record. If they stay healthy, a 6-10 year is probably a legitimate expectation.

And there can be a world of difference between 4-12 and 6-10.

How they play in each of the 16 games, at this point in the rebuilding process, matters almost as much as victories or defeats. Quality play in a close defeat is more meaningful in the overall process than sloppy play in a lucky victory.

This will be a year of learning a new system, of rookies gaining experience and the coaching staff and front office gathering clues as to what the next step needs to be.

My gut instinct tells me the first three preseason games are an accurate reflection of the 2005 Browns. Fans can expect to see those performances repeated throughout the year. Good, average and ugly. This year will demand patience and a sense of pragmatism with an eye toward the future. The coaching staff and front office clearly are going into this season with the future in mind, which is refreshing.

In the meantime, it sucks on some levels.

I hate to see the Browns lose. I mean hate with a passion. It tears me apart and throws me into a blue funk. I want them to win, and win now. I want to see Cincinnati sent back down Interstate 75 with bite marks all along its collective mangy carcass.

And who doesn't get roused at the thought of defeating those syphilitic mercenary Hessians of the NFL, the Ravens?

Brian Billick, the newly bearded eminence grise of Slumtown, in 1977 was a participant on the atrocious television show "Match Game." He lost 5-0, and it's been all down hill since. For evidence, including Billick's criminal hair style and wardrobe, go to http://www.matchgame.org/bbillick.

The man's a born loser. And he's found his match in quarterback Kyle Boller, the human millstone that will drown Billick in his own vile juices.

The Baltimore Sun has leapt on the Boller-is-a-useless-dunce bandwagon, exposing everything the team has said about him as fraud and lies. On Aug. 31, Sun staffer Mike Preston wrote:

"As for Boller, the Ravens are publicly trying to build his confidence, but privately admit he has regressed from the end of last season. ... He looks extremely uncomfortable in the pocket, still stares down his primary target, and very seldom goes to his secondary choice."

The story goes on to say the team has admitted scaling back the offense to "build Boller's confidence."


They scaled it back because Boller is inept.

And the team's vaunted defense is showing its age. When Bud Carson came to Cleveland in 1989, he had to employ all sorts of schemes to mask the deficiencies on defense. The Ravens are going to some gimmick version of the 46 defense this year. Parallels are ominous.

Heaven is very far off in Baltimore. Disaster, on the other hand, is nearby. It will be sweet pleasure to witness the collapse.

I recently finished the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Washington's Crossing." Author David Hackett Fischer describes Baltimore of the 18th century as "roughly and disorderly" and offered these contemporary quotes:

Oliver Wolcott, a Connecticut member of the Continental Congress, said Baltimore was "infinitely the most dirty place I was ever in."
Virginia's Benjamin Harrison painted the city as "the Damndest Hole in the World."

My, how times haven't changed.

The sun is setting on the Ravens. It's morning in Cleveland.

And it's going to be a good day.

Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column each Thursday for Bernies Insiders. He's working on an expose that will explain how gas prices, this year's awful summer movies and root canals are all the fault of Art Modell. Write him at docgonzo19@aol.com.

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