Passan: The Power of the Fans

Cleveland Browns fans were key in straightening out a colossal mistake in the making...

John Collins made one colossal mistake in his attempt to oust Phil Savage as general manager of the Browns last weekend.

He severely underestimated the power with which the fans exert their fierce loyalty and dedication to this football team. It cost him his job.

The resignation of the team's president & CEO yesterday in the wake of the firestorm that grew out of his desire to fire Savage was a resounding testament to the fans' muscle.

Flooding the Browns' offices with e-mails, faxes and telephone calls sent a clear message that getting rid of Savage would have a deleterious effect on the fan base.

It just might have saved this franchise from falling into a crevice so deep, it would have taken several years just to crawl out.

It also gives pause to those of us who believe ownership does not care about the fans that perhaps we are wrong to believe that way. Perhaps.

The only thing this club cares about that is fan-related is what lines their pockets. Keep buying tickets and merchandise and they're happy. That's what they care about.

The Browns have one of the most zealous fan bases in the National Football League. Losing even a small part of that fan base is what frightened the Browns' front office more than anything.

The outrage with which the fans attacked owner Randy Lerner and Collins when word leaked that Savage was on his way out over "philosophical differences" sent a clear message. Threaten these people with your loyalty and the way you spend your money and they listen.

Lerner, who should have known better, originally sided with Collins in what clearly was a power play with Collins trying to cashier Savage. What in the world was the owner thinking?

There was some speculation that Lerner did not know what was happening, that Collins was acting on his own. That would be hard to believe. If it is true, however, then shame on Lerner.

Reportedly, coach Romeo Crennel's opinion was solicited and he strongly supported Savage. If that's the case, it's encouraging that Lerner listened.

It is also entirely possible that Collins fell on his sword, took one for the team and will wind up somewhere in Lerner's corporate world. The fact he is gone is a positive. Clearly addition by subtraction.

When word leaked last Friday that Savage would soon be history, the reaction was swift and downright angry. The people who really care about the franchise reacted in a way not seen since the Great War against the NFL in 1995 when you know who did you know what.

Still, the news that the Browns had even thought about firing Savage, for whatever reason, raises a red flag about what goes on inside the walls at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea.

Fact of the matter is that the Browns' front office got caught in the act and didn't know how to handle the damage the subsequent Internet wildfire caused. It became a public relations disaster.

A few hours after the news broke Friday and the reaction by the fans was immediate and potentially injurious, Collins went on the team's quasi-flagship radio station and excuse machine to douse the flames. Mentioned that he, Savage and Lerner had "renewed our vows."

What!!!! The weekend before the last game of the season and the front office is renewing vows? Was there going to be a second honeymoon, too?

Collins, the resident foof in Berea, had been nothing but bad news. Wasn't it bad enough that he screwed up the halftime show for the National Football League in the 2004 Super Bowl? The Browns, notably Lerner, foolishly crowned him Carmen Policy's successor after NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue pawned him off on the Browns.

And wasn't it Collins who floated a trial balloon that indicated the Browns were thinking of moving their summer training camp to the Columbus area?

Then midway through this season, rumors surfaced that Collins and Savage had philosophical differences. The club did not respond. The rumors were backburnered. Turns out they were true.

When Savage arrived a little less than a year ago, he was hailed by many as the savior of the franchise, which has realized mostly disappointment since returning in expansion form in 1999. He would bring stability to a situation that had become chaotic at the end of the 2004 season.

He was embraced by many fans knowledgeable with his success as Ozzie Newsome's right-hand man in Baltimore. He was a football man. His boyish looks belied his savvy and dedicated approach to his job. The fans overwhelming, almost joyously, celebrated his signing.

But the events of the last several days have temporarily sullied the name Cleveland Browns. This front office has become a joke. Can't these guys do anything right? Call them the Gang That Can't Think Straight.

It took a possible insurrection by the fans to get them off dead center. The Collins resignation is clearly a step in the right direction.

It will be very interesting when details of this potential disaster surface. The revelation of the behind-the-scenes corporate machinations that led to this whole story and how it evolved should make for fascinating reading.

Bottom line is that Savage remains and his power base has increased thanks to Collins' ineptitude and his underestimation of the fans' force.

At the beginning of the 2005 season, Savage said he wanted to fast forward to 2006 because he was excited about the future of this team.

Well, 2006 is here. So is Savage.

Who would have guessed that would be the case 48 hours ago?

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