Now that the Seattle Seahawks have gained entrance into the Super Bowl for the first time in their history, the number of NFL teams who haven't been there has been whittled to six.
Two of them are recent expansion teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans (they never made it as the Oilers either), while another, the New Orleans Saints, were an expansion team that first played in 1967, just after the first Super Bowl game was played.
Believe it or not, of the three remaining teams, the Cleveland Browns have been to an NFL championship game most recently, a couple of times in the 1960's, prior to the advent of the Super Bowl, and on five occasions, played for the right to get there, falling short in the 1968, 1970, 1986, 1987 and 1989 Conference Championship games. The Detroit Lions haven't been close (although they beat the Browns 59-14 for the 1957 NFL championship) and neither have the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.
While Browns fans are (or should be) envious of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are going after their fifth Super Bowl title next week, they should be looking at their own franchise. While none of the other five teams mentioned above appear to be close to finally getting to the title game, is there any Browns fan out there with enough courage to wager that the Browns will get there before any of the others?
Even though the NFL, theoretically, allows teams to rebuild rather quickly, realistically, do the Browns appear to be within three years of being ready to get there? What would give you the idea that they are any closer to getting there than Detroit, Arizona, Jacksonville, New Orleans or Houston? Either way, please e-mail me and let me know what you see that I don't.
How many of you remember the Runner-Up Bowl? It was a meaningless game between the two second-place finishers in the NFL Eastern and Western Conferences. The Browns played in it a couple of times, before it was mercifully called to a halt in the early Sixties. How about the College All-Star Game, pitting the top drafted college players against the NFL champs at Soldiers Field in Chicago, held the week before the first exhibition game. That, too, was mercifully halted, for a variety of reasons.
My top recollections include the game that first gave us an indication that there was something terribly wrong with Ernie Davis, who was diagnosed with leukemia. And the other involved one of the worst lightning storms I had ever seen, causing the game to be canceled in the third quarter.
The reason I bring these two games up is because they were both deemed irrelevant. And that is what should happen to the Pro Bowl, which is held the week after the Super Bowl---the Ultimate Game of the Year. Browns fans would barely know this, since Jamir Miller was the only Browns to appear in the game in more than ten years, but if a Pro Bowl player didn't make the playoffs, it would be six weeks between games. In addition, most members of the Super Bowl participating teams, usually beg off reporting to Hawaii the week after their big game.
It is surprising more career-ending injuries don't happen at the Pro Bowl. I haven't watched a play in one of those games in at least thirty years. And I can't think of any reason why anybody else would care either.
What was Art Modell thinking when he took part in a Cleveland radio interview last week? Did he actually think that anything that he said would make people look more favorable at his Hall of Fame credentials? Did he think that all was lost and he just wanted to get one more shot in?
More importantly, didn't he know that the minute he showed up on the podium in Baltimore (with Al Lerner) that his chance for immortality in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was gone? He had to know that, didn't he?
You get the impression that he was shocked when a caricature of him showed up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, punching out a fan.
I don't care what he tells anyone (in revisionist history fashion), all he had to do was make his problems with the politicians known, and the public would have been on his side. In his mind he didn't want to burden the `steel workers of Youngstown' by making his financial problems a public issue. But he didn't have trouble taking one of the landmark franchises in all of sports out of Cleveland?
It is very clear that when he put a moratorium in place, halting all discussion of a potential move, the move was already in motion. And, as a result, he determined that there was nothing that he could be offered that would take the Baltimore deal off the table.
Modell got a Super Bowl championship. Cleveland got a new stadium, along with
the name, colors and history back. It's been over a decade, and time for
everyone to get on to the next page.
`More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and replayed at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio. He is also a Sunday sports columnist for the News-Herald and Lorain Journal. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.leslevine.com