Doc Gonzo: Paper Pirate

It's been a while since we've heard from the good doctor, but he's back and here to talk about seasons past and seasons to come. He has a good excuse - not to mention a noodle arm - but you will have to read the column to understand his recent activities...

Think Ken Dorsey has a noodle arm? Just wait until you see me throw.

Or not. In fact, it's likely you never will. Count your blessings. It's a gruesome spectacle that would sicken you and scar young children.

Besides a pop-gun for a passing arm, Dorsey and I share something else: We each own football championship rings.
Actually, mine won't arrive until November. He earned his at the helm of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Mine
comes from a few notches down the football totem pole, courtesy of the undefeated Port Huron Pirates of the Great Lakes Indoor Football League.

In homage to George Plimpton, I quit my job in April and spent the season as the Pirates' last-string quarterback. We went 12-0 and won the inaugural Great Lakes Bowl on July 22, beating the Rochester (N.Y.) Raiders 40-36.

No thanks to me, of course. I had knee surgery in February that kept me, thankfully, on injured reserve all season.

But that won't stop me from writing a book about my experience, a sort of a low-rent, X-rated, minor-league version of Paper Lion. I won't reveal details here, but I can promise you the reality of a professional football team is a far-cry from the sanitized, clinical nonsense you read about in the newspapers or see on television. Sure, the play on the field is pure, but it's what happens off the field that is the real action. And until the statute of limitations runs out on a number of things, I can't write about all of it.

What I can say is, it was the thrill of a lifetime. It's the only feeling I can imagine that's on par with how I feel if the Browns won the Super Bowl. When those final seconds ticked off the clock, the reality hit that we'd done it. We'd won a championship. No, it's not the NFL. But to go undefeated in any sport, much less a professional league, is an accomplishment. It was pure, unadulterated joy in front of almost 3,000 fans. I'd never felt anything like it.

The seven-on-seven league is akin to Single-A baseball, a step below capitalization-challenged af2, the feeder league for the Arena Football League you see on television. We had guys who played at USC, Michigan and Michigan State, West Virginia, Purdue, Toledo and Liberty. This wasn't indoor sandlot ball. A couple of the guys had been in the NFL, and more than a few will likely land spots in bigger leagues. The Rochester quarterback had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills, and our quarterback, former Ohio Northern passer Shane Franzer, may ink a deal with the Columbus Destroyers. The difference between my skills and Shane's were the difference between Dan Marino and Doug Pederson. Yeah, that vast.

I hadn't played football in uniform in 15 years, and it showed. A decade ensconced behind a desk hadn't helped, regardless of my knee. I didn't even attempt to see if I could launch the ball endzone to endzone (which is 50 years, just like the AFL). That said, there's no doubt in my mind I could have completed a few passes (yes, to my own receivers), if called upon. Being able to read a defense and an uncanny sense of anticipation are the few quarterback skills I possess, and those can sometimes be enough. Remember, I did say last string ... which is my title for the book.

The call to limp off the bench never came, however. A little disappointing, to be sure, and not playing left me feeling a bit like a fifth-wheel at times. But the guys accepted me, and I did what I could to help. Obviously, I was there because ownership knew the publicity value of a book. That's fine by me. I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything. Plimpton may have been worlds ahead of me in literary skill, but I know I could have out-thrown him.

And yes, I wore No. 19.

My fear is that I'll never get that thrill on some future Sunday in January (or February, since the Super Bowl seems to drift on the calender). After winning the championship, it's a feeling I want all of my fellow long-suffering Browns fans to experience. For me, it washed away some of those disappointments. No, the memory of the Drive and Fumble will never be vanquished, but winning has given me a taste of being on the other side for once. It was proof that not everyone from Cleveland is doomed.
It's pretty evident we're not going to share that thrill this season. The Browns are certainly on the upswing, despite a Spinal Tap-like problem with centers. The 2006 Browns are an enigma, seemingly capable of being the AFC's annual surprise team, or stumbling to a disappointing repeat of least year. It doesn't take a gridiron mystic, despite naysaying halfwit national "experts," to see that.

Based on what we saw in the preseason, it's not yet possible to draw much of a conclusion about this team. We saw Charlie Frye eviscerate the Buffalo Bills, then disappear. Several starters were missing, or playing very limited roles, so who knows what's going to transpire the next few months. Ironclad pronouncements right now are foolish.

My guess is that we won't see an accurate picture of this team's ability until at least a month into the season. September is going to be a time to gel and feel each other out on the field. I'm going to withhold judgment until at least October, barring a truly stunning start one way or another.

If forced to offer a prediction, the 2006 Cleveland Browns strike me as a 7-9 squad. If they went 6-10 or 10-6, I wouldn't be terribly surprised. As we know, injuries and luck play a tremendous role on any team's season. Stay healthy and get a few lucky bounces, and Cleveland may be the toast of the NFL.

The effect of those intangibles is directly proportionate to factors the team can control, such as mental discipline, overall talent and coaching. Play and coach smart, and have a front office that can build quality depth, and injuries and some ill-fortune is mitigated.

As for talent, I'm not sold either way on Frye. I simply haven't seen enough of him. Five games isn't enough evidence to pass judgment on him. Let him play a full season before he's anointed the savior, or castigated as a bust. He's got the tools around him. Kellen Winslow II appears ready to take his place as one of the game's premier play-makers, Braylon Edwards looks healed and Reuben Droughns shattered that silly media myth that Denver's "system" is responsible for those talented running backs.

Then there's the defense. Those 11 men will make or break this team. And it all hinges on the secondary, which looked abysmal in the preseason because the starters were missing. The front seven is going to blossom into a unit mentioned in the same breath as Chicago, but it doesn't matter if you stop the run if you can't stop the pass. Touchdowns are worth six points in the air as on the ground.

If Gary Baxter, Leigh Bodden and Daylon McCutcheon play well, this is a top five defense. It if gels quickly, it make be worthy of the "dawg defenses" we grew to love in the mid-1980s.

As for the rest of the AFC North, here's my Cliff Notes predictions:

Pittsburgh: A quarterback controversy is just around the bend. Fathead Helmet Boy is going to look sloppy in his return, and Charlie Batch's performance against Miami in the opener is going to serve as fuel for the fire. Willie Parker isn't a workhorse back. By November, he will be Pittsburgh's version of "Metcalf up the middle." Super Bowl champions to .500.

Cincinnati: Marvin Lewis brought more than just defensive schemes from Baltimore. The Bengals are the NFL's newest gang of immoral felons. And they're going to disappoint a lot of people in Porkopolis. However, they could win the division at 9-7.

Baltimore: The fraudulent, illegal, perverted, degenerate and depraved NFL franchise in this city will forever more be referred to, in this column, as "the illegitimate entity" rather than by its official name. How desperate do you have to be to sign ancient and brittle Steve McNair? Brian Billick is gone by December. Remember how the Browns defense aged and went downhill from 1989 to 1990? Ravens take note. We're looking at 4-12, and that pleases me.

So, the madness is about to start. It's always an exciting adventure to embark upon yet another of the great unknowns that is a new Cleveland Browns seasons. I've got my laptop, vodka and supply of pharmaceuticals laid out. My psyche is braced for mind-boggling nonsense (helmet toss? bottle tossing?), although I was surprised to seen Nick Saban at the center of the botched coaches challenge rather than Romeo Crennel. I'm sure karma has something truly stupid in store for us.

That said, onward we march, to the tune of Custer's "Garryowen," once more into the breach.

Safe Harbor Statement

Certain statements found in this document constitute "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Column Reform Act of This Morning. Such forward-looking statements involved known and unknown risks and uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance and achievements of the column to be materially different from any future results, performances or achievements expressed of implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors include, the fact that the author is an unsteady drunken bonehead, and therefore the drunkenness constitutes an unknown risk and uncertainty that may cause the results, performance or achievements of the column to be materially different from past or anticipated results. Among other such factors, the following: a propensity for ingestion of certain consciousness-altering substances, up to but not limited to, Vicodin (i.e. hydrocodone or dihydrocodeinone, all of which be marketed as Anexsia, Anolor DH5, Bancap HC, Dolacet, Lorcet 10/650, Lorcet HD, Lorcet Plus, Lortab, Lortab 10, Lortab 5/500, Lortab 7.5/500, Lortab Elixir, Norco, T-Gesic, Vicodin, Vicodin ES, Vicodin HP, and Zydone); ingestion of a typically colorless liquor, usually distilled from fermented grain or potatoes but also from other raw materials, known as vodka (often combined with a fruit juice obtained by squeezing or pressing the interior of an orange [Wikipedia]); and a propensity for manufacture and distribution of written materials (i.e. "the column" or "the work of literary merit" or "the steaming pile of dung" or "the booze-soaked mad ramblings") under less-than-ideal conditions (i.e. "after deadline" or "in an addled stupor" or "in a defeat-induced rage"). Among other such factors, the following: a shift in consumer preference for different subjective materials, an unforseen increase in unconsciousness, economic disruptions caused by terrorist activity, armed conflict or changed in economic condition (i.e. "quitting his job again"). The columnist disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, sobriety or otherwise.

Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea pens the Doc Gonzo column at some point each week for The OBR. This will be his sixth season writing about the Browns for the site, and perhaps it will be the season he gets it right (but don't count on it). For details about his disturbing personal life, including photos from his tenure as the last-string quarterback of an indoor professional football team, visit www.myspace.com/neocongonzo. You can e-mail him at docgonzo19@aol.com.


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