Hemingway and the Purging of the Palmerites

Doc Gonzo takes a look at the Great Purge of 2001 as Hurricane Butch rolls into town.

"Revolution is just like one cocktail – it gets you ready for the next."
 — Will Rogers

HORTON BAY, Mich. – The purge, like an ambush in the night, came quickly and spared no one.

It was not bloodless, nor is it likely finished. Some observers were surprised, others merely shook their heads, but all agreed something had to be done. The Cleveland Browns' roster was bloated with marginal and untested talent, and league rules demanded the fat be trimmed. Butch Davis decided at some point last week more changes were needed to flesh out his team and reach the NFL roster limit. The ensuing carnage, vaguely reminiscent of the deadly surprise coup that toppled corrupt South Vietnamese president Ngo Dihn Diem in 1963, sent shock waves through northeast Ohio. The moves paint a vivid picture: Davis is wiping away the vestiges of the previous regime. 

Pro football is a brutal sport, and its palace politics and off-field business no less fearsome. The NFL is no place for lightweights or sentimentality, especially in Cleveland. Two years of hemorrhaging defeats demand that moves be made with the calculated ruthlessness of a Robespierre.

The Terror spread through Berea at an epidemic rate over the weekend, with the roster and depth chart changing by the hour. It was a severe and needed departure from the doddering and hapless Palmer era. Optimism and excuses aside, times are desperate in Cleveland, and heads needed to roll. The clock, one of the few things untouchable by Davis' commands or Al Lerner's wallet, grinds inexorably towards Sunday.

I, however, was several hundred miles from the action. I spent the weekend in the northern wilds of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, better known as Hemingway's old stomping grounds. The late Ernest spent his boyhood summers fishing, hunting and generally lolling about Horton Bay, Petoskey and Walloon Lake in Charlevoix County. It's beautiful country, with thick green woods and clean blue lakes. The region made its way into several of Papa's early stories and books.

Of course, I spent the weekend with no television, radio or Internet. Following the manly Hem's path doesn't allow such sissy conveniences while billeting one's self in the cool September forests of Michigan. Sleeping next to the Rapid River, with a .303 caliber Lee-Enfield rifle and a copy of True at First Light for company, the Browns were not in the forefront of my mind. It wasn't until I picked up a day-old copy of the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle that I first learned of the purge. Davis' weekend of gruesome roster maneuvers left a shocking roll call of victims: Ty Detmer, Travis Prentice, Spergon Wynn and Lenzie Jackson. It was bold to rid the team of them. Papa, I suspect, would approve.

 Obviously, without being privy to the debates and conferences of the team's decision-making apparatus within the bowls of the Berea complex, no one knows the real reasons for what happened this weekend. However, that won't prevent some speculation on my part. I've been madly consuming the deluge of Browns news from the weekend, spinning the signings and releasings through my mind and analyzing the potential effects.

Clearly, Detmer outlived his usefulness. Only of limited talent and abilities, his mentorship of Tim Couch had reached its natural limit. The team was wise to trade him now while he has some value. The deal isn't bad for Detmer: It's likely he'll start for the Lions at some point given Charlie Batch's brittle history.

Spergon Wynn and Travis Prentice didn't fit into Davis' long-term plans. The coach has a need for speed, a commodity lacking in Mr. Prentice. Minnesota, desperate for a running back in the wake of Robert Smith's retirement, gets a youngster with potential. Perhaps he'll blossom in a different situation. In Cleveland, though, Prentice was fourth on the depth chart behind a rookie and a free agent who's still living on his Texas high school reputation.

Wynn, most notable for the dreadful performance he subjected fans to last season at Jacksonville, should never have been drafted in the first place. Look for him to carry Dante Culpepper's bags for a few weeks, then end up signing with a Canadian team. The quicker this Palmer mistake fades, the better. Seattle castoff Josh Booty, who at least played Division I football at LSU, can't be any worse than Wynn as the third-string passer.

The rumor casting a long shadow over the Browns is the Kevin Johnson-to-the-Saints deal. Johnson, who fell off the radar last season, is the last of the Palmerites. Despite being in and out of Palmer's doghouse, he's the poster child for that failed administration. He doesn't have game-breaking speed, something Davis wants from his receivers. After all, the offense is predicated on pass catchers who make big plays after getting the ball on short routes. I predict a trade in the coming days. If nothing can be worked out with the Saints, look for Johnson to be shopped on draft day. Quincy Morgan and Jajaun Dawson will start at split end and flanker for this team in 2002.

The Seattle Seahawks, who last visited Cleveland for the final regular-season game of 1994, will face a Browns team on Sunday desperate to shed a losing image. The national magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly and the Sporting News, predict nothing more than another heaping helping of defeat for the denizens of the Dawg Pound. That rankles the team's brain trust, which gave Davis the power to clean house.

So, there it is. Only the next 16 Sundays will prove Butch Davis right or wrong. In the meantime, it's time to sit back, pop open a beer and dream of the pristine Midwest wilderness and victory.


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