After the Browns came back and stunned the Chiefs, my friend Rob the Bengals Fan was excited. He pulled for the Browns to knock off Kansas City since it would be helpful for the Bengals' playoff chances. After the game, he left the following voice mail on my cell phone:
"I dunno Sirk, I always hear you complain about how miserable it is to be a Browns fan, but I was a Browns fan today and I found it to be a lot of fun. A two-touchdown comeback,…what's not to love? After listening to you, I never would have known that being a Browns fan is so exciting and rewarding."
I hate my friends.
Okay, I don't really hate Rob the Bengals Fan. To prove it, I will not refer to him as Rob the Bengals Fan anymore. I know how much it would upset him if a Bengals player read this letter, came across the phrase "Rob the Bengals Fan" and then decided to follow up on the suggestion.
(Can we enact some sort of emergency Brady Bill legislation on ski mask purchases in Hamilton County, just to be safe? If not, a good backup plan is to put a DUI checkpoint outside the parking lot of any store that sells ski masks.)
Anyway, Rob was gracious enough to accompany me for a public viewing of the Browns-Stillers game last Thursday. Of all the dirty TV tricks the NFL has played over the years, this NFL Network scam has got to be the dirtiest. Since Columbus is not a local market, and since the NFL Network is not on cable here, the NFL effectively forced Browns and Stillers fans to mingle in public, as if humans and Neanderthals weren't having enough trouble coexisting thanks to those Geico commercials.
Normally Rob and I would be reticent to subject ourselves to the incessant nattering of towel-twirling hill people, but if the NFL was going to force this sort of sociological experiment down our throats, we were willing to play scientist. It might not be pleasant, but in the course of her studies, I'm sure Jane Goodall had more than a few monkey turds lobbed her way, yet she persevered for the greater good.
I asked the office Yinzer population for the most Stiller-infested establishment they knew of. All but one of them said BW-3 on Avery Road in Dublin. I was told that "every Sunday it is wall-to-wall Steelers fans whuppin' it up and waving their Terrible Towels all game long." This sounded like Hell's idea of Hell.
It was perfect…until we got there. I know I had high expectations, so I was setting myself up for the fall. Deep down, maybe I was expecting something on par with the scene in Gremlins when Spike and all the other gremlins took over the bar that Phoebe Cates worked at. Maybe I expected Yinzers to be breaking bottles, smoking 20 cigarettes at once, flashing each other, flying around on ceiling fans and stuff like that. But still, we walked in and we were greeted by…..
The place was probably two thirds Browns fans. Rob put the ratio at 8:5, only because he is a math dork. I have no idea what happened to the "wall to wall" Stillers fans. Maybe they thought the game was Sunday. Maybe they all worked the late shift at Wal-Mart. Maybe Phoebe Cates grabbed a Polaroid camera and used the bright flash to chase them off.
But the bottom line is that my experiment was ruined. I was depressed BEFORE the game kicked off, so you can only imagine what it was like the rest of the way, when it became increasingly apparent that the Browns' defense offered all the running impedance of a finish-line ribbon.
And on the other side of the ball, how about those receivers, huh? Nevermind footballs, some of those guys couldn't catch Hep C on a camera-equipped boat ride with Pamela Anderson.
On the way home, I started thinking of ways to increase the odds of a Browns receiver catching the ball. For players like Winslow and Jurevicius, it's pretty simple, as they will catch most anything that they can reach.
But what of Braylon Edwards? I think the key here is to make sure the ball hits all 10 of his fingers. Browns QBs routinely throw balls that touch nine of his fingers, but that won't cut it. And it's unfair to Braylon to expect him to make those catches. How many 9-fingered wide receivers have there been in the NFL? None, right? There's a reason for that. (Sure, Ronnie Lott had one of those stubby Bob Wickman half-fingers, but he was a defensive back, and 9.5 fingers still rounds up to 10.)
And what of Dennis Northcutt? He seems to catch well in other situations, so maybe the QB needs to throw the ball end-over-end with lots and lots of hang time, allowing Northcutt to settle under it. That's why Ken Dorsey is on the roster, right?
And I don't mean to pick on the receivers. The running game was awesome too. To put that performance in perspective, imagine the Browns lining up at home plate at Jacobs Field, then running the ball 11 times. At the end of those 11 tries, the ball would be just short of the dirt in front of the pitcher's mound. Ladies and gentleman, your 2006 Cleveland Browns! Three yards and three clouds of dust!
A few other thoughts….
Romeo Crennel has lost more legal appeals than Charlie Manson. You never know what he might challenge next. It's almost like he's rooting around in his pocket for some Chapstick or a Snickers bar, the flag falls out, and then he doesn't feel like bending over to pick it up. He waits for the ref to pick it up for him, at which point he has to challenge some random play that has a minus-47% chance of being overturned.
REF: Are you challenging the play?
RAC: I don't know the answer.
REF: Well, you dropped the flag.
RAC: Oh...Yes, pick that up. I am challenging.
REF: What are you challenging?
RAC: Uh….(looks out at the field)….the spot of the ball.
REF: The kickoff sailed out of the endzone. We called a touchback. By rule, the ball comes out to the 20-yard line.
RAC: (Grabs challenge flag back from ref.) We'll just see about that. Take another look, son.
It's to the point that I wish Romeo would challenge calls against the Browns. Take that Derek Anderson fumble against the Steelers. Pittsburgh challenged, so naturally there were four air molecules between Anderson's knee and the turf when the ball came loose and was recovered by the Steelers. In the name of helping his team, why couldn't Romeo preemptively throw his flag before the Steelers did? Just like Pittsburgh, he could have challenged the ruling on the field, arguing that the ball came loose before Anderson was down. The referee would have looked at the replay and found that not only was Anderson completely down, but the ball never left Anderson's firm possession until he handed it to the official on his way back to the huddle.
I realize I am now indirectly arguing the existence of parallel dimensions, but who said three dimensions were enough to contain Romeo?
Yinzers have the worst method of nicknaming players. They basically take a player and then describe his most obvious trait. So you end up with "Big" Ben Rooethlussburguer, because he is big. You get "Fast" Willie Parker because he is fast. You get Walter "Bubby" Brister because he was as manly as a woman's breast. (Seriously. Look up "Bubby" in the dictionary. I swear I am not making stuff up as I go along.)
As long as Yinzers stick with obvious physical traits, I suppose they do okay. It's when they move from the physical to the conceptual that things fall apart. In an attempt to sound "edgercated", they can mistakenly insult their own players.
For example, take "Mean" Joe Greene. I think most anyone would agree that Joe Greene was far better than an average player.
Speaking of Friggin' Yinzers, that picture that I sent to accompany this dispatch was taken at the 2003 Cincinnati Oktoberfest. My friends saw that guy and decided they needed to take a picture for my benefit. Rob snapped the picture as Laurel openly mocked the Yinzer, who is oblivious and excited to be in the presence of a girl.
I am not kidding when I say that this picture is framed and hanging in the main hallway of Rob's house.
Before I go, I want to add a few words about Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who passed away Wednesday night due to complications from prostate cancer. I could tell any number of stories, but I promise that I will keep this somewhat Browns related.
Barry, in our wacky jobs, we get to interact with all manner of people involved in the sports we love. We get to meet many, get to know some, and even get to befriend a few. When you get to peak behind the curtain, you see a different side of the game, the business, and the people involved. Sometimes it's a thrill. Sometimes it's a disappointment. Over the years, I have come to view it as both a blessing and a curse.
Lamar Hunt was one of those blessings.
I was not friends with Lamar Hunt. Nor did I know Lamar Hunt on any meaningful personal level. Despite these facts, you'd be hard-pressed to gather this during any of our interactions. Due to my relationship with the Columbus Crew and Major League Soccer, I've had the chance to casually converse with Lamar Hunt maybe 10 times over the past several years. I have seen him around the stadium on many other occasions, and I have talked to plenty of people who worked closely with him. Trust me…every last laudatory word being written about Lamar is true.
I may have told you this story before, but in case I haven't, I am going to tell it anyway.
In the spring 1997, Hunt was trying to get a soccer stadium and hockey arena built in downtown Columbus. The Crew needed a new place to play after the '98 season due to renovations at the Horseshoe, and Hunt also hoped to bring an NHL team to town. The voters swatted the proposal aside. Depending on who you talk to, Hunt either quit on the NHL proposal after the vote, or was secretly cut out by his minority local investors. Either way, the rest of the group, led by John H. McConnell, quickly worked behind his back to get a privately financed arena and an NHL expansion team. A stunned Hunt sued for his piece of the ownership pie, but lost. (For the purpose of this story, who was right or wrong does not matter, but I just need to acknowledge that this happened.)
Surely this spelled doom for the Crew—a fledgling team in a fledgling league in a fledgling market. Hunt had tested the waters in Columbus with the Crew, and his reward was that the voters shot him down and the local titans "stole" his hockey team. With no place for his soccer team to play, Hunt was undoubtedly going to bid Columbus adieu, ship the Crew to a more glamorous location, then resume his usual shuttle between Dallas and Kansas City.
Except a few months later, Hunt popped up in suburban Dublin, with a new plan for a soccer stadium. The stadium would be privately financed, except for the infrastructure improvements needed in and around the stadium site. A public meeting was held in Dublin, where Hunt himself introduced the project and fielded questions from the public.
It was the first time I met Lamar Hunt. This was a year before I started covering the Crew, and two years before I kinda sorta loosely became a pseudo-employee of his. I was just some schmuck off the street.
When the meeting was over, I hung around, looking at the stadium renderings and the model. At one point, I noticed Lamar was standing by himself, so I approached him and introduced myself. I then proceeded to thank him for not giving up on Columbus or the Crew.
He offered a gracious thank you, but I felt the need to elaborate.
"You don't understand, Mr. Hunt," I said. "I come from Cleveland. The heart and soul of my hometown was just ripped out by an owner who had far less reason to move his team than you have now. You have no ties to the area, there was the whole hockey fiasco, and unless something happens, the Crew won't have a place to play next year…nobody could blame you if you skipped town. So I thank you for trying to stick it out, even if it means building the stadium yourself. As someone who has had to endure what we all did in Cleveland, it means a lot."
He started to speak, then hesitated.
"Well, let me explain it like this," he finally said, in his gentle Texas drawl. "In the time the Crew has been in Columbus, there are many people who have bought tickets, come to games, and have become attached to this club. They are a part of the Columbus Crew. I owe it to those people to do everything I can to keep the club here."
I remembered those words when the Dublin vote failed. And I remembered them again when Hunt reached a last-second agreement to build and personally finance a $28.5 million soccer stadium on the northern edge of the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
When the proverbial plane was on the tarmac, and the secret knock was given, Lamar Hunt felt more personal responsibility and offered far more consideration for several thousand newbie fans of a newbie soccer franchise than Arthur B. Modell did for a several million fans of the storied Cleveland Browns.
That's the kind of man he was.
Requiescat in pace, Lamar. You will be missed.
At some point in his life, Steve Sirk determined that suffering through the nexus, dips, valleys, and various low points of being a Cleveland sports fan within geographic proximity of Cleveland itself did not create sufficient emotional pain. Sneeringly dismissive of even basic survival instincts, Sirk elected to reside in Columbus, Ohio so that he could better be surrounded by fans of winning franchises who could mock his very existence. If you wish to contact an individual of such clearly questionable judgment, you may do so at email@example.com