It's time for another Christmas Eve game featuring our dear Browns. I don't think such a diabolical holiday-spoiling plot could even be concocted by a think tank featuring the Grinch, Bad Santa, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Clark Griswold's boss in "Christmas Vacation." Although watching the Browns on Christmas Eve might make some yearn for a gift of the Jelly of the Month Club, provided December's is K-Y.
I have three distinct memories of watching the Browns play on Christmas Eve:
1988: Just six days after Don Stock brought life to my frostbitten limbs by putting forth the greatest 5th-string QB performance in recorded history, leading the Browns to a memorable 28-23 playoff-clinching comeback triumph over the Houston Oilers, the teams played a rematch in the AFC Wild Card game.
The Browns somehow lost on the lakefront, in December no less, to a run-&-shoot dome team coached by a hyperactive My Cousin Vinny look-alike who left game tickets for Elvis Presley at will call.
The thing I remember most about the 24-23 loss is that Earnest Byner got back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to kill a Browns drive. Earnest Byner? Seriously? What would have been a more improbable meltdown than that? Mark Price racking up a pair of technicals? Sandy Alomar pulling a Delmon Young after a called third strike?
1995: Tepidly, yet dutifully, watching what was supposed to be the final game in Cleveland Browns history. Depressing from the get-go, I felt that Mike Hollis' last-second game-winning field goal for Jacksonville was a fitting ending for a franchise that often found ways to lose at the end.
2005: The 41-0 loss to the Steelers. My family gathered at my sister's house to watch the carnage. Half way through the third quarter, my sister said, "Can we just go in the other room and open presents? This is depressing." My brother sighed and said, "The Browns just ruined Christmas."
After last year's nightmare, I am oh-so-excited that the family is once again going to gather around my sister's big screen TV to watch the Browns on Christmas Eve. I know I should have hope since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are terrible, but I am sure Tim Rattay will throw for 400 yards or something. I used to wonder how Detroit Lions fans felt about taking the "thanks" out of Thanksgiving every year, but I am starting to understand.
A brief detour:
It is going to be weird watching Tim Rattay play againt the Browns. When his dad coached Euclid, the Rattays lived right down the street from me for a year or two when all of us kids were in elementary school. I played soccer with Tim's older brother Chris and used to hang out at their house. When Mr. Rattay had to move the family to Arizona for health reasons, I kept up with the Rattay family's exploits down there, thanks to the USA Today, as both Chris and Tim had remarkable high school football careers. (Coached by their dad, of course.)
But now my childhood friend's goofy little brother is going to throw for 500 yards against the Browns and ruin Christmas Eve for me. It's just weird, that's all.
And another neighbor, Ken Walter, has suddenly resumed punting for the Patriots for the third time. So that's two random kids from my Euclid neighborhood that will playing in the NFL this weekend.
If there was something in the water, I must have been drinking lots and lots of pop.
Anyway, talking about these Christmas Eve games has reminded me of one of my major pet peeves from the 2006 season.
The Browns have been mixing pedestrian losses and blowout losses with very few of the gut-shredding, groin-stomping, shrimp-fork-in-the-eyeball losses that we have become accustomed to over the years.
I miss when the Browns would make my blood boil. I miss when they would give me hope, only to turn on me at the last moment, like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. I miss the good bad-old-days.
Man, we had some classics, didn't we? I know Red Right 88, The Drive, and The Fumble get all the ink, but there were so many others:
* All those near-victories during the Three Sewers Jinx.
* Ahmad Rashad's Hail Mary.
* Blowing a 21-3 halftime lead in a playoff game in Miami.
* The wild card loss to the Oilers.
* Blowing a 23-7 lead at home to the Eagles.
* Losing to the Oilers when Matt Stover shanked a chip shot.
* Losing to the Dolphins when Scott Mitchell waddled onto the field for the very first time and led a comeback in relief of Dan Marino.
* Losing on a last-second drive that gave Akili Smith his lone bright moment in the NFL.
* Blowing a 21-7 lead at Soldier Field inside the final two minutes of the game, complete with a Hail Mary and an overtime interception return.
* Losing on a post-facto replay review, which prompted the launching of non-wallop-y beer bottles.
* Losing on a helmet toss.
* Blowing large leads in a playoff loss in Pittsburgh.
* Scoring 48 points and losing by 10.
* Numerous losses on last-second field goals, some of which were 50+ yards, including a pair of season-opening 9-6 home losses.
And all that's just off the top of my head. That doesn't even count losses to inferior teams, or unexpected losses at crucial junctures.
I do not mean to discount the 2006 team's fine work in the home losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Credit where credit is due—those were really good. To blow the Baltimore game in the final minutes when the victory was all but clinched, and to give up 21 fourth-quarter points to the Steelers, I'll admit I swore more than the South Park movie. But most losses this year, or even last year, have been games I assumed the Browns would lose, and then they did so in perfunctory fashion. Ho-hum.
While this has been going on, the NFL has been stealing our thunder. It all started in week 2, when the Eagles blew a 24-7 fourth-quarter home lead to the Giants. Okay, those things happen. Fair enough.
But what happened on Monday Night Football in week 6 was inexcusable. The Arizona Cardinals blew a 23-3 lead with 15:30 to play despite not giving up a single offensive touchdown. If you thought Dennis Green was angry after that game, you should have seen me. "That's bulls***! The Browns were saving that loss blueprint for their next playoff appearance in 2027!"
And as the Browns plodded along, losing in boring fashion, the NFL started pumping out Browns-like losses on an almost weekly basis:
* See Philly lose on a last-second 62-yard field goal!
* See Dallas lose when their game-winning field is blocked, and a penalty during the return allows Washington to kick the game-winner in the opposite direction!
* See Cincinnati blow a 28-7 halftime lead by surrendering 42 second-half points to San Diego!
* See the Giants blow a 21-0 fourth quarter lead to Tennessee!
* See the Colts lose on a last-second 60-yard field goal!
* See Jacksonville lose a crucial game, 24-21, despite allowing only 98 yards of offense and no offensive touchdowns!
The Browns used to be a pioneer in these types of losses. They were the Thomas Alva Edison of improbable defeats. Somewhere along the way, our team has lost its ingenuity. I mean, if I had told you before the season that two NFL games would be decided on field goals of 60+ yards, and offered you the ability to bet on the losers, you surely would have bet $20 that the Browns would lose one of them. Right? You might even bet 6:5 odds that the Browns would lose both.
Barry, the time has come for the Browns to reclaim their heritage. I offer the following suggestions for their upcoming Christmas Eve loss:
1. After Tampa Bay ties the game late in the 4th quarter, everybody absentmindedly clears away from the ensuing kick-off as if it were a punt. Tampa falls on the loose ball in the Browns' end zone for the winning score.
2. The game goes to overtime and the Browns have to punt after three dropped passes. Pontbriand gets off a bad snap. After Zastudil chases it down and grabs it, he is spun around by a would-be tackler so that he loses his orientation. He then punts the ball backwards out of his own end zone for the game-ending safety.
3. Trailing 16-14 in the final minute, Braylon Edwards is off to the races on a busted play. As he approaches the end zone, he stops and shanks a drop-kick.
4. Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game with seconds to play, the Browns mix up the playcalling and attempt to confuse Tampa by putting Ted Washington in at QB, then have him roll left on a naked bootleg.
5. The Browns' final drive dies inside of two minutes when three centers suffer season-ending injuries on consecutive plays. With no timeouts left because Romeo challenged such things as an incomplete screen pass that would have lost the Browns two yards if caught, the referees must run time off the clock for each injury until the game is over.
I could probably think of more, the point is that I shouldn't have to. These are the Cleveland Effin' Browns, dammit! If you're gonna ruin Christmas, forget this 41-0 crap! Lose as absurdly as you can! This is the gleam, men!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org