The Hollow Men

Barry McBride reflects on another Christmas Eve loss for the Browns...

The Browns home season ended with the quietest of whimpers on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as disinterested Clevelanders turned their backs on disinterested rich young men.

There was scant sound in the empty stadium as the team's 2006 home season finally fizzled, and then blinked out.

A few remaining spectators had the energy to boo the team as they exited the field. Their protest, quiet and ultimately meaningless, is carried quickly away on the wind, registering only to the few still listening on the radio or television.

Within a few minutes of the game's official end, there was silence in the empty stadium. It was the type of silence in which laughter sounds false, and forced holiday cheer falls with a heavy weight.

= = =

Downstairs in the basement of Cleveland Browns Stadium, fans and friends gather to greet their warriors after the battle. A woman and her children stand eagerly at the gate, pen in hand to get the signatures of Browns players leaving the stadium.

I see WR coach Terry Robiskie standing behind them, talking to someone. It is probably the last time we see him here. One of the team's media people is laughing with other employees, oblivious to the ennui of those who fund his opportunity.

Soon the players will emerge into this comfortable womb, where their cars will be brought to them as they wait. They will hop into their luxury SUVs and speed off to enjoy a holiday with their loved ones.

= = =

Meanwhile, head coach Romeo Crennel is speaking in short, clipped sentences.

Fans who sense that Crennel is emotionless or addled as he stands on the sidelines would be advised to witness this incarnation of the team's head coach before he is sent on his way.

Crennel's anger seems to boil just below the surface. This is a man who had spent decades slowly working his way up for a chance to lead. He has been a trusted lieutenant, a builder of plans and strategies, who was finally given command of his own troops.

Sitting and speaking to the media, Crennel is a man still doing his job without a net to catch him when he falls. The fans and merchants are tired of losing and blame the team's problems on him. He will be gone soon.

The media is looking for something, anything, to write about which would create a spark of interest for their readers in the morning papers. Crennel's job is to avoid providing it, so he doesn't. Instead, he says nothing, with barely suppressed rage seeming to hang in the void after each brief answer.

His dream is collapsing.

= = =

It's Christmas Eve. My nine-year-old daughter greets me excitedly as I return home from the Stadium, joined shortly thereafter by our family pet, an eager and often-jealous mutt of dubious extraction. I greet them with a surface-deep joy, and know I have a couple of hours to shake my mood, so I can join in the night's festivities without jostling the memories we want to take root for our kids.

Perhaps because it's my occupation as well as my interest, I can't escape the feeling. Like a swinging pendulum, my mind keeps going back to how the franchise we've tied ourselves to is pulling us down with it. Year after year of futility which has worn down the world's most dedicated fan base, a battery that has been charged and discharged too many times.

I want to be happy for the sake of my kids, who are far more important than the failures of men who don't even know their father exists, or the millionaires and billionaires who regard him only as an occasional media annoyance.

We have a new Christmas tree this year. It's an artificial one of indeterminate age my wife acquired for free from a friend. All our Christmas ornaments are new as well, purchased cheaply at a discount store.

The replacements can't fill the void of ornaments lost earlier this year when a twice-a-millennium flood wiped out a third of our possessions. Like the new Browns, these shiny new ornaments can't fill the space of the old ones. They're bland, they're dull, and don't have any meaning for us. We place them on the tree, and tell ourselves this is the most beautiful Christmas tree ever.

The objects that my young children made, or that my wife and I bought as newlyweds are gone. We have the memories left, but they fade with time, and will vanish in a generation. Shapes without form, shade without color.

= = =

It could have been the sparse crowd, the banal contest, or the speed at which the crowd departed. Maybe it was a feeling of deja vu, the repetitive motions of loss. Weeks after sensible people ceased to care, today's disappointment hit me hard, registering with a thud on my consciousness that won't go away.

Like you, I repeatedly place my hopes in athletes coddled from youth based on their physical prowess and the rich, powerful men who sell the game. Like you, I have been beaten down. Maybe it's just been the last seven years, maybe it's the last eleven, maybe it's more.

Christmas morning is now just a few hours away. Perhaps it will bring new hope. Maybe we can hang on for one more year.

We are victims of the monster we created. We idolize the players, pay the ticket prices, purchase anything with an NFL licensed logo on it. We tell men of minimal accomplishment outside a playing field that they are the heroes of our generation, and wander aimlessly then they fall apart under the slightest stress.

Your warriors chose not to go to war today. They let me down, and they let you down. They let down a man who tried to lead them and deserved better. On Christmas, they will unwrap expensive presents, play video games, and not be even slightly concerned about the collateral damage of their failure.

I will wake up with my children on Christmas Day, watch them as they unwrap their presents, and take them to church. I will try to remember to be thankful for another year with my family, both those who live with me, and my extended family here on the OBR's forums and chat rooms.

But now it's dark, and quiet, and this has been our saddest year together. As it comes to a close, I know that we've paid a steep price for putting our hopes in hollow men.

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