Rich's Rant: Angst in Orange and Brown

The signing of Jamal Lewis has Browns fans reacting in many different ways...

Rarely has a player signing by the Browns caused such angst, such anger, such frustration, such disbelief among the fans.

The announcement last week that Jamal Lewis is the newest Brown sparked a gigantic wave of emotion, the likes of which haven't been seen in Browns land since the release of Bernie Kosar.

The reaction to the signing was swift, oftentimes mean and sprinted the gamut of emotions. Sides were taken immediately. It was either black or white. No gray areas here.

It was a teeth-gnashing, jaw-clenching, eye-bulging frenzy.

Jamal Lewis, that vile Ratbird a Brown? Never!!!!! Never, never, never.

Why in the world did the Browns seek out and then sign a player who has depressed more Cleveland fans than just about any other player not named Ray Lewis in the last seven years? Hasn't he caused enough emotional trouble already?

This was the same Jamal Lewis who was universally reviled by Cleveland pro football fans simply because he played for the hated (rightly so) Baltimore Ravens and was one of the best running backs in the National Football League.

The same Jamal Lewis who always seemed to have his best games against the Browns. The same Jamal Lewis whose troubles with the law landed him in prison a few years ago.

How in the name of Paul Brown did this man wind up in Cleveland?

And how are Browns fans going to handle the fact that Jamal Lewis now has "Cleveland Browns running back" in front of his name?

Lifelong emotional attachments with the Browns are being threatened. Posted one very upset Browns fan on this Web site when news broke that Lewis was just visiting the Browns: "If the Browns sign Jamal Lewis, it will end my 47-year love affair."

Imagine that. Forty-seven years of love invested in a pro football team down the drain just because of one contract signing. Must have been a very tenuous love affair. See ya.

"Damn Phil Savage," wrote another. Heavy stuff. Toying with loyalties can do that.

"He's an old 27 (years old)," declared one detractor who probably believes Reuben Droughns is a "young" 28-year-old, a full year older than Lewis.

Then there's the somewhat exaggerated viewpoint on the same thread. "If he runs for 300 yards against the Steelers or Ravens, everyone will love him. They will be the first people . . . saying that I told you we should have signed him."

The emotional conflict that has gripped many Browns fans is understandable. In fact, it is to be expected. No doubt it will last until training camp in late July.

And then when fans see Lewis wearing his familiar #31 in Seal Brown and Orange, that'll change the hearts for a vast majority of them.

Will fans boo him at training camp? Don't think so. By then, tempers should cool. It won't be easy, but time should ease the pain of watching Lewis in action.

There are too many emotional factors that screamed "make the deal" hard to ignore here.

Pride, for example, has been known to push athletes well beyond their normal limits.

Lewis, despite his strong career thus far, still has a lot to prove, especially to the Ravens. And that clearly will benefit the Browns, who haven't exactly been the scourge of the AFC North the past two seasons under Romeo Crennel.

He's got something to prove to himself as well. This represents a crossroads of sorts for him. How he performs this season will go a long way in determining the direction his career takes in the immediate future.

Failure here is certain to label him a washed-up has-been who will never be again.

There's too much talent there to ignore. It's not exactly as though Lewis has forgotten how to run the football, forgotten how to hit the hole, forgotten how to make tacklers miss. These are instincts that can't be taught.

This is a no-lose situation for the Browns. If Lewis craps out . . . well, it was a noble experiment. Didn't cost them anything. Besides, the Browns weren't very good to begin with. If he succeeds, that'll mean the Browns will be a better team.

Simplistic? Of course. Idealistic? Perhaps. Rationalizing? Yep. Possible? Definitely.

Meanwhile, the Browns' public relations machine, a.k.a. damage control, is fully cognizant of the initial emotional damage the Lewis signing has had on the fans and created an Internet peace pipe for him in an effort to try and soften the blow.

Lewis has his own blog (at least there's a picture of him over it), the first of which says how much he's looking forward to playing for the Browns and being embraced by their fans. OK, so he probably didn't write it, but give the club props for recognizing a bad situation and trying to correct it.

Now it's time to quit your whining and bitching and moaning and let this little morality play unfold. Root for the uniform. Root for the colors.

Think you can handle that one?

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