Butch and Grover's Syndrome

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not getting the sense that Browns fans are truly excited about yesterday's win of the hapless Bengals. Perhaps it's because they saw a lot of the same problems recur that they've seen in the past, but against a worse team. Aardvark seems to feel this way as he contemplates whether or not Butch Davis has a case of <I>Grover's Syndrome</I>.

After the Chiefs nightmare, I thought I saw him showing some of the symptoms. After the Bengals game, I'm sure he suffers from it. Butch Davis may be coming down with a full blown case of Grover's Syndrome.

That's Grover's Syndrome as in "the Grover"-- Mike Hargrove, the former manager of the Tribe. No, Butch doesn't pull a human rain delay at post game press conferences and step away from the microphones after each question and rearrange his collar and adjust his sleeves. Let me explain.

Baseball fans remember Hargrove as the manager who helped guide the Indians to their first contending seasons in 35 years. You're no doubt aware of his accomplishments. At times he came painfully close to winning it all, and other times took an early exit in the playoffs, yet he assembled quite a streak of contending teams and division flags.

But Hargrove had a weakness: he was not a fixer.

He could identify a problem, but he just couldn't fix it (in contrast to his successor, Charlie Manuel, who was not only NOT a fixer, but was also clueless as to even identifying a problem. Interviews revealed a manager masquerading as a dumb dirt farmer. "Charlie, what's the Tribe gotta do to get out from under this six game losing streak?" "Well, Bill, I've just been scratchin' the old noggin' over that one, and I'll be gol-darned if I could my finger on it").

When the Indians broke through in 1994 to seriously contend (they were trailing the White Sox by just 2 games in August when the owners' lockout wiped out the season), Hargrove knew he had a great young lineup that was long on talent, but short on fundamentals. The vow for the next spring training was to emphasize the basics.

The next year, the players were still raw on the finer points, but the talent was overwhelming. They wiped out everyone in their path, winning 100 games despite playing in a shortened 144 game season. But the signs were already there: the Tribe was winning on sheer talent, but not doing what baseball purists call "the little things." That caught up with them in the finals against a Braves team deep in pitching and smarts.

And so it went through the remainder of Hargrove's managerial run with the Tribe: the Indians would talk up a spring training based on fundamentals, then feast on a league wide shortage of pitching and an even weaker division, and rack up many an 8-4 and 10-5 win over the Twins and White Sox. If the team hit a rare three game losing streak, the cry would go out about sloppy fielding and moving runners over, but then the batting would kick in again, they'd win 6 of their next 8, and the talk subsided. And the fans didn't really care, certainly not after 35 years of almost constant losing. Then the playoffs would see good pitching neutralize the big bats, and the other team would find a way in tight games where the Tribe could not.

The Syndrome even infected John Hart, who every year told us the Tribe needed a #1 starter, and every year came up short bringing one into the fold.

In later years, the Tribe still won, but could not dominate as it did in '95. So we'd hear a little more about Manny's stupefying base running, Thome and Baerga's mediocre fielding, Belle's guarantee that "every fly ball is an adventure," and Lofton's sudden lust for power and launching 260 foot fly balls. Outfielders never met a cutoff man they couldn't hit, and Sandy Alomar never met a pitcher who could hold a runner at first. As a pitcher, Jim Kaat at the age of 60 could probably field the position better than anyone on the Tribe's staff.

Every year Hargrove articulated the problems. Every year he became more vocal about the players not doing "the little things," and every year it was never fixed, and in fact got a little worse.

As it went for Hargrove and "the little things," so it goes for Butch Davis and the holy trinity of running the ball, stopping the run and discipline.

No question Davis instilled a winning attitude in the Browns last year. Even national writers pointed out the dramatic difference between the Palmer bunch and the Davis group (not to be confused with the Spencer Davis Group). Butch's Boys believed they could win, punch you in the mouth and talk some trash to boot. Did fans care about smak talking players? Was that part of the Browns history and tradition? Who cares? We were tired of having our clocks cleaned every week.

The change was never more evident than in week 3 last year against Jacksonville. This was no longer the Browns team that laid down the previous year, 48-0. Gerard Warren knocked Brunnell into the middle of next week, and that first half saw a LOT of chippiness between the teams. But afterwards, Butch cautioned that the staff does not like to see, nor does it condone, all the taunting and extracurricular stuff.

Then Sellers and Chapman had their little run-in with the law, and then there was Warren's gun possession. Fans said no way will Butch put up with this! Welllllll, he did and he didn't.. Chapman and Sellers are gone, but Chapman was on IR and Sellers wasn't coming close to living up to expectations. Warren? Are you kidding? Like the great Paul Brown, Butch Davis would not put up with these off field distractions AT ALL. Period. End of story… unless you were a really good player.

Later, the players yucked it up on the sidelines well into the fourth quarter of the Bears game. The Browns had a two td lead, but manage to blow it in some little kids fantasy ("Wait, Dad, if we score on the next play, recover the onside kick, then make the Hail Mary, then we can tie!!" "Sure, Tommy…"). The word went out: no way will Butch put up with premature celebrations.

I could go on with various other incidents, but you get the picture. The Browns have found bizarre ways to lose, commit personal fouls at critical times, rack up fines, and the taunting continues. We've even raised it to a new art form. What other team can boast that their place kicker and/or holder can get a flag for taunting? No problem, a team that thrives on emotion and intensity can deal with kicking off from the 15.

And after last week, some fans anticipated the reaction: "Oooh, you can bet Butch won't put up with THAT again." "Yea, he'll ream them good this week." "Yea, Rudd will never take off his helmet until he's 78 and admitted to a nursing home." "Amen, you can bet they'll have their heads on straight this week."

So this week we still see a few stupid penalties that kept Bengal drives alive (thankfully the Bengals couldn't capitalize if they were given the magic genie bottle), more jawing, specifically from Griffith, and Mark Word removing his helmet before he left the field!

Butch's warnings have sunk in. Yep.

As for establishing a running game and stopping the run, it's debatable how much Davis could fix in his first year, though he apparently believed that Chanonine and Jackson were acceptable starters. The defense had its moments, but was still giving up plenty of rushing yards. Warren was learning on the job, and showed the typical inconsistency of a rookie. And a brittle James Jackson just wasn't going to be an answer. And so we went into the off season confident that der Butchum would cure what ailed us. Green, Tucker, Stokes, Holmes, Griffith, Lang. The bodies were now in place.

Result? So far, more of the same.

We can hope that the units will come around. If they don't, we can go into the off season convincing ourselves that Davis just needs one more draft and free agency signing period to really, REALLY fix the same old problems..

And every other game will see another manifestation of the same problems, and Butch will continue with his guarded admonitions that the offense line must simply assert itself and that the defense communicate with each other and that taunting and personal fouls at critical times are not what the Browns are all about and that's not part of

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