Rich's Rant: Crennel Wrong, Camp Right

Rich Passan has seen several decades of training camps, and sees hope in this one. Too bad Romeo Crennel seems to see it as just another day...

Once again, Romeo Crennel got it wrong.

At his initial news conference at the beginning of training camp late last week, the Browns coach was asked if this was the best time of the year.

The opportunity to seize optimism by the throat and lavish it for all its worth was handed to him and he blew it.

All the players, with one notable exception, were healthy. Minds were clear. Last year's nightmare was a distant and eminently forgettable memory. It was a new start.

Fans packed the stands that surrounded the practice area in Berea. Hope seized their hearts and smiles creased their faces as their football heroes took the field for the first time.

New faces. Old faces. Same faces. Who cared? It was football season again and it was good to be back. All was well with the world.

The best time of the year, right? Not to Crennel.

To him, it was the beginning of just another training camp. Same old, same old.

To the fans, however, it was far more. It was that rite of summer that reconnects them to professional football and the team they adore in a most sincere and personal way.

"The draft was the best day for optimism and that's even before anyone puts on the pads," Crennel said, puncturing a hole in that little balloon. "There's always optimism in the off-season. Everyone looks good in shorts. The good part about today is that you know you got your guys back and you're ready to do some football work."

One has to wonder if Crennel, who might be jaded about training camp after all these years, gets it. While there are a few shreds of truth to what he says, there is no way the draft, as exciting as it is, can compare to the first day of training camp. Doesn't even come close.

The draft is the prelude to the future. Training camp is about now. And while the future for the Browns appears to be brightening after way too many years of abysmal football, there is still something about the start of training camp that excites beyond words.

The grass was a vibrant green, every blade perfectly in place on the beautifully manicured, meticulously lined fields. It was time.

Last season's 4-12 record? A memory. Gone. Forgotten. This season will be different. It has to be different.

Who cares if Brady Quinn is a contract holdout? He'll be in camp sooner rather than later. Besides, not many fans are counting on him starting the season opener, anyway.

Who cares if LeCharles Bentley is a no-show because the Browns chose the path of least resistance with him? The offensive line situation appears to be the most stable it has been since the return in 1999. Not to worry. Getting Bentley back would be nice, a bonus. But no worry.

The Browns were back. And that's all that mattered.

The excitement was palpable as players jogged out of the locker room to the practice area for the first time. Smatterings of applause became steadier and reached impressive levels as the players got closer to the fans.

It was culminated by the dramatic appearance of Kellen Winslow Jr., the last man out of the locker room, well after the rest of the team had reached the far end of the field.

The big tight end wasn't expected to be on the field at all at the beginning of camp after yet another knee surgery during the offseason. Rumors strongly suggested it would be several weeks into camp before he could participate.

And yet, there he was, helmet in hand, walking slowly toward his teammates. A few fans caught sight of him and began to clap excitedly. In just a few seconds, everyone knew what was happening and the applause swelled rapidly.

Perhaps sensing the drama, Winslow put on his helmet and confidently, almost triumphantly, jogged toward his teammates. About halfway, he acknowledged the welcome with a modest wave of the hand.

If there was any doubt in his mind about the fervor and zeal of Browns fans, they were succinctly erased with the boisterous reception.

This is the one time of the year fans can get up close and somewhat personal with the Browns. And you better believe they soak in as much as they can.

The look of wonderment etched on the faces of the children, whose thoughtful parents are wise enough to indoctrinate them to Cleveland Browns football at an early age, as they tried to figure out why everyone was getting excited. Priceless. Some day, they'll understand.

This football-mad town showered its unconditional love on a team that doesn't deserve it. Yet. But it's beginning to look as though the days of deserving are not far off.

Regardless, this is definitely the best time of the year. Probably the most special time.

Too bad Crennel doesn't see it that way.

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