Vinny: Just the Way that it Is

From the past to the present, expectations are high for the Cleveland Browns organization. The 2007 team is moving in a positive direction and anticipation builds for the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over the past few seasons there has been little excitement generated by the Cleveland Browns. This might seem a bit harsh, as the faithful followers, arguably the greatest fans in the National Football League, have been waiting in grand expectation for the home team to finally come through.

Being a fan of the Cleveland Browns is something to be proud of. If it weren't for the late-1960s decision to name the biggest game of the season the Super Bowl, Cleveland would rank right there with the best of them, having won numerous Championship games in their storied history.

Those were the greatest times to be a Cleveland Browns fan, as the team was a consistent winner. Players didn't have the avenue of free agency to leave a team, a town, and a fan-base on a whim. Wearing the colors of the home team was an honor, rooting for the team on the shores of Lake Erie was a happening. History was made in that old lady on the lakeshore, and for great-grandfathers to grandfathers to fathers and their children, walking into the massive Cleveland Municipal Stadium was a treat.

For as much as the fans adorned the home field, the players defended the gridiron as if it was their last battle. These Iron Men: Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gene Hickerson, Dante Lavelli, the names go on for an eternity - this is Cleveland Browns football. Believe me, we could list the great men and players from the past could through this entire column and that we would still not show the respect and admiration fans from those great days had for their Cleveland Browns.

Lost in the shuffle of many seasons gone-bye has been the true heritage of the team. Sure, the organization has recognized many a man from these past times. But those where times that many fans could only wish to understand today. It's impossible to measure the importance and joy these gridiron warriors brought to an entire city. What made these times unique was the ability to talk with the players, as you may have casually strolled through a neighborhood store. Players were everyday people. Things were much simpler back then.

Those days are gone, but but still remembered by many old-timers who lived through the greatest era of professional sports in the City of Cleveland. A large majority of Browns fans today relate back to Brian Sipe, Greg and Mike Pruitt, some even to Paul Warfield and Jerry Sherk. An even younger generation rode the highs and lows of the Bernie Kosar-led Browns which took the team and fans on a wild ride for the better part of four consecutive seasons.

Today, times are so much different. The team has been on a downward slide for the better part of the decade, but there is hope and optimism surrounding the team. Phil Savage, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns has methodically put the pieces in place to provide a competitive team, not only for the organization, but for the fans, and the City of Cleveland.

Putting together a competitive team has been a struggle for Savage and his front office personnel. Walking into a bad situation, Savage has had to rebuild the team from the ground up, following the meltdown of head coach Butch Davis and the team he put together and tore apart in three short seasons. With the cupboard bare, Savage drew up the plans to build the Browns, but the plan is expected to take up to five years.

In just year three of the grand scheme, the 2007 Browns are not expected to be a challenger for a division crown, although the team may do well enough to win a couple division games. This would be a marked improvement over the 1-11 mark the team has put up against AFC North competition in the past two seasons. Despite this dismal divisional record, the team is on the rise, improvement is evident within the roster and the organization from top to bottom believes they have indeed turned the corner.

So deep is the belief, so telling is the optimism, Savage has opened talked about this team being competitive. Savage expects this team to show progress this season. Winning is not only anticipated, it is expectated. Gone should be the days of dismal offensive performances the stands at CBS emptying out late in the third quarter should be a distant memory.

While new blood flows through the veins of the Browns, the perceived heart is on the sideline. Not since Tim Couch, has the Cleveland organization and fans held a quarterback with the same high regard they have for Brady Quinn. The hopes and aspirations of the organization rest on his shoulders.

We'll see Brady in time, because when it is time, there is no turning back.

As a new season is about to begin, the fans again are excited and the team is 0-0. There is hope for something exciting and different to occur inside of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Heading into the first week of the season, forgotten are all the embarrassing losses, all the disappointments and the feeling that comes with being on losing end of the scoreboard week-in and week-out. Being a Browns fan is about loyalty, it is about perseverance.  To this day, parents of our young still lead their children to become Browns fans. Football is in their hearts and souls.

It all comes down to hope.

Come Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium, let's hope Charlie Frye displays the ability to lead this team. Let's hope the defensive line has been playing possum with us all and stops the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers in their tracks, and let's hope the positives outweigh the negatives, so the fans and team alike can be proud.

For some strange reason, I expect it to happen on Sunday against those Steelers. Call it a hunch, call it something I saw at camp, or maybe just call it hope.

Coming out strong will be the cure for much of the negativity dumped on the organization from the local and national media.

So Mr. Savage, throughout all the bad times associated with Cleveland Browns football in this decade, the fans continue to hang onto your every word, and there is a belief in you. While there is plenty of negativity surrounding this team, fans are fans and always look for the bright spots to hang onto. Right now, the fans are in your corner, I don't expect you'll let them down.

And Mr. Lerner, I still have that cigar your father gave me in 1999, but I won't fire that sucker up until this team wins a championship.

Again, let's hope.

V


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