Not since the Brian Sipe-led Kardiac Kids of the early 1980s has the NFL seen a team like this year's Cleveland Browns. Fans point out that the Browns could easily be 4-0 at the quarter mark. After all, both losses came in excruciating and bizarre fashion, punctuated by the historic Dwayne Rudd helmet throw that has enshrined the Browns linebacker in NFL infamy with the likes of Leon Lett and Jim Marshall. Of course, the Browns could just as easily be 1-3, were it not for a truly inspired comeback against the Tennessee Titans that gave them an unlikely win in overtime.
Win or lose, one thing is certain: This whole down-to-the-wire schtick is getting real old, real fast. The Cleveland Clinic and
So when the Browns take the home field against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, medical crews are prepared. EMT response teams roam each section armed with portable crash kits and defibrillators. A medivac helicopter and 12 ambulances idle outside the stadium. There's even a team of doctors at each gate, giving walk-through angioplasties to fans over 50 years old. 64-year old Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau—fresh off his fifth consecutive thrashing of the season—is caught trying to sneak into the stadium and score himself a quick pipe cleaning before his next quarterback change.
Expecting more close finishes, the Browns announce that starting in 2003, all season ticket holders will receive a season's supply of aspirin and high-fibre dietary supplements. Ticket holders are even sent home cholesterol testing kits as part of their package.
As it turns out, all the preparation is unnecessary. The Baltimore Ravens are amped about whipping a comically inept Denver Broncos' squad the week before, but that doesn't change a simple fact. The Cleveland Browns own the Ravens. And while photo finishes and bizarre endings may be the theme for the season, on this night, the contest is decided before it's even begun.
Five minutes before game time, in the middle of the singing of the national anthem by a high school girl's choir, Ravens middle linebacker and noted felon Ray Lewis goes suddenly and inexplicably berserk. Lewis charges toward the choir from the opposite sideline (showing terrific speed in pursuit, I might add) as panicked high schoolers flee in all directions. Network cameras follow Lewis as he levels one choir member with a closed fist, and seconds later, tackles the choir leader at the 50 yard line.
It takes another 15 seconds for Lewis' inevitable posse to charge onto the grass. Just in time, it turns out, for a nifty mass arrest at midfield. Say what you will about stupid, narrow-minded tailgate enforcement policies, but when 250 cops quickly descend on Lewis and his thugs, it puts a quick stop to the antics. Only later do police learn the reason for the outburst: Lewis thought the girls choir was disrespecting him by singing "Oh Ray, can you see…".
For Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, the incident is a clear illustration of the unacceptable dangers of public gatherings of any sort. She immediately moves to ban home football games entirely. Outraged, the entire Cleveland Police Department resigns on the spot, resulting in a crisis that ends
Remarkably, a football game gets played between all the in-fighting.
With no true #3 QB on the roster, Billick orders Zastudil to punt on four consecutive first downs before the game finally, and mercifully, comes to an end.