Cow Patties from Columbus

Sirk is back, with another look at the life of a Browns fan living among the misguided. Can our hero survive the Browns opening loss? Stay tuned...

Barry, 

Greetings from Columbus. How ‘bout dem Browns? So far, so bad, huh? 

If someone forced me into the contrivance of summing up my relationship with the Cleveland Browns with a song lyric, I'd have to go with this one from Elvis Costello: 

I used to be disgusted
Now I try to be amused 

If I took this team too seriously anymore, my head would explode like a microwaved gremlin. I can't allow myself to violently pound on my laptop with key-cracking force, producing bilious recommendations for the coach's public execution each and every time, say, the Browns are out of replay challenges well before halftime. There are only so many hours in a day, plus I don't have Rich Passan's keyboard budget.  

Instead, I try to look on the bright side. Remember in "Major League" when Harry Doyle commented that you can tell how the season is going to go based on the first at-bat of the year? Desperate for any glimmer of optimism entering 2007, I decided to apply that theory to the Browns game on Sunday. Whatever the football equivalent of an excuse-me infield single by Willie Mays Hayes might be, I was hoping for it. 

First, the Browns won the coin toss. I wasn't sure if that counted. Nevertheless, it was good to see that the extra coin-tossing practice at pre-season quarterback meetings paid off handsomely in the opener. 

The Browns received the kickoff, but it was a touchback. That's more of a non-play than play, so that didn't count either. 

The first play from scrimmage was a 2-yard run from Jamal Lewis that was indistinguishable from the average Karim Abdul-Jabar run in 1999, other than it was three feet shorter in length. This was not the omen I was hoping for. 

Okay, first possession. I decided that that's more reasonable, right? It would be silly to judge the outlook of an entire season on one two-yard run. An entire possession is a better barometer. So what it Joe Jurevicius dropped the ball on second down? The series wasn't over! And so what if Charlie Frye got sacked on third down, like always? There could have been a ballsy fake punt in the offing! 

And then came the punt. It wasn't a fake, but a farce. I've watched a lot of bad football over the years, but this was a truly special play, in a 1976-Buccaneers-kicking-the-ball-all-over-the-field way. I still haven't deleted the game from my DVR because I can't believe this play actually happened. I am looking forward to this week's "Inside the NFL" on HBO, just in case this play gets the slo-mo NFL films replay with the dramatic orchestral score. 

This play had it all: 

* Emergency back-up punter Paul Ernster dropping a ball that hit him square in the hands. It was as if he were auditioning to stay on with the Browns as a wide receiver. 

* A punt that traveled 45 yards feet. Whenever a punt travels as far as a bunt, you know you've got a special play on your hands. Which #7 was I watching? Ernster or Lofton? 

* The officials tossing so much yellow laundry that the field looked like a Yinzer's underwear hamper. Then the referee rattled off a list of Browns player transgressions so long that he might as well have been working security at Hopkins Airport. 

* Possibly one of the funniest "not my fault" moments ever captured on camera. After the play, Ernster faced long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand, and then held his hands high and to the left of his helmet. He seemed to be indicating that the snap was high and wide. The truth is that Pontbriand does his job better than any other player on the Browns. This is a man who can, on a moment's notice, squat down in the living room and fire a football from between his legs to kill a fly buzzing in the den. The replays confirmed that Pontbriand's snap would have drilled Ernster in the sternum had he not dropped it like a third-down pass. (After the game, Ernster owned up to his drop when speaking to the press. In retrospect, maybe he was telling Pontbriand, "You're so frickin' good that you are incapable of snapping the ball way up here, so it's obviously my fault.") 

After the Steelers started at the Browns' 22 and scored their inevitable touchdown, I gave up on looking for glimmers of optimism. I immediately switched to "I hope it doesn't end 41-0" mode. When Lawrence Vickers did his It-Ain't-Gonna-Be-41-To-Nothin' Dance after the Browns closed the gap to 24-7 in the third quarter, I was dancing right along with him. 

Other thoughts on the game… 

* Of all the adjectives in the dictionary, I'd say that my least favorite one, in terms of accurately describing a Cleveland Browns head coach in the middle of a lopsided home loss to Pittsburgh, would be "taxidermic." A normal football coach would have been screaming, seething, or at least doing that sad, disappointed head-shake thing that Brian Billick does. On Sunday, Romeo looked like something Earnest Hemingway had shot and used to decorate his lakeside cabin. During each sideline camera shot depicting a motionless, glassy-eyed Romeo, I was hoping color analyst Rich Gannon would use the telestrator to draw moose antlers on Romeo's head. 

* When the Steelers took a 10-0 lead on scoring drives beginning at the Browns' 22 and 17 yard lines, it occurred to me that in order to score points against Cleveland in 2007, opposing teams had to advance the ball further against the Cavaliers than the Browns. 

* I know he's got a rifle arm, and he definitely gets rid of the ball more quickly than Frye, but Derek Anderson makes me nervous. Every coverage sack is a turnover waiting to happen. Let's put it this way: If Derek Anderson were an animal and released into the wild, he would be eaten within five minutes. He does not have that innate perception of imminent danger. Let's say you're watching a nature documentary about field mice, and a field mouse frolics in the grass while a snake sneaks up into striking distance. For no apparent reason, the mouse will suddenly get all twitchy and paranoid. This mouse, with a brain the size of a peanut M&M, can sense that it is in some sort of imperceptible peril. A major difference between this mouse in the field and Derek Anderson in the pocket is that if the mouse were holding a little football-shaped wedge of cheese, I am convinced that the mouse would have the innate sense to tuck the little cheese wedge away in the opposite arm milliseconds before absorbing a blindsided strike from a viper. The only thing standing between Anderson and Warren Moon's all-time QB fumble record of 161 is Brady Quinn's talent. Then again, Quinn may not play for a few weeks, so anything's possible. 

I am sure I had other thoughts on last week's game, such as "Thank God it's over", but I can't remember any of them. (Except for "Thank God it's over.") 

Yes, Barry, now that it's over, let us forget that it ever happened. Besides, I have more tales of what it's like to be a Browns Fan Stranded in Columbus.  

The first item involves the ability to see the Browns on TV. The NFL has traditionally done a terrible job looking out for football fans in Central Ohio. The league has always been good about creating as many TV scheduling conflicts as possible, so either Browns or Bengals fans would be pissed off each week, since WBNS could only show one game or the other. 

As I told you last year, WBNS used to operate under The Perfect System™, whereby the Browns would be on TV no matter what, and Bengals fans would spend each Sunday shoe shopping with their wives. But once the Bengals got good again, the Who-Dey-Come-Latelies lobbied to get more Cincy games on TV. As the Browns continued to suck, this became the norm, which created lots of ill-will between the two groups. Hardly a week would go by without some version of this conversation…. 

Browns Fan: This sucks. Why aren't the Browns on TV?  

Bengals Fan: Because the Bengals are playoff contenders with gamebreakers at quarterback and wide receiver, plus a battering ram thousand-yard running back. The Browns are boring and stupid and unwatchable. 

Browns Fan: Oh yeah? Well……uhhh…..I dare you to name three starting quarterbacks in the era between Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer

After several moments of awkward silence, the conversation would be over. The Browns fan would go drink himself numb while watching at a sports bar, and the Bengals fan would watch from the comforts of home, wondering how many more weeks until he could watch an AFC Central grudge match against the Houston Oilers. 

I am pleased to report that in 2007, the NFL did Central Ohio a huge favor. They didn't waste TV openings by doing stupid things like scheduling the Browns for a bye the same week Cincy plays on Monday night. Instead, they put together a schedule that will allow the vast majority of Browns and Bengals games to be shown in Central Ohio. 

After mapping the two schedules on a spreadsheet, it appears that a minimum of 12 Browns games and 11 Bengals games will be available in Columbus. The Browns' October 28 game at St. Louis will definitely not be shown, as the Bengals play Pittsburgh that day. (WBNS' policy is to show all Ohio vs. Pittsburgh games, as it temporarily stops transplanted Yinzers from flinging poop at the station's headquarters.)  

Amazingly, there are only three "undecided" conflicts with the Bengals. Those three question mark games for the Browns are September 23 at Oakland, October 14 vs. Miami, and November 25 vs. Houston. If the Browns are as bad as they look, I'd imagine all three of those games will be bumped for the Bengals. However, Brady Quinn could be the great equalizer. When the Pride of Dublin eventually lines up under center, the local angle could steal a TV slot or two for the Browns. 

So that's the good news. My other Central Ohio topic has to do with my seating arrangement at the office. I can't imagine that such an arrangement would be possible back home in Cleveland. For your convenience, I have sketched out the seating arrangement on a napkin. Any cubicle marked with an "x" is a non-sports fan, my cubicle is denoted by "me", and the other cubicles are marked by the inhabitant's rooting interest. 

(Since that napkin was the only piece of paper available on a moment's notice, please disregard my new girlfriend's phone number. I haven't called her yet because I am playing it cool. I was at a bachelor party last week and this stripper was totally into me. I asked her out and she said yes and gave me her number. She even said that since we're dating, it didn't matter how much money I spent, since the more she makes, the more she can afford to pick up the tab when we go out. After my third hour in the champagne room, I heard her tell one of the girls something being able to afford a cruise. I've never been on a cruise before! I can't wait!) 

But enough about my love life -- which as you can see is going great-- and back to my office seating arrangement, which sucks. I am surrounded by Steeler fans and Michigan fans, with a Yankee fan thrown in for good measure. Nobody has had so little in common with his co-workers since that guy tried to have a business meeting with those chimpanzees in the Career Builder ads.   

The Steeler fans have actually been bearable. I think they know the Browns are a lost cause, so they haven't really rubbed it in. When they do try to say something, I just give them a countdown along the lines of "15 more games ‘til The Chin is in charge!", and that very thought seems to distress them. It's a good conversation repellent.  

Meanwhile, it might seem like a great time to be surrounded by Michigan fans, but it's really not. Sure, the loss to Appalachian State got funnier when people told me things like, "We lost to the two-time defending national champs!", and, "Their quarterback was so fast he made Troy Smith look like a nose tackle!"  

But after getting pasted by Oregon, it's turning into a lot of dour grumbling, like, "If you were a real Big Ten fan, you'd root for Michigan outside of the conference", or "I don't know why you're happy since if Carr gets fired it will be the worst thing to happen to Ohio State." And then my favorite-- "Why are you guys celebrating when all it's doing is hurting Ohio State in the polls by making the Big Ten look bad?" 

I suppose the fact that Michigan has looked less "Big Ten" and more "Big MAC" could hurt OSU in theory. But it didn't in reality. Despite taking 42 minutes, against Akron, to build the type of lead that some Indians fans wouldn't entrust to Joe Borowski, the Buckeyes added two late touchdowns for a laughably lackluster 20-2 win…and still inexplicably climbed into the Top 10 in both polls. Myth busted. 

Well, that's all for now. I know I shouldn't be, but I am actually looking forward to this weekend's game with the Bengals. I heard Chad Johnson plans to jump into the Dawg Pound, so I am curious as to whether they will send the various pieces back to Cincinnati for a proper burial, or if they will scatter his ashes in the Muni Lot after charring his bones on the grill. 

Here's hoping we can "App State" the Bengals. Go Browntaineers! 

‘Til next week,

Sirk 
 

Steve Sirk, once Art Bietz's co-conspirator at the TruthCenter, has taken to sending a weekly letter to "home base" about life as a Browns fan struggling in the NFL mixing pot of Central Ohio. At some point in life, Sirk determined that suffering through the nexus, dips, valleys, and various low points of being a Cleveland sports fan within geographic proximity of Cleveland itself did not create sufficient emotional pain. Sneeringly dismissive of even basic survival instincts, Sirk elected to reside in Columbus, Ohio, so that he could better be surrounded by fans of winning franchises who could mock his very existence. If you wish to contact an individual of such clearly questionable judgment, you may do so at sirk65@yahoo.com 


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