A Walk on the Mild Side

Doc Gonzo takes a look at the Lovecraftian horror that was the Bucs game, compares it to a superior model of football, and lays waste to who annoy him. In other words, pretty much what you've come to expect from the good doctor.

MASON, Ohio – The October sky was a shade of blue the likes of which painters and poets can only dream.


Trees lush with foliage betrayed a hint of fall as their rich green leaves began to give way to the yellows and reds of the season. The wind carried a brisk reminder that summer had abdicated its reign. There is no more glorious time of year than autumn.


On the worn field, a battleground scarred by a million cleats, young men waged a brutal campaign to carry a small, brown leather ball past a platoon of opponents. A partisan crowd lustily cheered the warriors below, bellowing chants that would have done the faithful of Rome's Coliseum proud.


The two legions upon the field smashed head-first into one another, a desperate struggle for precious yardage with each inch paid for in blood and sweat. Neither band of athletes seemed willing to break despite heroic exertions. The sharp snap of plastic helmets colliding carried through the cool air like rifle shots. Every hit betrayed a thunderous echo of flesh, bone and plastic smashing together in a symphony that is football's soundtrack.


It was not the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the field. That painful jumble of untidy disarray was being played out like a pathetic Greek drama about a thousand miles to the south, where summer's cruel heat and the Bucs' defense still held sway.


No, this match was a far more pure, beautiful thing. It was the Mason Comets and Lakota Tomahawks, a pair of Pee-Wee squads


Although your narrator attended now-defunct Lakota High School in suburban Cincinnati for several years, his allegiance Sunday lay with the opposition. His 8-year old daughter, you see, is a cheerleader for the mighty (if winless) Comets, and blood always take precedence when it comes to loyalties.


Executing moves I've not been able to make myself in more than two decades, young Lindsey and her cheer mates exhorted the crowd to encourage the Comets with claps and yells. The cheerleaders' tiny, high-pitched voices had difficulty piercing the noise from the field and stands, but even if they'd used bullhorns it would have been for naught.


Despite a valiant, yeoman-like effort, the Comets were unable to overcome the bigger, faster Tomahawks. Several fine defensive stands and some athletic interceptions kept the score respectable at 24-6.


When you're 8-years old, the final score matters little to the cheerleaders. Boys (thankfully) are still thought of in the same vein as worms and dirty socks. As soon as the final whistle sounded, it was off to Gold Star for chili and talk of wish lists for upcoming birthdays and Christmas.


Meanwhile, some ugliness was unfolding in Florida that would spoil an otherwise enjoyable, pristine afternoon.


The Cleveland Browns were regressing to expansion-like ineptitude at Raymond James Stadium. Was that Doug Pederson handing off to Boyce Green out there? Mike Oliphant dropping the ball? Lawyer Tillman looking lost? Harlon Barnett getting burned?


No, it was the 2002 Browns, a team supposedly the dark horse choice for Super Bowl underdog.


More like horse meat and dog crap.


Because my presence was required for the real football game, I was limited to listening to the Browns on the radio during the drive from Michigan.


Perhaps it looked better on television, but somehow I doubt it. Tentative play and stupidity, I suspect, plays out just as repulsively on the ears and it does the eyes.


What is there to say about the game? The box score says it all. A cowardly game plan combined with poor play and worse tackling. The result was inevitable. How much does that loss to the Chiefs hurt now?


A steak also came to an end Sunday. Tampa Bay was the only team to which the Browns had never lost. They'd been 5-0 against Tampa Bay dating back to a 24-7 road victory on Nov. 21, 1976. That was TB's inaugural season, back when they spent a year in the AFC. In those five victories, Cleveland had outscored Tampa Bay 142-71. The last victory was a 22-6 effort at home led by Vinny Testaverde on Sept. 10, 1995.


Times certainly have changed.


It's impossible to divine the future with this team. One week, it has the killer swagger needed to reach the elite level of play and Tim Couch performs miracles in a go-for-broke, gunslinger style that once had pundits calling him the new Brett Favre.


The next week, their performance is squalid and the play calling dooms them from the start. Whatever rigid dogma that governs offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' play selection is maddening. And Butch Davis continues to act as if he's out of touch with the fans.


The fans are not always wrong. We knew Paul MacDonald was a piece of garbage, and that running Eric Metcalf up the middle was moronic.


How do things get fixed? From the armchair view, it seems simple. Give the ball to Jamel White from a four wide receiver set. Throw a lot. Spread the field. Force teams away from blitzing, since we can't block anyone. Throw more to Dennis Northcutt. Light a fire under Kevin Johnson. Get healthy on defense.


In case anyone missed it, throw more to Dennis Northcutt.


The defense still has trouble with the run, but I'm optimistic that with more playing time and regained health, things will improve. Daylon McCutcheon's missed tackle Sunday was the catalyst. Take that away, the Browns still lose, but maybe by less. Or maybe they eke out a win. Who knows?


Again, for those of you not paying attention, throw to Dennis Northcutt.


Who would have thought a Week 7 home game against the expansion Houston Texans would be the make-or-break point of the season? Well, kids, it is. If the Browns can't win this one, they're done. If they do win, a very winnable game at the New York Jets follows.


Then comes a visit from the Steelers. If – and we're dealing with a lot of ‘ifs' in the last few sentences – Cleveland has managed to get back to 4-4, that game against Pittsburgh is practically a playoff game. The Arn City Apes play the Colts on Monday night before playing at Baltimore then Cleveland.


Lord, oh dear Lord, we need some help. To have a chance, we need the Criminal Thugs, er, the Ravens to lose to visiting Jacksonville on Sunday – not out of the realm of the possible – and then beat Pittsburgh. That way, it sets up a showdown for the division between Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.


If things fall into place (and they never do), the Browns will be 5-4 going into their bye week. We can hope, right? After all, that's what we've been doing since the clock hit 0:00 on the 1964 NFL title game.


Lastly, for anyone just joining us, throw to Dennis Northcutt.


BENGAL WATCH: We're changing the name of this feature, since the Bengals as a team are deserving of ridicule as much as just Gus Free-rot, who remains entrenched on the pine. Jon Kitna lit up the stat sheet with another trio of interceptions, this time against the Steelers. This may be the worst Cincinnati team yet. Let's hope so. Nothing takes the sting off a Cleveland loss like some tomfoolery by the Bengals. Kitna has one scoring pass versus seven interceptions. Cincinnati coach Dick LeBeau is a nice guy, and will likely keep his job this season. If he's wise, he calls it quits soon. Hell, Hamilton County is considering suing the Bengals for sucking so bad. That's rock bottom. Do I hear 0-16?


THOUGHT OF THE WEEK: The best pro football team in Ohio is clearly the Ohio State Buckeyes. Oh, and if you didn't know, in the NFL rankings of all passers, Kevin Johnson is tied for tops in the league with a 158.3 rating. He's 1-of-1 for a 33-yard touchdown. Take note, Timmy.


Since I didn't watch the game (thankfully), I can't in good conscience give out any grades. But if I had good conscience, I wouldn't be sneaking duty-free booze over the border from Ontario all the time, so I will anyway.



I own two Tim Couch jerseys. I cheered when he was drafted. I've interviewed him, and he's a good kid. Not real talkative, but not a scumbag like Ryan Leaf or Randall Cunningham. As a rookie, Couch went after linebackers and showed no fear. He showed a knack for finding Kevin Johnson. He could run, as witnessed by his team-record (for quarterbacks) 40-yard scamper at St. Louis. He made plays. He improvised.

Where in the hell is that Tim Couch?

The guy under center now for the Browns swears at fans, cries and plays like a girl at times. Hello, when did Boomer Esiason take over this team? There have been brief glimpses this season of what we thought Couch was supposed to be. Remember all that preseason talk of how much studying and improvement Couch did over the spring and summer? Hmmm … So far, it looks like the results of the "studying" I did in college before exams, which was none (unless you count shots of vodka and blaring Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" as studying).

These days, Couch makes bad throws and bad decisions. Was the Tennessee game a fluke? Or was it a sign of things to come when Couch performs in the proper circumstances? It looks as if he's at his best in an almost run-and-shoot style offense.

Some say Couch's psyche is frayed. If so, he needs to get the hell on the bench and let a man play quarterback. I'd rather have Josh Booty come out and play with abandon than have a coward who's worried about boos.

Favre, Elway and Montana heard more boos than Couch can even imagine.

The excuses of the past are slipping away for Couch. He has a running back that can move the ball, as witnessed by White's 5-yards per pop average. He has four proven receivers (again, throw to Northcutt …). Yes, the offensive line is shaky, but it's better. With time, the line should at least improve to average.

When will Couch make the same improvement?


Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor who will never say out loud he thinks cheerleading isn't a sport. He now lives in Michigan's remote, mysterious and exotic Thumb, where he is safe from fools, knaves, Ratbirds. He can be reached at docgonzo19@aol.com.

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