It's been a while since we've had one of these, huh? Sunday's desert debacle was the first time in years that the Browns were fully capable of not only letting a confident fan base down, but doing so in traditional Browns fashion, which is to wring every last molecule of anguish out of our still-beating heart before taking a bite out of it and then spitting it into the toilet and then crapping on it and then clogging the toilet with it and then belatedly attempting to do CPR with the plunger.
I had forgotten how much a winning season raises the stakes.
With visions of the playoffs dancing in my head, I spent three awful hours watching inept, undisciplined, brain-dead football. But as bad as the Cardinals were, the Browns were even worse. Bad routes, bad throws, fumbled snaps, kick-crazy cornerbacks, fumbled punts, harebrained headbutts, and a side judge with balls the size of BBs all conspired to sully my Sunday in a most infuriating manner.
I was the epitome of embittered enragement. You could see my heartbeat thumping in my temples. My face reddened as I muttered like an uncensored Yosemite Sam. And if I had been served up that night at some Transylvanian drive-thru, Count Dracula would have sued McDonor's after scalding himself with my still-boiling blood.
But a funny thing happened on Monday. Remember Ross? You know, my Dolphin-fan friend who attempted to infiltrate a local Browns Backers group? And then took a bus to
Well, it turns out that Ross had made a major tactical blunder by giving himself "100 reasons" to root for the Browns on Sunday. My troubles suddenly paled in comparison to his.
"I feel like I just paid $100 to enroll in Browns Fan Fantasy Camp," he lamented. "That game was so infuriating that I couldn't take it anymore. Is this seriously what life is like for you people?"
I told him it was.
"I gotta be honest, Sirk. When it was over, I felt like drinking myself blind, swearing in front of children, starting fights with strangers, and then cutting people off in traffic out of spite and then flipping them off. I think I have a better understanding of Browns fans now."
I then explained that I have endured this since the early 80s, but with every single sport.
"I'm in awe that you can even function in society after a lifetime of that. I barely made it through one day of Browns Fan Fantasy Camp, and let me tell you, I'm never doing it again."
That's how bad Sunday's loss was. A fan of a potentially 0-16 team may be scarred for life after just one Sunday of stomping around in our shoes.
But we're stronger than that. It's nice to have a competitive football team again.
A few other random thoughts on the game…
* A big thank you to Jeff Schudel for sharing the overheard comment from a Browns official who compared Sunday's game to "watching two drunks in a pillow fight." That gave me a good laugh before heading to the office. And believe me…I needed it.
(One of the best things about covering games in person is all of the off-the-record or overheard comments that you pick up while bumbling around the dining area, press box, and locker rooms. For example, when covering Columbus Blue Jackets games, Doug MacLean's backstage tirades were often way more entertaining than the games themselves.)
* That stupid delay of game penalty of Leigh "Bend It Like" Bodden is probably my fault. Twice this year, I have compared Bodden's performance to that of a striker who does nothing all game and then makes the big play at the end of the game to be the hero. (Except rather than last-minute goals, he has two last-minute, game-clinching interceptions.) Well, apparently Leigh took the soccer analogy too far. I never should have brought it up. But my conscience is clear regarding Simon Fraser, who have I never compared to a ram in heat during mating season.
* I'm still mad that the Browns got hosed on Winslow's spectacular catch on the final play of the game, but my fury is tempered by the fact that the Browns had only themselves to blame for trailing at that point, as well as the fact that it was a true judgment call. Whereas the Baltimore Bank Shot was cut and dried-- the field goal was irrefutably good-- the side judge in this instance had to make a judgment based on hypothetical mental calculations. While his judgment on the push-out was shamefully shoddy, it is possible that he was focused on other aspects of the play, like missing the pass interference call.
I think it's just tough to go against the home team on a judgment call on the final play of the game, even if it's the right thing to do. Had the same play happened on the lakefront, the guy probably raises his arms after giving the push-out motion.
It sucks that such a huge call cost the Browns a crucial (if underwhelming) victory, but I am so proud of how the team handled it. After the game, I flipped on the radio to listen to Andre Knott's post-game interviews. While players felt it was a catch, they immediately blamed their poor play for the loss, saying it never should have gotten to that point.
Again, the contrast to Kiss-Blower Billick and the other referee conspiracy theorists with the Rantin' Ravens is jarring. After mismanaging and blowing another tight home game that they should have won, the Ravens were once again making fools of themselves by alleging that NFL officials are not only fixing games, but gleefully committing other unspeakable atrocities, such as calling a grown man with a wife and three kids "boy". Plus, I think they used a remote-controlled penalty flag to make it look like some crazed Raventhug whipped it into the stands, where it could have Orlando Browned an innocent spectator.
Thank you for running a classy locker room, Romeo. I can't say it enough.
* Speaking of Andre Knott's interviews, he set up a great quote by asking Eric Steinbach about the Browns' ability to get back into games after digging big holes on the road.
Steinbach's response? "I guess it's good, but in a really bad way."
* There wasn't a lot to laugh at in Sunday's game, but seeing Braylon Edwards take the field in white shoes and no socks was amusing. If I am not mistaken, each team actually has someone monitoring NFL dress code violations on the sidelines. Their job is to say things like, "#73, tuck in your shirt!" Or "#80, pull up your socks!"
So to see a guy take the field without any socks, while wearing the opposite shoe color of his teammates….I mean….some panicked individual in the league office had to break the glass on the wall-mounted defibrillator, right?
My good buddy Flick was all over Braylon's fashion faux pas, and we had the following text conversation:
FLICK: Okay, Mr. Uniform. Is Braylon Edwards on his way to a spinning class, or Jazzercise?
ME: Maybe he thought that nobody would notice since his calves match his socks.
FLICK: But seriously, is his yoga mat in the locker room or under the bench?When all was said and done, I'm assuming there was some kind of equipment mix-up. Braylon had socks for the second drive, and was wearing black shoes after halftime. And I haven't seen anything in the papers about the NFL's Fashion Police filling their coffers at Braylon's expense, even if the office defibrillator had to be replaced.
Two weeks ago, before we headed to downtown Cleveland to see the great George Wallace, Rob the Bengals Fan and I had dinner at Lakeshore Boulevard's legendary ramshackle burger joint, Stevenson's Bar & Grill. After all, a trip home to
As Rob and I munched on grilled cow meat, we noticed that some of the college football scores looked like basketball scores. The culprit? College's stupid overtime system.
Rob and I quickly agreed that the NFL overtime is superior to the one used in college. The thing is, it seems that most everyone says that the college system is "fair" and that the NFL's system allows games "to be determined by a coin flip." It is almost universally accepted that the college overtime is better and fairer to the teams involved. People are always trying to "fix" the NFL's "broken system."
Well, I call bulls***.
First, let's take the notion that the coin toss determines the winner in NFL overtimes. The argument goes that the team that wins the toss picks up a couple of first downs and then kicks the winning field goal, never giving the other team a chance.
Since the NFL's overtime was implemented in 1974, coin toss winners have won the overtime session 52% of the time. Further, the number of opening drive victors is just 29%. That means that 71% of the overtime games have featured at least two possessions. That's a bit much for the "coin toss determines the outcome" crowd to hang their hats on, isn't it?
But here's the more startling fact. The coin toss winner in college overtimes wins 55% of the time. That's right—the coin toss is a (marginally) bigger factor in college overtime! The reason for this is the "defense first" strategy. By playing defense first, the team's offense has the distinct advantage of "knowing what they need to do." They know if a field goal can win it or tie it, if a TD can win it, or if a TD is necessary to prolong the game. Then they can run their offense accordingly.
But that's not all! The coin toss winner gets the double advantage of keeping the toss loser's defense out there on back-to-back drives if the game advances to a second overtime. This makes it easier to score first in the second overtime, while sending a fresh defense out there to defend in the other half of the OT.
The advantage begins to dissipate after the second overtime, but it's a major advantage in the first two rounds. How big of an advantage is it? Only four times in NCAA history has a team won the toss and elected to go on offense first. Only four times!
So the numbers show that the college coin toss has a marginally bigger effect on determining the winner than the NFL coin toss. So much for being fairer, right?
(In the interest if full disclosure, since the NFL moved kickoffs back to the 30-yard line in 1994, coin toss winners are winning 59% of the time, and opening drive winners are at 33% during that era. So the other numbers are trending upward. When kickoffs were at the 35-yard line, opening drive winners were 25%. So in recent years, teams have been able to score on the opening possession a little more often, or failing that, leverage the field position battle into another shot at victory if their defense holds. But even those numbers are nothing for the "college is fairer" crowd to crow about. And if they actually gave a crap, the NFL could move the overtime kickoffs to the 35 to restore the pre-1994 equilibrium, making it much fairer than the college system.)
Which brings me to my second point. NFL overtime features real football. You play real football for 60 minutes, and if it's still tied, you keep playing real football. You will be called upon to use a minimum of two phases of the game, and in the overwhelming majority of overtime games, you will have to use all three phases. Special teams are such a huge part of football, yet it is ignored in the college overtime. (Extra points and field goals excepted.)
Jim Tressel has famously said, "The punt is the most important play in football." But it is non-existent in college overtime. A good punt could prove crucial to the field position battle in the NFL's overtime. And so could good kickoff coverage or return play.
Think of how important special teams are to the 2007 Cleveland Browns. In the college overtime system, the Browns would be automatically stripped of that strength after 60 minutes. If you'll recall, it was Brian Billick's decision to kick to Josh Cribbs, and Cribbs' brilliant return, that help set up the Browns' overtime win at
That would never happen in college overtime, which is a small-field contrivance featuring alternating red-zone practice drills. There is no field position battle. There is no way to stretch the field. It's a battle of red zone packages, nothing more, nothing less.
Another reason NFL overtime is better is because NFL teams have to earn their scoring chances in overtime. College teams start out in field goal range, and move from there. Pro teams must gain/concede significant ground before a scoring attempt is even possible.
In 2007, the median NFL kickoff average is 63 yards, placing the ball at the 7. The median return average is 23 yards, placing the ball at the 30 yard line. Just to attempt a risky 50-yard field goal, the offense would need to advance the ball 37 yards. They would have to advance the ball 47 yards to get into the safer range of a 40-yard field goal attempt. The median average drive distance in the NFL is 28 yards. So based on average special teams play from both teams, it's going to take a significantly longer than average drive just to get into field goal range.
If your defense is called upon to make a stop first, they have 37-47 yards in which to make a play. If your defense can be called upon to save the game in the 59th minute, why can't they be called upon to save the game in the 63rd minute? Once again using the 2007 Browns as an example, they lost the overtime coin toss to the Seahawks, but made crucial stops on 3rd and 4th down to win back the ball for the offense. And that was the league's 32nd ranked defense. Announcers love to say that "big players make big plays in big football games." So let them do it.
Another reason that college overtime is inferior is that it makes a mockery of the game that preceded it. A 31-31 game balloons into a 61-59 quadruple overtime affair. Whoa! Joe Quarterback threw for 7 TDs! NFL overtime will always give you a realistic idea of the game that preceded it, and it does not pad stats.
And let's not forget that college overtime is interminable. It can on for 30…45...60 minutes. College games are already three and a half hours long as it is. Must they tack on another 30-60 minutes for overtime? The NFL's overtime is much more efficient.
When all is said and done, each team has already had 60 minutes and 10 or so possession to win the game. If there MUST be a tie-breaker, I feel the NFL's system is better because:
* Despite conventional wisdom, it is no less "fair" than the allegedly "fair" college overtime.
* It allows the teams to play real, full-field, three-phase football, just like the 60 preceding minutes; not a contrived red-zone shootout that ignores the role of special teams.
* NFL teams have to earn their overtime scoring chances through a combination of 2-3 phases of the game.
* The NFL overtime doesn't comically inflate scores and statistics like the college overtime does.
* The NFL overtime is much more efficient than the bloated college system.
Personally, I'd be fine with ties. A tie is a valid result. Then again, I'm a soccer fan. And I still haven't forgiven the NHL for making a mockery of the game and a mess of their standings by eschewing ties and instituting the silly shootout. But that's another column for another website.
If football insists on breaking ties, the NFL's version is the way to go. If people prefer the red zone shootout, fine. I'll stick by real football.
At the very least, I just wish people would stop commending college overtime as an equal opportunity tiebreaker while condemning the NFL's overtime as a rigged system decided by a coin toss. Those assertions are patently false, yet they are accepted as the gospel truth.
Since I know all of us Browns fans are feeling a bit down after last week's game, I thought I would share some BengalFan pain, just in case the Ratbirds' meltdown and Ross' gambling pain wasn't enough schadenfreude to cheer you up.
Here is an actual e-mail from my good buddy Flick, while watching his Bungles bumble through the pig slop at Ketchup Koliseum.
"By the way, I think I'm back to hating the Bengals. I don't know why I plan on staying up for this second half, especially since the Bengals have as much of a chance of winning as I have of dunking a basketball. What a Sunday night sack-punch."
(Subsequent e-mails bemoaned the Bengals' "collective vagina", among other things, but you get the idea.)
So after listening to Ross and Flick, I'm feeling much better heading into this weekend. I hope you are too, Barry.
Until next week,
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