– Shakespeare, Henry V"> – Shakespeare, Henry V">

November Dreams

Doc Gonzo previews today's Cleveland - Pittsburgh game, and places it in its historical perspective. Must reading. <BR><BR> <I>"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."</I> – Shakespeare, Henry V

November is the cruelest month.

Bitter winds bring a chill that knifes itself right to the marrow of your bones. The sky turns a miserable, heavy gray that hangs like a funeral tarp over the world. Death and decay is in the air. November is gothic, and it's a time for somber, serious reflection.

The 11th month witnesses the same bleak weather descend on two of the nation's industrial cities, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Idle mills and abandoned warehouses stand as ghost town testament to an age gone by, a time when these cities churned out steel and other lifeblood commodities that built the foundation of the United States and propelled its economy – and our lives – into a standard of living unseen in history.

But that age is long past. November's winds whistle through these derelict, forsaken reminders of the Industrial Age, singing a mournful dirge over the loss of a proud way of life.

Despite the devastating and swift decline of industry, life still flickers in the Rust Belt. The Information Age was ushered into being by an unlikely wave of economic prosperity that rekindled hope in both cities. Downtown revitalization has eased some of the blight that turned the towns into punch lines and poster children for failure. New buildings, green space and expectations rose from the ashes of a disfigured and diseased pair of sibling metropolises.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the battered but unbroken spirit of Cleveland and Pittsburgh more than the palpable civic adulation for the Browns and Steelers.

In the old days, one could physically sense the worship. At Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a throaty roar would erupt when the first orange helmet emerged from the locker room dugout. It was almost like seeing an old, dear friend come home after years abroad. Now, they run out of an inflatable tunnel, but the effect is the almost the same.

No one is ashamed to admit it: We love this team. And some of us love it as much or more than family.

Certainly, the relationship between the Steelers and the peoples that inhabit the valley of the Ohio River's confluence is similar, but therein lies the difference. While both cities rotted in the 1970s, the Steelers burst onto the NFL scene from obscurity to win four Super Bowls.

The Browns, meanwhile, fielded talented, exciting teams that were always a step too slow, a little too short, a bit too light. Almost, but never quite good enough. The trend would continue in the 1980s, when fate would repeatedly deal Cleveland a cruel hand, making all the talent in the world meaningless. Their fate paralleled ours.

The team that dominated the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s was no more. The 1990s would bring more heartache and crude, pathetic drama … the inappropriate handling of Bernie Kosar's release … the playoff loss at Three Rivers Stadium … the move to Baltimore.

But even Cleveland wasn't so fallen from grace that the Football Gods sought to banish the Browns from the Earth. So, we got an expansion team. Things being what they are, the squad has loped along, taken a beating. It picked right up where the old team left off: weird defeats, zero ability to stop the run and a second-place attitude. Oh, they throw in the unlikely victory to keep us hooked. Sunday's triumph over the Jets is Exhibit A.

Why do other cities get all the superstars? Cleveland, since the AFL-NFL merger, has been a team absent of talent at the atmospheric level. Sure, there have been very good players, but no Hall of Famers besides Ozzie Newsome, and tight ends don't win Super Bowls.

No, Cleveland may never again have talent equivalent to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or Joe Montana. We had those players long ago … Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bob Feller, Larry Doby, etc.

Instead, we cling to a Cleveland Browns team that is at best an enigma. It forces superior teams to play down to its level, and mediocre teams to play better. Every game, for the most part, is a nightmare flurry of last-second field goals, interceptions, blocked kicks and penalties.

It's madness, and not good for our blood pressure … but would we have it any other way? Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I believe we're resigned to our fate. Other towns and teams will have the great ones, but we will make them work. And sometimes we will win. And we will never stop loving them, because they are us.

Then, after enough of our blood and tears, the Football Gods cry down from the heavens, "Enough!"

And on a warm January night in San Diego, Miami or New Orleans, the blue-collar men who wear orange will hold aloft a silver trophy, and everything will be all right. The memory of fumbles, drives and so much Sunday afternoon sadness will be wiped away.

It will have been all worth it.

The first step will come today when the southern shore of Lake Erie is again the tableau for a midseason clash between the Browns and Steelers. At stake is first-place in the new AFC North.

It's during the 11th month of the year that pro football's truly talented teams separate themselves from the pa

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