Rich's Rant: Welcome to Bandwagon City

When did the national media stop having an anti-Browns agenda? The second the Browns started winning, according to ex-Plain Dealer scribe and WKNR radio host Rich Passan, who knows the media about as well as anyone and knew exactly when the tide would turn...

Where's all the hate? Where's all the venom? Where are all the inferiority complexes?

It wasn't long ago – unless you consider last year long ago – that Browns fans walked around with chips on their shoulders, sensitive to criticism leveled at their team.

Every media outlet, it seemed, was against the Browns. Had nothing good to say or write about them. ESPN, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly, local television and radio, national television and radio. Always picking on the Browns.

Never mind that the criticism was well deserved, considering how poorly the team has played since the grand return in 1999. The fact the Browns had become the whipping boy of the media was not received well at all by the club's fans even though it was warranted.

"ESPN hates us," was a common complaint. "Everything they write or say about the Browns is negative. Screw them. What do they know? They've got nothing but tools over there. I'm through with them. I'm never going to watch ESPN again."

Other media outlets became similar targets when their negative views of the Browns toyed with the sensitivities of the fans. It got to the point where those fans became so fed up with coverage of the team, many boycotted the media entirely.

Bitch, bitch, bitch. Moan, moan, moan. Never once taking a look at how bad the team really was and the negative national perception it so richly deserved. Putting down the blinders never occurred to followers of the Browns. Tunnelvision kicked in.

For a long time, it was tough being a Browns fan. But to endure the ridicule that accompanied the team's constant misfortunes, they had to be tough.

The hurt was so deep, so thoroughly damaging, it would take a miracle to feel good again to be a Browns fan.

And that miracle arrived last season, gift-wrapped in a nice little package that took the fans to the precipice of the postseason. It also rekindled their fondest dreams of the Browns returning to their glory days.

It also showed them the media doesn't really hate the team. If anything, it showed them the media loves a winner and is willing to jump on bandwagons.

Even ESPN's John Clayton, the so-called Browns hater from his days of covering the Pittsburgh Steelers, began noticing the change in Cleveland and reported accordingly. Clayton, who hasn't been in Pittsburgh in more than 20 years, has been an NFL reporter for 32 years and, along with colleague Chris Mortensen, is one of the most plugged-in scriveners in the business.

Fact is the media never really hated the Browns. It had a large problem falling in love with them. That's because the team made it difficult to do so. The new Browns were a national joke. When you finish in the basement of your division and play poor football all the time, you leave yourself open for ridicule.

Conversely, when you play winning football, exciting football, you become a media darling. That's just the way it works. That's the way it has always worked.

In essence, the national media fell in love with the Cleveland offense. And that love affair translated into national exposure. Whether the club is ready for it is another matter.

Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr., Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis became regulars on SportsCenter. And why not? They put up some impressive numbers last season. The Browns were one of the feel-good stories in the NFL and media outlets milked it for all it was worth.

Many people around the National Football League were stunned (jealous?) when the Browns were given the national spotlight five times on this season's television landscape. They didn't factor in the attractive and exciting manner in which they play the game.

All of a sudden, the Browns go from the dregs to the darlings. From the outhouse to the penthouse. From the ugly duckling to the swan.

Just like that.

Even ESPN, which supposedly hated the Browns and went out of its way to degrade them at all turns, hopped onto that bandwagon. Happily.

Imagine that.

The Browns have become the trendy – almost sexy – pick to win the AFC North Division championship. If you had told someone a year ago that Cleveland would be thought of in such a lofty manner, they would have had you fitted for a jacket with straps that folded around and tied behind the back..

If anything, it proves that if you play winning, exciting football, TV networks notice and aren't afraid to do something about it. They're looking for entertaining teams. And the Browns have become just that.

Oh, there are still some naysayers, those who believe last season was an aberration. You can't please everyone. That's just the nature of the beast.

So it's OK to take that lock off ESPN, time to re-subscribe to The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Weekly. It's time to come out from under cover and rejoin the media community.

Until the Browns go in the tank again. And then, it'll be business as usual.


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