I feel cheated. We finally get a Monday Night Football Game and the network doesn't even bother to send its "A" broadcast team. No Frank Gifford. No "Dandy" Don Meredith. Not even a single Howard Cosell sighting. Darn!
Oh, you say all three have either long-since retired or gone on to that big broadcast booth in the sky?
Well, golly, I guess it has been a long time between prime time gigs for the Browns!
I jest, of course.
But Monday night there was nothing funny about the way the Browns did make their long-awaited return to the spotlight in a game in which they had second billing to the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
The fact the entire country was watching, or at least those fanatics who enjoy exhibition football, made it easy for the Giants to get up for this game. The Giants proved, at least as much as can be proven in an exhibition game, that last year was no fluke as they rolled to an early 30-3 lead en route to a deceptively close 37-34 victory.
I have to imagine Howard was rolling over in his grave when he saw the Browns come out wearing brown pants. So much for tradition!
To tell you the truth, I actually liked them. I certainly liked the pants a lot more than I liked the guys wearing them. One player in particular who had a tough first quarter was cornerback Eric Wright, who found himself in the wrong place early and often. He was a magnet for Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The Browns know the most glaring weakness on the defense is the cornerback spot. Wright did nothing to change that thinking. And it wasn't as though he was getting burned by Pro Bowler Plaxico Burress, who was sidelined with an injury. Instead, the culprit was Domenik Hixon, the third year pro from Akron University who has one career regular-season reception
Unfortunately, Wright wasn't alone in wearing the goat horns. In fact, it's much easier to count the guys who did well than it is to calculate every poor performance. Even the offensive line, which I consider to be the greatest strength on the team, was reduced to mediocrity.
By early in the second quarter, the Browns were down by 27 as the floodgates had been sprung wide open.
This was a whipping of historic proportion. Every facet of the team was literally manhandled by their Giant counterparts.
Two minutes into the second quarter, I could hear the voice of Cosell-past screaming, "Down goes Cleveland! Down goes Cleveland!! Down goes Cleveland!!!"
Joe Frazier never hit a canvass with such a loud thud!
Dandy Don and the fat lady were warbling, "Turn out the lights, the party's over."
The Browns were torn apart by one touchdown after another. Suddenly, the gaudy expectations many, including this columnist, have placed on them this year were looking ridiculous.
On paper, the Browns appear to have one of the most talented offensive teams in the NFL. Combine that with solid special teams play and you'd think the team would have enough firepower to overcome any shortcomings the defense might have.
But on this night, when the first team offense never got in gear and the special teams were inept, the defense had no way of slowing down Manning and Company.
I'd like to blow off the loss by saying it was just an exhibition game, one of four that will be quickly forgotten once the regular season rolls around. I'd like to say the night was saved by the nice Brady Quinn/Ken Dorsey-led comeback that brought the Browns to within six in the third quarter and three at the final gun.
But try as I might, I can't get out of my mind visions of the defensive backs getting burned; the special teams breaking down on punt protection and punt coverage; and the offensive line getting torn apart by the Giants' first-team defense.
It can be argued that the Browns went into the game absent stars Shaun Rogers and Braylon Edwards. And by early in the second quarter, quarterback Derek Anderson (concussion), return man/wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (ankle) and safety Brodney Pool (concussion) were all in the locker room.
They were the lucky ones.
Most everyone else had to witness one of the worst 17-minute (game time) massacres in recent history. Truthfully, I could care less what happened after the second and third-teamers went into the game. Even Quinn's numbers (7-of-12, 124 yards, one touchdown) were tainted by the fact most of the "real" Giants were spectators by the time he played.
The bottom line is that when a majority of the regulars were on the field, the difference between these two teams in terms of performance was night and day.
Wright's second quarter interception for a touchdown off a wounded duck was nice, but it was akin to a batter hitting a home run in the ninth inning with your team down by 10 runs. It'll look good in the stats column, but mean little other than make the final score a bit more respectable.
And the third quarter rally spearheaded by Quinn only served to make the final score a bit more respectable.
Even though the Browns appear to be a much-improved team, they still have a long ways to go to be on par with a Super Bowl-caliber team.