If you're like me, and God help you if you are, the day after the Cleveland Browns season opener is marked in black on the calendar. It's sort of like April 15th, but without the relative joy of a late-night adrenalin rush.
For ten years, the Browns have started their season at home. With one glorious exception, the team's fans have trudged back to their cars smarting from a loss.
For what it's worth, in the above paragraph, the phrase "a loss" is a euphemism for "complete and utter thrashing". I am using understatement to help fans avoid the depths of depression.
Unfortunately, I know it's a euphemism, and so do you, so its very existence borders on pointless. Sort of like the Browns defensive gameplan.
* * *
Over the last twenty years, I've managed to parley a Master's degree in electrical engineering into a career of telling people to clear their browser cache and watching losing football.
Well done, numbskull. (Sound of one hand clapping).
On the upside, if someone figures out how to email beer, I'll be right there, on the front lines.
But at least all those years of academia made me realize this: there are two as-yet-undeniable laws of physics that define our existences.
The first is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which tells us point-blank that there are going to be limits to what even the smartest upright-walking primates can figure out.
This doesn't bother me, because I already know that there's a lot I can't figure out. Why people on sports talk shows and Disney Channel actors believe that shouting makes them funnier, for instance.
The other, which I'll talk about here, is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It's relevant. Honest.
The second law, as rephrased by the font of all human knowledge, goes as follows: "entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium."
Scientists and engineers, if you haven't noticed, use a lot of complicated words to try to confuse people. "Entropy" is a complex enough concept that there are Journals dedicated to it, but I'll just redefine it casually as meaning "uselessness".
Sometimes the Second Law is paraphrased as "everything goes from order to disorder". Not the other way around. From usefulness to uselessness. Mass can be converted to energy, but energy can't be converted back. Once it's gone, it's gone.
Maybe I don't understand it properly, but, to me, that's just a complicated way of saying "Over time, everything comes apart unless you burn a lot more time and effort putting it together". It takes more energy to put something together than it does to take it apart.
Everything frazzles. Everything decays. Everything goes to hell. It's a law of physics. The nature of the universe. There's nothing you can do about it.
* * *
The Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to take a special interest in Cleveland sports teams.
How else can we explain how a roster put together with such care can come apart at the seams without actually doing any useful work?
Before the Cleveland Browns squad, assembled so carefully by General Manager Phil Savage, had even made it to their first regular season game, they had suffered injuries to Braylon Edwards, Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Josh Cribbs, Steve Heiden, Daven Holly, Ryan Tucker, Rex Hadnot, Donte Stallworth, Joe Jurevicius and Brodney Pool.
They were just practicing and training prior to yesterday's game. The roster was doing the equivalent of "just sitting there" and somehow managed to break itself.
If you leave your car in the driveway overnight, you don't expect to wake up and find it the next morning with the windshield busted, exhaust system sold for scrap, the doors suddenly coming detached and laying on the ground, and seemingly non-combustible floor mats having exploded.
Well, perhaps in some neighborhoods. But not in Phil Savage's neighborhood.
That's what happened. Between the time the team was assembled and the time they were put into use, everything came apart.
It was just supposed to be working quietly, tuning itself. What happened?
* * *
The Second Law is at work on winning teams as well.
Thirty-plus years ago, "America's Team" meant Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Calvin Hill and Bob Hayes.
Now it means Jerry Jones, Pac-Man Jones, Terrell Owens, Jessica Simpson, and Wade Phillips.
There were a lot of Dallas Cowboys
frontrunners fans at the Stadium
yesterday. They cheered a lot. I'm guessing they would cheer a fanciful graffiti
artist spray-painting over the Mona Lisa if it was momentarily entertaining.
Something happened to the Dallas Cowboys between then and now. Similarly, something happened to the Cleveland Browns between 1960s and now.
It wasn't improvement, in either case.
* * *
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is at work on my body.
Ten years of season opening losses. Ten years we've been doing this in that fancy new stadium. That's over 15% of an average lifespan.
That's a long time to spend the first Monday of every September with one's head hanging low.
Since that first loss in Cleveland Browns Stadium, I've moved from beer-swilling guy in the stands to frantic guy in the press box. I'm proof that, if left alone, one's physical form busts springs and goes straight to hell.
It takes a lot more energy to put it back together than it does to let it fall apart. I put it back together, I get distracted, it falls apart. I put it back together, I get distracted, it falls apart.
I was sent to the hospital over the July fourth weekend, with what we thought was a heart attack. An overweight guy under a lot of stress, it's inevitable. Turns out that I was just developing an ulcer.
The house doctor, a highly intelligent and frank individual, came in, took one look at me, and said "Bad karma".
I'm a Cleveland sports fan. I know all about this.
* * *
Romeo Crennel may have made himself some bad karma as well.
Down three touchdowns, another Browns drive stalled out thanks to an inability to pass the ball effectively in crucial situations. With wide receivers two, three, and four sidelined, and wide receiver number one unable to hold onto the football, the Cleveland Browns were down to two weapons, Kellen Winslow and Jamal Lewis.
That wasn't enough against one of the best teams in the NFL.
Faced with this predicament, Crennel kicked a field goal to make the score 28-10 instead of 28-7. Before the field goal and after, the team still needed three touchdowns.
It was a Belichickian moment, giving the impression of a head coach so out of touch with what's happening that basic mathematics failed him.
Crennel was making the best out of a very bad situation, but that won't get him much slack from fans and the media today. Kicking a field goal down 21 points seems an exercise in futility.
More than that, however, it throws the team's futility in sharp relief, giving fans and the media a toehold. Something to rail about should the Browns slide continue in week two against the Steelers.
Without a lot of effort and luck, it may turn into a defining moment of Romeo Crennel's career as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. That would be a disservice to the man and what he's accomplished.
* * *
Even an hour after the game, as I bolted Cleveland Browns Stadium, traffic was backed up between East Ninth and where 90 splits off from Route 2. The mind reels when thinking of what it must have been like late in the fourth quarter, as Browns fans fled the Stadium in horror.
It seemed like everyone in the fast lanes need to move right. Everyone in the right-hand lanes wanted to move left. Confusion and chaos evolved into a complex system of red lights and middle fingers.
As a species, we're not good planners. We blunder into trouble.
We all hurtle along, aiming at our individual objectives, creating a mess in our wake. The polar ice caps melt, the bee population is killed off by an electrosmog of cell phones and wireless.
You can see it on the Shoreway. You can see it in the Arctic Circle.
We ignore the warning signs. Often, by the time we realize we're in trouble, it's too late to stop it.
Whether it's a traffic jam, deteriorating health, rising temperatures or a depleted secondary, by the time the problem is discovered, the game seems, for all purposes, over.
But we wake up the next morning, shake ourselves off, and keep going. Sixty years and counting, Cleveland sports fans have come back, refusing to give up, refusing to give in.
Something innate in the human condition pushes us forward.
The Cleveland Browns will return to Berea today, wince as they watch the tape, put it behind them, and start preparing for the next test. Their fans will get up, shower, and go to work. By next weekend, they will remember last year's Game Two revival and find a hope to cling to.
For my own sake, I think I'll opt for that yogurt instead of the bacon and cheese omelet. Thanks.
We'll all find a reason to keep going in a universe that sometimes seems to stack the deck against us. It's one of the things, for all our other faults, makes our kind special.
There's a lecture by a theoretical physicist, of all people, that I watch sometimes when I feel a sense of futility or doom, which is far too frequent as I get older. He describes our place in the cosmos, and, at the end of the lecture says this:
"Go carve yourselves two stone tablets. On, one write 'All Problems are Solvable'. On the other write, 'Problems Happen' ".
That might be the best advice I've ever heard.
There's nothing that happens inside Cleveland Browns Stadium that can't be fixed, can't be corrected, if you're smart enough and work hard enough. There's nothing that happens outside Cleveland Browns Stadium that can't be fixed, either.
As football fans and people, we sympathize. All we ask is that you do what we have to do: Never give up.
Barry McBride is the publisher of the Orange and Brown Report. If you write him with a technical problem, he'll tell you to clear your browser cache. If you write him with an feedback on something he wrote, he'll be surprised and, generally, pleased. He can be reached at barry @ theobr.com or by clicking here.