As training camp came to a close late Wednesday afternoon, a signature moment in the football season that brings to an end 3 ½ weeks of hard work in the hot August sun, it was a perfect time for the Browns players to mark the passage of time.
All the players in general, and a few players in particular.
A perfect time for them to celebrate.
A perfect time for them to pause and reflect.
A perfect time for them to take stock of where they are, where they've been and where they're going – immediately and for the long term.
That was especially true for three of the highest-profile players on the team, Jamal Lewis, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. All had reason to be happy on Wednesday, yet all had reason to be anxious, for they know full well they're at a crossroads in their careers.
It made sense, then, that they were the only three players who came to the main interview area to talk as workers scurried here and there breaking down the camp buildings.
Lewis celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday. That's the good news. Come on, everybody likes their birthday.
But the age 30 many times marks the beginning of the end for NFL running backs. Father Time drags their aging, beaten-up and bruised bodies down from behind and doesn't let them get back up. Can Lewis, one of the best in the game in his decade-long career, shake off Father Time, just as he has done with so many other would-be tacklers over the years? We'll see.
That was the question of the day, and you can read it everywhere and anywhere.
But as important as that question is – and it's extremely important for a team coached by Eric Mangini, who likes a power running game more than he loves life itself -- the real questions – the ones that will have much more to do with the success of the Browns in 2009 – center more around Anderson and Edwards.
Two years removed from his dream season of 2007, when he became the first Browns quarterback in 20 years to make the Pro Bowl, and one year removed from the end of training camp in 2008, when he was so firmly entrenched as the starter over Brady Quinn that it would have taken the Jaws of Life to pry him out of the lineup, Anderson is involved in the fight of his life -- an open competition with Quinn for the job.
The winner gets the chance to prove to Mangini, who is not beholden to either quarterback since he inherited them both when he arrived last January, that he's the quarterback for not only 2009, but 2010 as well.
The second-place finisher? He's likely done in Cleveland. The competition has dragged on, and been in the spotlight, for so long that it will be virtually impossible for that man to accept defeat gracefully.
Quinn, who started the preseason opener against Green Bay two weeks ago, with Anderson getting the nod against Detroit last Saturday night, seems on schedule to be in the lineup again on Saturday night when the Browns play the Tennessee Titans in their final home game. But head coach Eric Mangini won't say, so who really knows?
Anderson's laid-back attitude has enabled him to withstand the pressure of the competition to this point, and he did his level best to exhibit that kind of personality again on Wednesday. But at the same time, it was clear the process – and the same questions being asked over and over and over again about the process – are beginning to really wear on him.
When told Edwards, when asked about the quarterbacks, had called Anderson "goofy," but in a positive way, the wideout insisted, Anderson seemed to take umbrage with an assessment he has heard countless times over the years.
Getting serious – or as serious as he ever seems to get –Anderson said, "I wouldn't say goofy. That word has been used too loosely. I would say it's more that I'm having fun. I take pride in what I do, and I work hard.
"Brett Favre has fun, too, but he's also passionate about the game. I just try to enjoy myself when I'm out on the field."
He said he's not anxious to get this QB derby over with.
"No, I'll ride it out," he said.
Then he added, "I don't have a choice."
When asked if he thought it would be fair if Mangini didn't name a starter until the night before the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, Anderson answered, again in a serious tone, "I don't have control over that. Fair or not, it's Eric's decision."
"I don't have control over that. "Fair or not…" "I don't have a choice."
Those are the words of a man who is indeed ready for this marathon derby to be over with.
Unlike Anderson, Edwards is not in an open competition for his job – with another player, anyway. Who he's competing against is, in essence, himself.
In 2007, as Anderson was having one of the best passing seasons in Browns history, Edwards was having THE best receiving season in club annals. And in 2008, as Anderson's productivity nosedived, so, too, did that of Edwards. Plus he dropped anywhere from 14 to 18 passes, depending upon what unofficial count you want to believe.
In looking like a world-beater two years ago and a beaten man last year, Edwards has admitted, in so many words, that he is competing against himself – his demons – as he tries to recapture that dream season. And to do so, he insisted, he must do what Anderson has mastered – that is, don't worry, be happy.
By having fun, he'll calm his nerves. And by calming his nerves, he'll catch the ball instead of fighting it as if it's the enemy. The ball is his friend, especially in this, his contract year. He's a free agent at the end of the season and could make a lot of money with a big performance in 2009.
"I felt like I've gotten a lot accomplished," he said. "I've worked hard and given it my all. I've helped the young guys out. I've had fun when I was supposed to do, and sometimes when I wasn't.
"But I've gotten serious when I needed to get serious. When I'm having fun, it doesn't mean I'm not going hard. That's the message I'm going to keep stressing this season."
The season that had a demarcation point on Wednesday, giving Braylon Edwards, Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis a chance to catch their breath before they embark in earnest on this important journey.