It was about seven or eight years ago when the Browns were going through one in a seemingly endless string of crazy off-the-field issues that have dominated this expansion era.
Cornerback Corey Fuller, a core player in those early years of the new Browns, was a great quote. He was always willing to talk, and he spoke his mind in a thought-provoking way. He was what is referred to in media circles as "a go-to guy."
So the media horde rushed to him as he showed up at his locker before practice. Fuller waited for everybody to get set with their cameras, microphones, tape recorders, pens and notebooks, then looked at WJW-TV sports director Tony Rizzo, who was among those in the front row, and said, "Just football, Russo, just football."
Fuller, who sometimes had a little Archie Bunker in him when it came to pronouncing names correctly, really thought Rizzo's last name was Russo, and this was just his way of saying that he didn't want to talk about that particular off-the-field issue. He would discuss only on-the-field football matters.
All the media members standing there snickered under their breath, then laughed out loud when they got back to the media room. In fact, when someone wants to break the tension and get a few chuckles during a hard, stressful day, they'll often say out of the clear blue, "Just football, Russo, just football."
But the real point – a serious one that's not funny at all – is that no one then realized, or since, all these years later, has realized, just how important his words, and his intentions, were.
Just football, Russo, just football.
The Browns need – they desperately need – to get back to a situation where all the media and fans want to talk about – the only thing there is to talk about – is football.
Running the ball.
Passing the ball.
Holding onto the ball.
Catching the ball.
Tackling the ball carrier.
Sacking the quarterback.
Defending the pass.
Punting the ball.
Kicking off the ball.
Making field goals.
Making extra points.
Going for it on fourth down.
Electing to punt and play field position.
Establishing the run.
Mixing in the pass with the run.
Throwing long to get the extra defenders out of the box.
Putting extra defenders into the box to stop the run.
Calling an audible at the line of scrimmage.
Calling a timeout because the play call didn't come in fast enough.
Calling a timeout to discuss an important play-call.
The two-minute drill.
The prevent defense.
The spread offense.
Bringing in another tight end for extra run blocking.
The 4-3 defense.
The 3-4 defense.
The cover-2 scheme.
The cover-3 scheme.
Dominating the line of scrimmage.
Getting dominating at the line of scrimmage.
Games against bad teams that you have to fight to get up for.
The home-field advantage.
Winning on the road.
All of these things sound sweet. Why? Because they're football issues, and this is a football team in a football town with the best football fans on the planet.
They yearn for all of this.
And the quicker the Browns get back to this, football – solely, every day, all day – and get away from making news with all this off-the-field drama, the quicker they will have a chance to get the ship righted and become the kind of team their fans want them to be.
Coaches hate distractions, especially off-the-field ones, and with good reason, for they take the focus off the important stuff – football.
But this expansion era has been virtually nothing but off-the-field issues – big, small and in-between. Only for short stretches of time, such as in the only two winning seasons of 2002 and '07, have the off-the-field issues not dominated the news and swallowed up this team like an elephant eating a raisin.
Who's to blame for this? Does it really matter now?
The only thing that's important is fixing this god-awful mess and getting it right, not just for a little while but for a long while, permanently – at least as long as permanently can be in this ever-changing NFL.
The fans deserve this. Their fight and perseverance late in 1995 and early in '96 are why there is a Browns team now. Never, ever, forget that.
The fans are so sick of this – more sick and tired of this than the Browns hierarchy will ever know, two fans meeting with owner Randy Lerner or not.
Other than the team leaving, this may be the lowest point in Browns history. But you hold your breath when you say that, for just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.
Right now, the fans are being victimized by a perfect storm that has swept through their team. The product on the field is terrible, and the organization, whether it's factual or not, seems from the outside looking in to be leaking oil in some regards.
This can't continue. If it does, then the Browns will break the heart – and the will – of every last fan they have, and these fans have proven over and over and over that they have big hearts and a lot of will. They exude the toughness and passion that exemplify this community.
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio isn't into soap-opera situations. Never has been, and never will be.
It is into football. So many things – wonderful things, great things, memorable things that make grown men get misty-eyed when they think about them -- in history tell us that.
Get back to football, please, for everyone's sake.
Then get back to winning.
Take some soap and clean up all things soap opera.
Just football, Russo, just football.
It's the only play call the Browns can make at this point.