Shea: It's Secret Santa Time!

Gifts you've gotten in the past haven't been all that great, but there's one that keeps on giving... Bill Shea explains what it is, and why it's needed, in this urgent communique from Detroit. (Adult language, duh).

Somewhere, right now, there's an NFL scheduling flunky reading a memo from the league brass instructing him or her to never, ever — under penalty of death, or worse — schedule the Cleveland Browns on a nationally televised game.

The debacle on Monday night — a humiliating loss to that illegal and illegitimate gang of witless arrogant thugs from Baltimore, of all teams — may have been the nadir of the franchise's existence.

Expect the Browns to be exiled to wander aimlessly and anonymously in whatever Siberian wasteland the NFL banishes its embarrassing franchises to. The abysmal ratings for Monday night (the 7.4 metered-market rating was the lowest MNF game this season) all but doom Cleveland's chances at serious national spotlight consideration for the foreseeable future.

It's not exactly a newsflash that this is a historically bad team, rivaling ineptitude not seen since the days of leather helmets. Just as Ford Motor Co. wouldn't want the combustible Pinto featured in its advertising, the NFL doesn't want the world subjected to the very worst of its product line.

The much-criticized snarky assessment by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi that the Browns are "perhaps the most f****d franchise in all of sports right now" looks more true by the hour.

Crain's Cleveland Business, the sister publication of the magazine I write for in Detroit, has a cover story this week featuring a large photo of a Browns fan with a paper bag over their head, and the headline "Can't Bear To Watch."

Can't watch at all, at least on television, will likely be the more accurate headline because this team has blackout all over it. And deservedly so. The product Randy Lerner and his band of not-so-merry men is peddling isn't worthy of our time or money (unlike, which is totally worth it).

Of course, Cleveland Browns fans are masochists, so we'll return year after year for the abuse because there's that tiny ray of hope that never dies and the fading memories of better times still linger. Especially around the holidays.

What's broken can be fixed, right? The Bengals are headed to the playoffs after many years of mishandling by Mike Brown, no? And Tampa Bay, Seattle and Arizona all finally earned Super Bowl bids.

And you know what? I know this team is F'd. You know this team is F'd. I'm tired of writing about their shittiness, and I'm sure you're equally exhausted by the endless bombardment of depressing and embarrassing Browns news — it's like a sick beloved relative who keeps coming down with new, fatal diseases.

The holidays are at hand, and if the Cleveland Browns are the Griswold family of the NFL, let's at least get drunk on spiked eggnog and enjoy it any way we can.

Maybe, just maybe, if we're all good, Santa will deliver to us hope wrapped up in a big package that looks very much like Mike Holmgren, Charlie Casserly or some other established football mind.

That said, even a Paul Brown or Blanton Collier would be helpless if all they had each Sunday was the current batch of players that pass for Cleveland's NFL roster. As I've said before, this crew, with just a few exceptions, is unfit for anything more than second-string special-teams duty.

Any new football honcho is going to need a lot of new players.

One player I'm not ready to abandon is Brady Quinn. His total game career experience amounts to less than one season, and he's forced to play surrounded by talentless skill players and a mediocre offensive line. Worse, the play-calling is almost criminally stupid. Quinn is getting worse treatment than Tim Couch was subjected to, and this team would lose to the Couch-led 1999 Browns. The bathwater needs tossed, but not the baby.

Eric Mangini and his assistants try to out-think the opposition, yet appear hopelessly outmatched at every turn and seem to have the mental football IQ of Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin fame. Except for Rob Ryan, who is getting the most anyone could expect out of a defense with limited talent and plenty of injuries.

The blame for the day to day catastrophe of this team lies squarely on the shoulders of Mangini. Despite the positive interview with Clark Judge recently, the evidence on the field is damning. It didn't have to be as bad as it is, and it is because of Mangini — the only football coach under more critical scrutiny than Michigan's Rich Rodriguez.

I genuinely believe Randy Lerner is committed to creating a winner, and much like the struggles the Rooney family faced with the Pittsburgh Steelers until they found Chuck Noll, he simply needs to find the right leaders for this team. He hasn't so far, but my feeling is that the addition of a football guru to mastermind a total reconstruction of the football operation is the logical way to go — and such a person will fire Mangini.

While that's a cruel fate for Mangini after the holidays, he can comfort himself in an XXL-sized Snuggie made out of the mound of cash he's been paid by the Browns and Jets. For the rest of us, a total restart at the start of 2010, with a proven football mind running things, will be the best gift of all — hope.

Bill Shea is The OBR's Detroit bureau chief. He can be reached at

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