Four thoughts on the Browns as the season winds down with Sunday's visit by the Jacksonville Jaguars …
*First of all, A tip of the hat to the Browns for ignoring their financial bottom line and deciding to show the telecast of the game in the Cleveland area – on Channel 19 (WOIO) – even though the contest is not a sellout.
It's a good move for the fans, who get to see the team play from the comfort of their living rooms – or sports bars, or wherever – on a day that promises to be extremely cold and blustery. The fans have put up with a lot of bad football in these 11 seasons of the expansion era. They deserve to have a bone thrown their way. After all, their vigilance late in 1995 and early in '96 in fighting the NFL is why there's still a Browns team in Cleveland.
It's a good move for the Browns, too. They can continue to say they've never blacked out a home game in the expansion era among the 88 that have been played. That's a sense of pride for an organization that is desperate need of such after a second straight nightmarish season, and nine in 11 tries since the team returned to the field in 1999.
Plus the Browns were smart enough to realize that the telecast of the game will be a three-hour infomercial for all the progress the club has made of late. The Browns are going for four straight wins, something they haven't done since the 1994 playoff season. What would the Browns pay Channel 19 for three straight hours of advertising? A lot more than they're losing from taking the unsold tickets and distributing them free of charge to needy kids in the area.
But with all this having been said, a 4-11 Browns team closing out the year in a less-than-full Cleveland Browns Stadium is a stark reminder to everyone in the organization that this team is still light years from where it needs to be. That's the charge for new team president to Mike Holmgren, to make Browns tickets hot items all the time again.
*But as bad as this season – and really, this entire expansion era – has been, it's better than having no team at all. That's the prospects Browns fans were facing 14 years ago, on Dec. 24, 1995, when the original franchise was closing out its last season in Cleveland before moving to Baltimore by playing the expansion Jaguars in bitterly cold Jacksonville.
Talk about a holiday downer. It was the saddest, lowest point in Browns history.
The situation – and the mood – is much different now in Cleveland. The Browns are here to stay. They just have to get a whole lot better ASAP.
And oh, by the way, the Browns also lost that game way back when, blowing a late lead and falling 24-21 to add insult to much injury.
*It may be a key indicator of what is about to take place, or it may mean nothing at all.
Browns owner Randy Lerner reportedly quit coming to his team's games quite some time ago. Clearly, he is not pleased with what is going on with the club, even with this late surge.
In 2008, when the Browns' fortunes really began heading south in the second half of the season, Lerner quit coming to games as well. General manager Phil Savage couldn't get Lerner to return his phone calls then. When the owner finally did, it was to inform Savage, on the day before the finale at Pittsburgh, that he and head coach Romeo Crennel were both being fired.
It should be pointed out that there is stark difference now – or at least there will be on Monday, when Holmgren arrives – in that the Browns now have a team president with a strong football acumen. Holmgren will be the one making the decision on head coach Eric Mangini. Sure, he'll be getting input from Lerner – after all, it's his team – but in the end, it will be Holmgren's call. That's how Lerner wants it. That's why he hired Holmgren, to take all his experience and expertise and put it to use to make the right choice on the tough, important decisions such as who the head coach should be.
*And finally, if Holmgren does blow this team up and starts fresh, then he would do well to give strong consideration to retaining defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. With everything considered – the inordinate number of debilitating injuries to key personnel, and the lack of any help at all from the offense through most of the season – Ryan has done a good job. He knows the game – and defense – inside and out. He's a passionate guy who is a players' coach and can get them to play hard for him. If the talent level improves, then they will also start playing well for him much more consistently.
Plus Ryan gets Browns football. He gets the passion of the fans for this team.
In this horrible season, he's been a great ambassador for the team with his humor during his Friday availabilities with the media, and his refusal to ever take himself too seriously.
A breath of fresh air, to be sure.