Greetings from Columbus, where there is electricity in the air! I've been told that the pervasive use of shock therapy alleviates the anxiety caused by exposure to nationally televised Buckeye BCS bowl appearances. By the time you read this letter, the game will have played out, but as of this writing, the city is walking on more egg shells than the Great Wall of China's custodial staff after a Dumpty family reunion. It must be weird for you to hear that, living in Cleveland, where everybody in the city knows with perfect confidence that the local football team is going to emerge victorious come the weekend, but alas, things are different down here. Being in a perpetually winning football environment, you wouldn't understand.
(UPDATE: The Buckeyes won! The Buckeyes won! Joy fills the land! Tressel and Pryor are heroes! Well, at least until Thursday, when people inevitably reach the conclusion that the Rose Bowl somehow proves that Ohio State would have been national champions if it weren't for losses to overrated USC and sucky Purdue, at which time everyone will start autopsying those two games again and then resume blaming Tressel and Pryor for ruining Ohio State football. Once again, it's complicated down here.)
Anyway, let's move on to our beloved Browns. Has this been a fun month or what? Interim head coach Eric Mangini has been steadfast that this team has been improving as the year has gone along, and now we are finally starting to observe the tangible fruits of that improvement. Consider the landmarks that have been attained in the last three weeks:
Game 13: In their 13-6 win over the Steelers, the Browns finally managed to win a game in which they scored a touchdown. (They had been 0-7.)
Game 14: In their 41-34 win at Kansas City, the Browns finally managed to win a game in which their quarterback(s) completed so many as ten passes. (They had been 0-9.)
Game 15: In their 23-9 shellacking of the Raiders, the Browns finally managed to win a game in which their quarterback(s) threw for over 100 yards. (They had been 0-8.)
WARNING: Whatever you do, Barry, do NOT use those parenthetical records and the game numbers to reverse-engineer statistics like, "In 6 of 15 games—that's 40% of games—the Browns' quarterback(s) failed to throw for at least 100 yards in the pass-happy NFL." It will totally bring you down. Instead, we need to stay focused on the positives, such as that with these three consecutive wins, the Browns have improved their record in games in which they have led with 0:00 remaining in the fourth quarter to 4-1. That's an .800 winning percentage! That's pretty good!
Random thoughts from the Chiefs and Raiders games….
* Joshua Cribbs is awesome. I think it's mandatory to mention that at least once in any conversation about the Browns, so I am just getting it out of the way now. I realize that it's pretty much insane to say this about a player that plays in the same city as local deity LeBron James, but is any athlete more beloved in his town of employ than Josh Cribbs is in Cleveland right now? Usually, when an athlete asks for a new contract while already under contract, the vast majority of fans are turned off by the player's request. However, in some cases, the fans go along because the player is that awesome and the fans wish to keep that player happy so that the awesomeness may continue. But I don't know that I have EVER seen anything like this. People LOVE Josh Cribbs, and they seem to want him to get the money because not only is he awesome, but they genuinely LOVE Josh Cribbs the PERSON. If the county put a sin tax on the ballot to fund Cribbs' next contract, I am convinced that people would gladly vote for it. And if it passed, I am further convinced that some people would eagerly start smoking just so he'd get paid even more. THAT'S how much people love Josh Cribbs. It's mind-boggling.
* I hate it when logic gets in the way of a good joke. When Jerome Harrison ran parallel to the goal line while scoring his late, game-winning touchdown in Kansas City, I laughed and thought about how it was like he was afraid to cross the goal line just like a dog is afraid to leave the yard after the installation of an invisible fence. I mean, an invisible fence would explain why the Browns score so few touchdowns, right? So I imagined Jerome with his shock collar on, running parallel to the line while trying to work up the courage to make the plunge, then wincing as he crossed the line. Sadly, I then realized that the joke would have made no sense whatsoever since he had already scored two other touchdowns that half. Damn you, logic!
* I watched the Browns-Raiders game at my sister's house in North Olmsted. After eating ham for three straight days, we decided to order a pizza (toppings: "anything but ham") for the game. We cut it tight on the order time, so I had to go pick up the pizza a few minutes before 1:00. When I returned with the pizza, the game was barely two minutes old, the Raiders were punting to the Browns, and the Browns were already up 7-0. WHAT. THE. F***. My brain couldn't wrap itself around the concept that a Browns game could be the type of thing where you regret missing even a minute because all sorts of fun and exciting stuff might occur. I mean, I missed two minutes to get a pizza. Since when did THAT matter?
* Sebastian Janikowski nailed a 61-yard field goal. In Cleveland. In late December. On the cold, snowy lakefront. Can't that be the NFL record? The only ones longer were kicked by a guy with a metal plate on his foot stump, by a guy kicking in the thin Rocky Mountain air, and by a guy kicking in sunny Tampa. Janikowski's seems so much more impressive. To me, that kick is the long-distance gold standard. Well, either that, or the time that Jeff Reed nailed the one and only 50-yarder ever kicked out of that litter box known as Heinz Field.
* I just knew CBS would have the Red Right 88 footage cued up. Do you think production assistants hate working Cleveland games because they always have to run to the archives to dig up footage of some Cleveland sports disaster? In my last letter, I already went over the stunts the NFL Network pulled during the Steelers game, but this stuff happens pretty much every week.
Last week: "I'd love to meet up for lunch, but I can't. I'm working the Cleveland-Oakland game this weekend, so on my lunch hour I need to run over to the archive building to find the footage of some old playoff interception. Maybe we can do lunch next week."
This week: "Lunch? Sorry, I can't this time either…..Yeah, I'm working the Cleveland game again, against Jacksonville, so on my lunch hour I need to run over to the archive building to find the old footage of people tossing beer bottles at the referees. God, I can't wait for the playoffs to start so I don't have to deal with this Cleveland shit anymore. We're definitely on for next week."
Which 2009 Derek Anderson story is the most mind-boggling?
A. That he entered a game at halftime, promptly threw three interceptions, and on the strength of that performance moved to the top of the depth chart?
B. That he led the Browns to a road victory by going 2-of-17, for 23 yards and an interception?
C. That his #3 jersey—brand new with tags still attached— was the gift my friend received from his office's Secret Santa despite the fact that there was a strict $10 limit on gifts?
They're all astonishing, of course, but I may have to go with the last one. When my friend received his gift, he expressed his concern that his Secret Santa had gone over the agreed upon limit. A quick check of the tag revealed that the jersey had been marked down from $80 to $26.99, but even then, it still significantly exceeded the cost cap. In the end, the Secret Santa assured him that the jersey was further marked down 75% off of its lowest marked price, thus making it fully Secret Santa compliant. Santa had the receipt to prove it.
I once bought a Tim Couch jersey for $20 after he was no longer on the team. I was proud of myself for my frugal purchase, but no longer. Last Sunday, my friend wore the brand new $6.75 jersey of the Browns' STARTING quarterback that afternoon.
So yeah, it's gotta be C. In 2007, Derek Anderson went to the Pro Bowl. In 2009, his jersey might as well have been included in a Happy Meal, despite the fact that he was still on the team and was STARTING games during his jersey clearance. Amazing.
Now that this precedent has been set, I predict that next up is Travis Hafner.
Seeing as I am surrounded by infidels, I should give you an update on what's going on down here. The BengalFan population in Columbus is gearing up for the playoffs, so they will be watching Sunday night's game with interest. If the Bengals lose to the Jets, the Bengals will host the Jets in the first round.
I was talking with Rob the Bengals Fan about this, and I think I hatched an ingenious scheme that will help his team. Knowing that they could theoretically play the same team next week, the Bengals should play all of their backups and not give anything away.
Okay, that may seem a bit obvious, and you may take it the wrong way if you are someone like, say, Randy Cross. During last week's Browns game, Cross noted that the Browns were running the ball in true AFC North fashion, whereas the Steelers and Ravens have become passing teams "and of course the Bengals always love to air it out with Carson Palmer."
This is nonsense. The Bengals rank 3rd in the NFL in rushing attempts and 26th in the NFL in passing attempts. They have morphed into the epitome of a Tresselball run-run-pass team. By focusing on running the ball and on defense, the Bengals have wrested the division from the Steelers, who always used to do those things before they decided to chuck damn near 40 years of history and tradition aside so that Beat Ben (or as that one Yinzer I wrote about last time calls him, "You Findlay F***") can wing the ball around the field like Warren Moon for Jerry Glanville's Run & Shoot Oilers.
Based on that, my thought is this— the Bengals should play their cards close to their chest against the Jets, but since one can't vanilla down a vanilla offense, it would behoove Marvin Lewis to create a chocolate diversion from the vanilla. In other words, they should run a wide open offense. Run and shoot, wildcat, end arounds, flea flickers, halfback passes, double reverses, and lots and lots of bombs.
Then, when the playoffs hit, the New York will be totally confused when the Bengals run Cedric Benson up the middle on first and second down, then throw a five-yard out to Chad Johnson on third down. Since the Bengals wouldn't have given the gameplan away in the season finale, the Jets will never know what hit ‘em!
(At next week's press conference, please let Mike Holmgren know that I am full of brilliant football ideas like this one, in case he is looking for a Vice-Czar. Plus I want to talk to him about ditching the Turd-ish Tights in favor of our traditional whites. We finally get the socks right, then wear the Poopy Pants with them. Ugh.)
Anyway, moving on to Steeler fans…..they are apoplectic because they agree with LaMarr Woodley that the Bengals are going to "lay down" in an effort to keep the Steelers out of the playoffs, because everybody knows that once the Steelers get in, they can go on a run and win it all. (After all, in the playoffs, they won't run the risk of squaring off with, say, the Kansas City Chiefs.) Nobody wants to admit that the Steelers just aren't very good. Instead, delusional Woodley has incited these in-denial Yinzers into building primitive inner tube rafts so that they can drift an Ahrn City Armada down the Ohio to give "dahntahn" Cincinnati a float-by feces-flinging.
And that may be the best part about the Browns recent winning streak. Not only did the Browns' victory over Pittsburgh effectively kill the Steelers' season, but then the Browns spent the next two weeks rubbing Pittsburgh's nose in the other terribly embarrassing losses that will likely have cost them a playoff spot.
"What? Can't win in Kansas City? Huh. From what we could tell, it wasn't so bad. If you only had a running game like you always used to."
"What? Can't beat Oakland at home? Are you friggin' serious?!? We tried it and it was a piece of cake! Heck, we can't score touchdowns and we beat them by TWO touchdowns!"
Well, that's all for now, Barry. I hope you had a happy holiday season, and let's hope the Jacksonville game continues our fun little streak. Or, in the words of Carmen Policy, "Let's wallop the Jaguars in a way that a beer bottle never could, at least very much."
Steve Sirk, once Art Bietz's co-conspirator at the TruthCenter, has taken to sending occasional letters to OBR Headquarters about life as a Browns fan struggling in the NFL mixing pot of Central Ohio. At some point in life, Sirk determined that suffering through the nexus, dips, valleys, and various low points of being a Cleveland sports fan within geographic proximity of Cleveland itself did not create sufficient emotional pain. Sneeringly dismissive of even basic survival instincts, Sirk elected to reside in Columbus, Ohio, so that he could better be surrounded by fans of winning franchises who could mock his very existence. If you wish to contact an individual of such clearly questionable judgment, you may do so at email@example.com
Also of note, his first book, "A Massive Season: Sirk's Notebook Chronicles the 2008 Columbus Crew", is about both soccer AND winning a championship, so it's totally foreign to all of us, but we thought we'd mention it anyway.