It's Jan. 5.
Christmas is so far back there in the rear-view mirror that if your tree is real and it's still up in your front room – that's a living room to those of you who live where there are no corn fields, feed stores or places called simply "the hardware" -- then it looks now like Charlie Brown picked it out.
It's the Roseanne Barr of trees, if you know what we mean.
But despite the lateness of the date, there was still a present to be opened for Browns fans, and it came late in the afternoon today.
Not just any ol' present, either, mind you, but rather that bike – that Red Rider BB gun, one of those football uniform sets, complete with a helmet, shoulder pads and a football -- you hoped beyond hope would be there waiting for you, but didn't think in your heart of hearts that it would.
Well, it was there.
Looking just like you pictured it would.
Finally – FINALLY! – after 11 long years of the long-suffering expansion era, these new Browns have someone who is able to espouse a message, is allowed to do so, is willing to do so, and is very, very good at it.
Forget, for a moment, the need for the Browns to find a quarterback, a go-to veteran wide receiver, a shutdown cornerback to go along with Eric Wright, and a big-time tight end who can play at least a little bit like Ozzie Newsome and be a good citizen like him as well. All that is for down the road.
But right now – right now – the Browns have something more important than that in the big picture in new team president Mike Holmgren.
He speaks English. He's not condescending. He doesn't mumble. He doesn't give an answer to a question that wasn't asked. He smiles. He jokes. He laughs. He speaks loud enough for those of us with hearing problems to be able to understand. He has a personality. He's honest and forthright.
Can we clone this guy?
A bunch of times?
With no disrespect at all to anyone else who has addressed the media since the Browns returned to the field in 1999 – Holmgren used that exact term at one point today, "with no disrespect at all" – he delivered a message that Browns fans had to like, that they could relate to, and that certainly has to give them hope, real hope, for the future.
The Browns have needed this forever – forever. They have been selling something that they weren't advertising – that they couldn't advertise. Thank goodness for this fan base – the best in all of sports, pro or otherwise -- and the fact that Browns football can sell itself for a long time in these parts. The Browns got by on that until lately, when the fans had finally had enough of the losing and all the other stuff.
Those fans didn't go away. They just got very mad and frustrated.
Now the Browns have someone who, it appears, somehow already gets Browns football and what it's all about. Maybe it's because Holmgren coached in Green Bay, where Lambeau Field is located on Lombardi Avenue, where it snows into late April sometimes and where the team's uniforms looked like they did when Lombardi coached, that he can understand a club named the Browns, as in Paul, that has its team headquarters located on Lou Groza Boulevard , where you keep the Toro gassed up past the Indians' home opener just in case one last blast of lake effect blows in, and where the uniforms, those god-awful brown pants notwithstanding, look like they did back when Brown coached.
Clevelanders don't like fluff, and Holmgren didn't give them any.
"I don't like to dance," he said of being straight with people.
Browns fans will point to the fact that one of the problems with their team in this expansion era is that not only was everyone not all on the same page, but rather they weren't even in the same library. Holmgren gets that.
"The president, the general manager and the head coach all have to be on the same wavelength," he said. "Egos got in the way, and people establish these little power bases – they build these little kingdoms -- which isn't healthy."
Not healthy, as in death knell-like not healthy.
Browns fans are done with people on their team throwing other people under the bus for what went wrong. Enough with the blame and negativity already. Holmgren gets that.
He said the Browns "are down a little bit," not that they're horrible, a mess or the closest thing there's even been to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or last year's Detroit Lions. Just "down a little bit." No need to take out a club marked 5-11 and beat fans over the head with it.
He even went so far as to say, "We're not necessarily rebuilding the Browns, because the Browns have a wonderful, wonderful history, but we're trying to get the Browns back where they should be, in the playoffs."
Browns fans are tired of guys who act as if they invented the game, or at least the forward pass. Holmgren gets that. He's confident – but not over-confident – in his own abilities. He laughed and called himself, self-deprecatingly so, "a big-shot executive" and joked that in his new role, he's in charge of everything. "Oh, yeah, parking, hot dogs."
Yeah, everything. That's exactly the way it should be with the Browns, with a guy whose résumé speaks for itself, calling all the shots.
He said his new job is "invigorating," and that "It's going to be fun and exciting."
For him and these fans, and for a lot of other people as well.
Browns longtime former left tackle and now longtime Browns Radio Network color analyst Doug Dieken, a guy who has … well, been around a long time and has seen a lot, stood in the back of the Dino Lucarelli Media Center, where Holmgren spoke, and quipped, "Maybe I'll finally get to call a Super Bowl."
Maybe. Maybe. Who knows?
Just like Dieken had to wait until after he retired as a player for the Browns to win in Pittsburgh.
The guess here is that Holmgren will get the Browns back into position to compete for such. Will they finally make it to the big game? Will he be a success at all?
That's to be determined.
At another time.
For now, though, today was a time to be happy. Today was a time when the guy wearing the hard hat and steel-toed shoes to work and carrying a lunch pail, and the guy wearing a three-piece suit and wingtips and carrying a briefcase, could listen to the man running the team, hear and understand what he said, and identify with it.
He spoke their language, which really wasn't hard to do at all. It's just a shame it took this long for it to happen.
But you can't go back – not to the expansion era, anyway. But you can go back to back in the day, when the Browns were the Browns. Holmgren said a public hello to Jim Brown, the team's executive advisor, and made mention of the fact that Bill Walsh said Paul Brown was the one who really invented the West Coast offense to which Holmgren is indelibly linked.
After this nightmarish season, Browns fans needed that little pick-me-up.
As media members sat in the audience wearing layers of clothing, with a few cameramen dressed like they were going to do the Iditarod following the press conference, Holmgren joked that he and his wife, Kathy, had gotten rid of all their snow removal equipment when they left Green Bay. Then he said, in reference to the Cleveland snow and cold, "It's beautiful out there."
And it was.
And it is.
Even more so now, actually.
It was as if someone had propped open the door and let some of that cold, but fresh – very fresh, very pleasant, very exhilarating, very invigorating, very fun, very exciting – air into the building.
Breathe in deep, guys.
Indeed, Browns fans should take it all in.
They deserve it.
They've waited a long time for it.
It's Christmas in January, so get on the bike and ride, and shoot that BB gun.
But be careful. You could shoot your eye out.
Like this season – this expansion era – has just about shot the eye out of Browns fans.
Mike Holmgren, though, is just what the doctor ordered, saying all the right things in all the right ways.
On Jan. 5 and with the playoffs having been out of the picture since not long after Labor Day, you can't ask for anything more.