An open letter to new Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren:
Welcome to Cleveland.
In coming from your home in Phoenix, it had to be a real shock when you got off the plane here and felt that first Arctic blast of cold air. But you coached in Green Bay for all those years, so you're used to it. And anyway, you're not going to be out in the weather much. You're going to be holed up in your office out in Berea for hours on end as you try to get the team back on track.
That's the point of this letter.
Mike, you've got to get it done. You have to.
In your conference call with the Cleveland media last week, you mentioned the great tradition of the Browns. You're right. It is indeed a great tradition. Pick up a copy of the team's media guide and check out the records section in the back. You're an offensive-minded guy, so you'll appreciate the fact that 13 of the Browns' 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame players are from the offensive side (there are 16 Hall of Famers overall, with the last one being head coach Paul Brown).
Look at those numbers that Jim Brown put up, and Otto Graham as well. With his athleticism and ability to throw on the run, or just tuck it under and run, "Automatic Otto" would have been perfect for the West Coast offense you like to run. In fact, you may be interested to know – aw, heck, you probably already know full well – that Paul Brown was the innovator of the West Coast offense with those early teams in Cleveland 60 years ago. Your old boss in San Francisco, Bill Walsh, who worked for Brown in Cincinnati, has pointed that out. Those Browns teams from back in the day were unstoppable. They beat everybody. The winning continued into the 1950s and '60s, took a break for a lot of the 1970s, and then got reinstated for most of the '80s. But since 1990, it's been a rough go for the Browns. These last two decades have been nightmares.
The team struggled in the early 1990s, the coach, Bill Belichick, cut popular quarterback Bernie Kosar and ticked off everybody in town, and then the team up and moved to Baltimore, causing the firestorm of all firestorms. It was as if a piece of the Terminal Tower had been uprooted, or Lake Erie had been drained. It was a complete stunner. Just like Clark Griswold said in the movie, "Christmas Vacation," when cousin Eddie asked him if he was surprised that he and his family had shown up on Clark's doorstep unannounced in their dilapidated RV, "Eddie, I couldn't be any more surprised if I woke up tomorrow morning with my head sewn to the carpet."
The Browns not in Cleveland? No one ever thought that could happen. It did, though. Trust me, Mike, it did. But because of the passion of the fans – Mike, you're going to love these fans, for there are none better anywhere, even in Green Bay – the NFL was forced to give a Browns team back to Cleveland. That's the good news. The bad news is that this new team has struggled for nine of 11 seasons since returning to the field in 1999. In fact, they've had two straight losing seasons. They've posted just two winning records overall, and made it to the postseason only once, with one playoff game – and no wins. This is a 180-degree turn of what the original Browns used to be.
To say it's been hard to swallow is the understatement of the year, like saying it gets cold in the winter in Cleveland – and Green Bay. These 20 years of struggles have caused a whole generation of fans – fans my kids' ages – to be turned off. When the team left for those three seasons from 1996-98, those kids, in their formative years of becoming football fans, picked other NFL franchises of which to be fans since there was no local one around. I can still give you the starting lineup – their jersey numbers included – of the 1964 NFL championship Browns. My buddies and I used to study that stuff every day. If only we had paid attention to our schoolwork like that. The guys – and ladies, for that matter – who are my age are still big fans. And there are a lot of us. We haven't died off – yet. So don't worry about us. We're in.
But you've got to do something to get this lost generation of fans interested in the Browns. Above all else, that's your charge, to make everybody – everybody – wait for kickoff on Sunday with a childlike enthusiasm, like it's Christmas morning and that bike is under the tree. Back in the day, Browns games used to be religious experiences for the whole region. Now there are some atheists and agnostics. And who can blame them? They haven't seen anything to stir their soul, like we did as kids when we saw Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly running, Frank Ryan passing to Paul Warfield and Gary Collins, and Bill Glass and Walter Johnson making tackles all over the field. There was nothing better than seeing the Browns playing at home in those all-white uniforms, with the Cleveland Stadium lights being reflected on the side of those plain orange helmets.
Funny how you remember that stuff all these years later, isn't it? It's just like you said in your conference call about going to old Kezar Stadium to see the 49ers play while growing up in San Francisco. As former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano always says, "When it's going well, it's never as good anywhere as it is in Cleveland." He's right. This is a football town. Always has been. And always will be – even with somebody named LeBron James here.
When you turn the Browns around – yes, you read that right, we're certain you're going to do it – you won't be able to go anywhere in Cleveland without someone stopping you to talk about the team. Whether it be at the convenience store to pick up a cup of coffee on the way into work in the morning, or during dinner at some restaurant in the evening, you'll be the most popular guy in town. This is a great opportunity for you, Mike, in that's it a proud franchise that's fallen on hard times and needs some TLC – and someone who knows what they're doing – to remove the tarnish and make things shine again.
That's where you come in.
The town is excited about you being here. Your credentials have caused a stir that hasn't been seen around here in a long, long time. Because of who you are, you'll get a grace period. People will be patient with you. They don't expect miracles. They just want their Browns football back. Once you're around here for a while to look around and talk to some people, you'll know exactly what that last sentence means.
Good luck. Hope you didn't forget your warm coat. You'll need it. Winter is just beginning, but we're hoping you'll warm us up in the offseason with what you're doing to this football team.