Saturday, December 31, 2005

Browns v. Ravens

Something's got to give here--the Ravens haven't won a road game all season, while the Browns haven't won a division game all season. However, the Ravens still play ferocious defense, and currently are the AFC's 2nd ranked defensive unit overall. What's more, after an atrocious 2-7 start, the Ravens have won four of their last six, have scored 78 points in their last two games, and are coming off back-to-back wins against Green Bay and Minnesota.

The Browns, on the other hand, haven't scored a touchdown in 10 quarters, are coming off the Nightmare Before Christmas, and now have to deal with the distraction of the soap opera between Collins and Savage. Listen to the pregame shows tomorrow. At least one football pundit will tell you that how the Browns respond to all this adversity tomorrow will show just how far this team has (or hasn't) come this season.

That's a nice sound bite, but of course, it's nonsense. Remember, even Butch's Browns could come up with those last game victories that falsely raised fans' hopes. The Browns knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs in 2003's last game, and even last year's catastrophically bad team managed to beat the Texans in 2004's finale.

Win or lose, this game means nothing for the future of the Browns. What's happening in Berea right now and what will happen over the course of the next several weeks is much more significant than a meaningless game between two sub-.500 teams. Don't forget that, because if the Browns pull off the upset tomorrow, you can bet your life that the happy talk from the front office is going to start in earnest.

Ravens 23, Browns 6.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ohio Politics

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff appears poised to strike a plea deal. That means Bob Ney's (R-Ohio) sphincter just squeezed a little tighter than usual. An associate of Abramoff's, Michael Scanlon, already had pointed his finger at Ney, alleging that Ney helped Abramoff by putting comments into the Congressional record that were calculated to pressure the owner of an entity named SunCruz to sell to Abramoff on very favorable terms. Abramoff could destroy Ney.

Keep watching.

The Phil Savage Mess

It's nice to know that even though Carmen's making wine, Butch is doing the TV analyst thing and Al's pushing up daisies, you can still count on the Browns' front office to be in complete disarray by New Year's Eve. As of right now--7:00 p.m. on Friday, December 30th--Phil Savage is still the GM, but despite the spin coming out of Berea, nobody in his right mind believes that it wasn't touch and go all afternoon. No matter how they try to smooth things over, there are plainly deep divisions in the Browns organization about what happens next with the team.

Hey guys, WAKE UP! At some point, fans really are going to say to hell with you and your football team.

You apparently don't get around much, but did you know that down here in Summit County, you'll find grocery stores selling black and yellow cupcakes for Steelers' playoff parties? You'll also see a bunch of Steelers flags flying every weekend in front of people's homes throughout the Akron area. Stuff like that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago, but your incompetence, cynicism--did I mention incompetence?--and complete disregard for the average fan are rapidly making the Browns Akron's second favorite team.

Get your act together guys. The last thing a team that's about to go 5-11 needs is another front office soap opera heading into the postseason. You've got a lot of work to do before this team no longer needs a laugh track for its highlight film, so stop this crap and get on with it.

Sports Figure of the Year

Each year that we've known each other, the Rhino and I have looked back at year's end and picked out pivotal sports moments, great games and the most important sports figure. My pick for this year's Sports Figure of the Year has never been in doubt. I gave some minor consideration to a Rhino favorite, Bill Belichik, for building what some people refer to as a new football dynasty. I considered Michelle Wie (golf), Annika Sorenstam (golf), Lance Armstrong (bicycling), Danica Patrick (Indy racing), Tiger Woods (golf), Ozzie Guillen (baseball), LeBron James (basketball), Reggie Bush ('cause he's freaking amazing), and Pete Carroll ('cause he literally has been kickin' asses and taking names). While all of those individuals merit some consideration, none has had the impact on his or her sport and on the media as did...Jose Canseco.

Canseco published his tell-all book "Juiced" and the country howled. Some baseball apologists made fun of the writing---it was bad. Others nitpicked minor inconsistencies in dates. But the apologists couldn't stop the wave of revulsion that Canseco's revelations caused. Grown men, who spend their days being hardassed pricks, get sentimental about baseball. Those same guys finally said "Enough." The effects were swift. The same people who had winked at the doping problem in baseball for two decades were confronted with the horrible truth that certain segments of the public would no longer accept revered records being obliterated by juiced up freaks who, to once again use an overused cliche', couldn't carry the jocks of some of the guys whose records they destroyed. We all know that the generally useless and gutless bags of shit known as our Congress actually found something they could finally bully with impunity. They did, and the bullying worked.

As a result, a former "certain" Hall of Famer to be, Rafael Palmiero, is no longer so certain. Most writers have finally hopped off the bandwagon of glorifying balls flying over outfield fences and at least publicly, are now beginning to take a more sober look at Messrs. McGwire, Sosa and Bonds.

You might loathe him, but Jose Canseco had the greatest impact on sports and the coverage of sports in 2005.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bill Belichick: The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, by David Halberstam

A friend of mine gave me David Halberstam's book on Bill Belichick a few months ago and I finally had a chance to read it. The book is called "The Education of a Coach" and it is a very enlightening account of the Little Man's rise to greatness. Before I read this book, I thought that Bill Belichick was a nasty, misanthropic, deceitful egomaniac who also happened to be one of the best football coaches of his era. After I read it, I came to the realization that he is all those things, but also a generally diabolical little creep with a Clintonesque obsession about his "legacy."

This 275 page ode to an out of control ego was penned by the once great David Halberstam. If the amount of mindless repetition contained in the book is any indication, Mr. Halberstam appears to be suffering from senile dementia, so perhaps I'm being unkind when I say that in the annals of propaganda, this book deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

Unkind, but not inaccurate, for no page of this book would be complete without a reference to how doggone smart Bill is or what a precocious knowledge of football he had or just how, well, truly exceptional he is. Whether he's an unpaid piss boy for the Baltimore Colts coaching staff during the 1970s, the REAL brains behind those 1980s Giants or the victim of a very unfortunate situation for which he bears no responsibility in Cleveland, Bill's always the smartest guy in the room... hardest working too... what a guy!

Now, I shouldn't be too hard on the great man, because he had to overcome so many disadvantages to achieve greatness. As the son of one of the most well respected (and well connected) assistant coaches in college football, Bill had to pay lots of dues before landing his first NFL job. In fact, he wasn't hired as an assistant coach for an NFL football team until he was old enough to vote! Why, Bill had to wait until he graduated from Andover and Wesleyan before using Daddy's connections to hook up with the Baltimore Colts.

Bill appears to have grown quite a bit in the decade since he left Cleveland. He scowls less, and his grunts to the media are more frequently accompanied by intelligible comments. He's certainly added some impressive hardware to New England's trophy case and Vladimir Putin's finger, and his collaboration with Halberstam indicates that he's taken an interest in polishing his public image. But the Bill we Clevelanders remember so fondly is still to be found between the pages of Halberstam's book (by the way, I understand the working title of the German language version is "Mein Kampf II").

In fact, Halberstam's discussion of Bill's tenure in our fair city and, in particular, the way he spins the Bernie Kosar situation, makes it clear that Bill's still the same shifty little dirt bag that we knew way back when. To hear Halberstam tell it, everything that happened to Bill in Cleveland was just a result of a series of unfortunate events. Why, Bill was right to cut Bernie--his skills had diminished! Even other teams players said so! Besides, Art Modell undermined him!

Without getting into the merits of this argument, there's a two word response to it: Todd Philcox. Nowhere in the pages of Halberstam's hagiography does this guy's name surface, but Vinny Intercepteverde had injured his shoulder a week earlier, so that's who became Bill's starter when he decided to turn Kosar loose. He also doesn't mention that the Browns were 5-3 at the time of Bernie's departure, and that under Philcox's able guidance, they went 0-4 before Intercepteverde returned to salvage a couple of wins.

The bottom line is that by cutting Kosar when he did, the Little Man decided to tank the Cleveland Browns' 1993 season. Since we know that Bill was the smartest guy in the room, it's probably safe to assume that he knew he was doing that when he did it. But that gets glossed over, while the Cleveland fans' anger at Bill gets treated with the kind of condescending psychobabble that only an upper class twit like David Halberstam could possibly think is insightful:

It was almost like a football lynching, and it became uncommonly personal; in the media fans criticized his looks, his dress, his overall manner. It was so toxic that it seemed he had tapped into something deep and dark and angry in this city..., little of it probably in the long run about football. Rather, it was the product of myriad other disappointments, personal and economic and social, but somehow, the continued failure of a not very good football team, a group of strangers who were not viewed as strangers, became the focal point for so much rage; the alternative, one assistant coach privately noted, was probably to beat your wife.

Yes, Browns' fans, David Halberstam and his unnamed assistant coach think we're all a bunch of repressed wife beaters.

Now the little creep has three Super Bowl rings, and a fawning biography from a Pulitzer Prize winner. You? Well, you had your football team taken from you, and replaced by a half-billion dollar bag-o-shit stuffed into orange helmets that you had to shell out $500+ in PSLs to get the privilege of watching. Serves you right, you lousy bunch of wife beaters.

Keep your chins up, gang. After all, the new Browns have come a long way baby. Remember, they started out the 1999 season with a 43-0 shellacking by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and have managed to improve over the past seven seasons to the point where the Steelers were only able to squeek by them 41-0 last weekend.

So, Little Man, polish your Super Bowl trophies. You're a hell of a coach, and you deserve them--just don't try to polish your image by glossing over your tenure here. We know exactly what kind of guy you are and the role you played in creating the mess we're still living with.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

La Vigilia

To Italian-Americans, December 24th is La Vigilia di Natale, the Christmas Vigil. Earlier, I did the same thing I've done every year of my life---eat fish and drink a little vino. My family is pretty traditional in that we have at least 7 fish entrees and no meat. My aunt served spaghetti with squid, spaghetti with clams, scallops, baccala, fried smelts, tilapia, shrimp and stuffed calamari. As always, there was far too much food, and I continued to eat even after I was stuffed. Then I had a little more vino to make room for dessert. It was a good day.

I really didn't even think about the brutal spanking the Browns suffered today. I was too content. I'll let the Rhino be miserable about that.

I've really got nothing more to say other than Buon Natale.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Steelers 14,972, Browns -9

laugh·ing·stock: 'la-fi[ng]-"stäk, noun: an object of ridicule; synonym: see Cleveland Browns
doo·fus: 'dü-fis, noun: a stupid, incompetent, or foolish person; synonym: see Cleveland Browns
in·com·pe·tent: in-'käm-p&-t&nt: adjective 1 : not legally qualified2 : inadequate to or unsuitable for a particular purpose3 a : lacking the qualities needed for effective action b : unable to function properly; synonym: see Cleveland Browns
ri·dic·u·lous : r&-'di-ky&-l&s: adjective: arousing or deserving ridicule: absurd, preposterous; synonym: see Cleveland Browns
laugh·able: 'la-f&-b&l: adjective: of a kind to provoke laughter or sometimes derision : amusingly ridiculous; synonym: see Cleveland Browns
lu·di·crous : 'lü-d&-kr&s: adjective: meriting derisive laughter or scorn as absurdly inept, false, or foolish; synonym: see Cleveland Browns

Browns v. Steelers

"It would be a great satisfaction, I am sure, if they were able to knock us out of the playoffs, or at least a chance to get into the playoffs," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said.

Boy, that Cowher's a deep thinker isn't he? He figured that out all by himself too. Honest.

I want to throttle these guys. I want to humiliate them. I want them and all of their rotten little fans to shudder every year when Christmas comes around as they recall the trauma of this day. To paraphrase Fenwick in Diner, I want the Browns to hit them so hard they kill their whole family!

Do I think that's going to happen? Nope. The Steelers are fighting for a playoff spot, so it's guaranteed that they're going to show up guns blazing today. Unless the Browns play way over their collective heads, I don't think they've got much of a shot. Boy, do I hope I'm wrong.

Pittsburgh 24, Browns 13.

A Christmas Story

Okay, here's my Christmas story.

On Christmas Eve 1968, I was six years old. I don't remember too much about the day, although I'm sure that I was as wired as any other six-year old. I do recall seeing the astronauts on TV before going to bed, but that was the last thing I was going to remember for a little while.

My little brother and I shared bunk beds. I had the top bunk, and back then, of course, bed rails weren't all that common. Although I'd slept in that bed for several months, I picked that night to tumble out of the top bunk and crack my melon on the dresser. I must have made quite a noise, because my parents immediately woke up, and discovered me on the floor.

I guess I was bleeding from my ear, so my parents immediately decided to throw me in the car and take me to the hospital. My Dad got this job, while Mom stayed behind with my brother. I have no idea why the thought of calling an ambulance didn't occur to them, but as you'll see, it wouldn't be much of a story if they did that.

Now, understand that we hadn't been in Rochester that long, and my Dad wasn't real familiar with where the hospitals were. He did know the closest was Strong Memorial, which was part of the University of Rochester's Medical Center, and he knew that it was on Elmwood Avenue. So, he drove me there. Being somewhat frantic, he saw a sign that said "Hospital" and immediately turned into the facility. He didn't see a sign for the emergency room, so he pulled right out front and carried me in, anxiously looking for a doctor or nurse to assist me. Well, much to his consternation, the nurse he encountered was adamant that they could not help me, and that we would have to leave. My Dad was usually on an even keel, but I can only imagine his rage at their unwillingness to let me into the hospital. He probably was only half listening when they told him that Strong Memorial was another mile and a half down the road. That probably explains why he didn't figure out for several years that the hospital he tried to check me in to that night was--you guessed it--the loony bin.

Anyway, we get to Strong Memorial, and my Dad carries me in. Now, my Dad was sort of a Rhino-like individual himself, and apparently the combination of unshaven, t-shirt wearing Rhino-like Dad with kid bleeding from the head on Christmas Eve was enough to set off the child abuse alarms even way back then. So, as they worked on me, they gave him the third degree.

This wasn't my Dad's night, but it sure as hell wasn't mine either. When they took a look at the size of me, they apparently got it in their head that I wasn't a six-year old, but a retarded 12 year old. Sigh. They apparently weren't disabused of this notion-or the child abuse scenario-until they managed to wake me up and talk to me.

They then x-rayed me and determined that I didn't have a fractured skull, but that I'd managed to give myself a severe concussion. That meant Christmas morning and several days thereafter would be spent in the hospital. That sucked, but at least Mom brought me the Major Matt Mason moon crawler that Santa left for me. I also got a visit from a local celebrity. There was a guy named Eddie Meath, who was a local broadcaster who spent much of his time raising money to help bring Christmas presents to poor kids and kids who were in the hospital. He brought me some crappy puzzle, but hey, it's the thought that counts.

I had lots of great Christmases when I was a kid, but this is the one that my family still talks about. It wasn't funny at the time, I'm sure, but the loony bin and retarded 12-year old aspects of the story never fail to get a laugh now. I'm still a little pissed about the puzzle though.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

WWJDD? Sign with the Evil Empire, that's what he'd do

Yesterday, I said the baseball gods were fickle. However, I've got to hand it to them---they do have a "wicked good" sense of humor. Nothing demonstrates the fact that the baseball gods enjoy a good laugh quite like the Evil Empire's signing of Boston Red Sox icon Johnny Damon.

As an Indians' fan, I know I'm supposed to hate the Empire, but I've got to say that the thought of those insufferable Boston fans having to endure the sight of Damon in pinstripes for the next four years is simply delightful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Appeasing the Baseball Gods

I'll leave Vinny to comment (if he wants) on the substantive merits of yesterday's Danny Graves and Steve Karsay signings, but I do feel a need to give Shapiro some credit for making an effort to appease the always fickle baseball gods (like Jobu, pictured left).

As everyone knows, Danny Graves and Steve Karsay both had prior stints with the Indians. Graves was one of the Indians' hot young properties back in the mid 1990s, and John Hart dealt him to Cincinnati as part of the deal that brought veteran southpaw John Smiley to the Indians in 1997. That deal turned out to be a disaster for the Tribe, as Smiley broke his arm shortly after the Indians acquired him, while Graves turned in several solid seasons as the Reds' closer, and was even selected to play in two All-Star games. Meanwhile, the Tribe had to console themselves with the weak hitting Jeff Branson, the other player acquired from the Reds in that ill-fated deal.

As bad as that deal was, the deal that sent Karsay to the Atlanta Braves was even worse. Why? Two words: John Rocker. Yup, the Tribe sent Karsay and Steve Reed, another decent right-handed set-up guy, to the Braves in 2001 in exchange for John Rocker. Oh yeah, they got minor leaguer Troy Cameron too. Not the Troy Cameron? Yup, the very same guy who was last seen tearing up the Atlantic League for the Camden Riversharks.

Not quite as bad as Harry Frazee sending Babe Ruth to the Yanks, but these were two awful deals in anybody's book. They were certainly bad enough to draw the ire of the baseball gods, and by undoing them, even belatedly, perhaps the gods will be appeased. If not, then to hell with them. Or, as Pedro Cerrano more eloquently put it in Major League, "Jobu, I stick up for you. I am good to you. If you don't help me now, I say F-you Jobu, I'll do it myself."

Monday, December 19, 2005

You heard it here first

You guys thought that the Rhino (and I) were nuts when we spent an evening drinking and bashing Bret Favre (See the Rhino's Nov. 9th post) . Well, he made us look like geniuses tonight. It's only the third quarter and he's played like he should be benched in favor of Paul McDonald, or at least Mike Pagel.

Give the Rhino props for loudly announcing that the emperor has no clothes.

Browns v. Raiders Redux

That was not an elegant football game yesterday. Two not very good teams slogged through the mud and delivered four quarters of mediocrity. But, the Browns won, so who cares?

I'll take a win any day. I don't want to throw my lot in with the guys who whine about how this moved the Browns down about half a dozen places in the draft and now they won't get A.J. Hawk. That's what fans of a loser sound like--they pray to lose so that their team can get some mythical draft choice who will suddenly turn everything around. I'm tired of that crap. I want to win.

Fans need to realize that overnight turnarounds happen only to teams that have the talent in place and need the right coach to maximize that talent's potential. (Think about teams like this year's version of Notre Dame or the Packers when Lombardi showed up.) The Browns just aren't that kind of team. They've got huge personnel issues, but they are still managing to get better in spite of them. I'm glad they picked up their fifth win for several reasons, but maybe most of all because they've now got tangible proof that they're better than last year's team, which they clearly are.

A few thoughts on the game:

  • Even though I've coached football for several years, I'll confess that defensive backfield play has always mystified me. Coverage assignments can be difficult to figure out, and a mistake that fans attribute to one player may be the fault of another guy, who wasn't where he was supposed to be. So, I'm very tentative in making conclusions about who is good and who is bad. That being said, Leigh Bodden is really impressing the hell out of me. The guy just makes play after play.

  • I'm not ready to have Charlie Frye anointed savior of the franchise just yet (he needs a bit more than a 69.5 QB rating to wear that particular crown), but it's real apparent that the team just plays a lot harder when he's in the game. This kid looks like a natural leader.

  • The Browns defense was just huge yesterday, but it was helped by some brain dead play calling by the Raiders and by a terrible performance by Kerry Collins. Why throw when Jordan's running 8 yards every time he touches the football? If you're going to throw, why not look for Randy Moss every now and again (just a thought)? Moss caught a touchdown pass yesterday, but that was the only ball thrown to him all day--or at least the only one thrown to him that he had a reasonable chance to catch.

  • The refs' call on Droughns non-fumble was inexcusable. What could they possibly have been looking at to rule that a fumble in the first place?

Anyway, on to the Steelers. Honestly, I can't imagine a better Christmas present than having the Browns sink Pittsburgh's playoff hopes, which a win here next week just might do. Pittsburgh delenda est.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Browns 9, Raiders 7

Yeah BABY!!!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Browns v. Raiders

I know that my pal Vinny's a little conflicted about this game. Though he's a die-hard Browns fan, he has fond memories of the Raiders we grew up watching in the 1970s. I guess I'm a little conflicted too, because my Dad always loved the Raiders, and I grew up watching him cheer for them.

There was a lot to cheer about back then. Think about it, was there ever a more consistently exciting team than those Raiders? Every game was a high scoring, hard hitting, three hour commercial for the NFL. Those teams had some unforgettable players. Thirty years later, the names still effortlessly come to mind-- Stabler, Branch, Biletnikoff, Hubbard, Caspar, Shell, Upshaw, Hendricks, Blanda, Tatum, Hayes, Matuszek. Even before the Snake showed up, the Raiders had Daryl Lamonica (a.k.a. the Mad Bomber) heaving the ball to Warren Wells. Hell, with Ray Guy, the Raiders even made punting exciting! Remember Curt Gowdy and Al Derogatis of NBC, who seemed permanently camped out in Oakland for the weekly 4:00 p.m. game? Remember Howard Cosell's weekly intonation of "The Oak-land Al-a-me-da Coun-ty Col-i-ss-eum" during Monday Night's halftime highlights?

Anyway, back to tomorrow's game. On paper, the Browns match up pretty well against Oakland. The Raiders can pass, but they can't run. The Browns defend the pass pretty well, but can't stop the run. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders are as bad as the Browns against the run, while the Browns have Rueben Droughns and an offensive line that's looked better each week. If the Browns can run the ball on offense and get pressure on Collins, I think they've got a shot to win. (Another thing in the plus column for the Browns is the possibility that the Raiders may have decided to pack it in after the loss to the dreadful Jets.)

This would be a nice win to get, because that stadium is no bargain to play in, no matter how bad the Raiders are. I'm going with the Browns, 17-13.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nomar Sets Off the B.S. Meter

This thing's redlining again. Nomar Garciaparra is supposedly trying to decide between the Yankees, Dodgers, Indians and Astros. He reportedly views all of these alleged finalists as "attractive options," and is "weighing them all carefully." See ESPN's article here.

This is a lie. Cleveland is not an option for Mr. Mia Hamm and, apparently, even the Tribe has figured that one out, although they appear delusional as ever about the reasons. The way the Indians' see it, Nomar's not crazy about the prospect of being a right fielder. Yeah, sure, that's probably why he doesn't want to move Mia into a nice four bedroom colonial in Brecksville. I mean, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that the Dodgers are in the mix, and the last time I checked, they played in Los Angeles.

LA is warm, sunny, the second largest city in the nation, an international media and entertainment center and a place where Nomar owns two homes. Granted, it's no Brecksville, but my guess is that something beyond worrying about misjudging fly balls may factor into Garciaparra's decision.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Culture of Losing

"Losing is a contagious as syphilis. "

---The Natural

Sometimes, I RULE!!

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, I have a couple of reasons to throw my hands up in the air and announce "I RULE!!"

First, if you check outl my October 31st post titled "The Cleveland Clowns," you'll find that I told everyone to face the fact that the Browns had a loser's mentality. You only had to wait six weeks to get the identical message from the Beacon Journal's Terry Pluto, who shared this conclusion with everyone on Monday, in a column titled "Losing Culture Plagues Browns."

Second, in early November, I posted about the Browns v. Steelers game. In that post, I commented on the seasonality of Cleveland sports, and pointed out the annual bout of premature Cavs' euphoria had begun, and that the fans' mood, and the Cavs' play, would eventually head south. I said it would take two months, but as the front page of today's PD sports section demonstrates, it took only one (see "Cavs Slide Doesn't Sit Well").

I may be doing only a little better than .500 on the Browns games, but you've gotta gimme some love for these calls. Even putting aside the lesbians in the comment section, Vinny and the Hornless Rhino remains the Cleveland sports fan's best value.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bengals 23, Browns 20: The Hornless Rhino's Excellent Adventure

Frustrating, wasn't it? All I can say is that the Browns are getting better, and for now, this is what getting better looks like. Back-to-back heartbreakers to two of the AFC's best teams don't leave fans feeling happy, but they ought to leave them feeling hopeful. Charlie Frye played tough in a hostile environment, and--along with a couple of tough red zone performances by the Browns' defense--helped give the Browns a chance to win a game that nobody thought they had a shot at.

In the "now it can be told" category, the Hornless Rhino is free to disclose from where he viewed yesterday's game: the Browns' sideline at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Yup, I was on the field as part of the game day staff for the Browns. How cool is that? A buddy of mine knows a guy who works for the Browns, and I guess they sometimes need sideline help at away games. My friend asked if I'd like to help him out at the Bengals game, and after thinking for about one nanosecond, I said "sure."

My job was helping one of the Browns' video guys. The Browns have cameras positioned above the playing field and they take sideline and end zone shots of each play. One photo from each vantage point is taken immediately before the snap, and one is taken immediately afterward. The photos are taken by a member of the Browns' video department, who operates the cameras remotely from a booth in a small vinyl tent behind the team's bench. The photos are then labeled with information about which possession it is, and the down and distance, and are handed to runners who deliver them to appropriate members of the coaching staff after each series. That's where I came in.

We had to get to the stadium two hours before kick-off. We gave our names to a security guy, who matched us up with a list of people who were to get credentials for the game. I saw this list, and it had to have a couple of hundred names on it. After we got our credentials, we pretty much had the run of the place--we even got to go into the Browns' locker room for a few minutes, until one of the Browns' security guys told us we were supposed to meet our contact someplace else. We then hooked up with our contact, who showed us the ropes out on the field. We hung out on the field for a while and watched some of the individual players warm up, and then we moved on up to the press box level of the stadium, where the Bengals put on this incredible spread of food for all of the people working the game, including us.

After pigging out, it was time to get back down on the field. The video guy from the Browns threw a bunch of white parkas with the team name on them at us and told us we had to wear them (there were three of us). He must have also reminded us about 30 times during the game that he needed to get them back at the end of the game. I don't know why he was so worried that we'd walk off with them, other than maybe the fact that this is exactly what we would have done if given half a chance.

For the first half of the game, I was designated to deliver photos to the defensive and offensive line coaches (they get the end zone shots). So, I was running around amongst the Browns, literally a few feet from Charlie Frye, Ruben Droughns, Ryan Tucker and the other players, trying to find an opportune time to shove the photos into the fist of the coach. Yes, it rocked, and yes, I tried very hard to look as cool as possible. That was helped by my parka, which made me look very official.

The second half was harder work. I had to help the video guy tear the photos off the printer and label and staple them. That's work, especially if you're trying to keep up with a team like the Bengals, who spent pretty much the whole afternoon running the no-huddle. Even though we had the game on a monitor in the video tent and the action was only a few feet away, I was so focused on getting the photos done and labelled properly that the first part of the second half was a blur. I finally got comfortable with it by about the end of the third quarter.

What can I tell you about the sidelines? Well, if you've ever played or coached football, the one thing I can tell you is that there are similarities to what you've experienced. Some of the guys who aren't in the game sit around talking about the last series. The offensive guys cheer on the defense. On third down, the coaches warn the special teams guys to get ready to go in. Somebody's always looking for one of the equipment guys to do something for him.

There are some other insights that may not be so commonplace. For example, I can tell you with authority that the official profanity of the NFL is a 12 letter (when used as a noun) compound word that begins with "M" and describes conduct that is illegal in all 50 states. The other thing I can tell you is that I now truly understand why, whenever somebody asks a rookie what the toughest part about of transitioning to the pro game is, the invariable answer is "getting used to the speed of the game." Standing on the sidelines gives you a chance to appreciate that speed much more than you do from the vantage point of even the best seat in the stadium. These guys are just unbelievable athletes, and the speed of the game almost takes your breath away.

When it was over, I turned in my parka, the Browns' guys thanked us for helping, and I began the long trek back to Cleveland. I kept my credential, and grabbed a handful of photos that were printed out but the coaches weren't interested in seeing as a souvenir. Like many of you guys, I spent a lot of time as a kid dreaming of playing on an NFL field. This is as close to that dream as I ever got, but it was still awesome.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Browns v. Bengals

The Bengals just have way too much offensive firepower for the Browns to handle. I think they will win this game by a couple of touchdowns, but it will be interesting to see what the Browns can do against the Bengals' defense, which is among the league's worst.

I think that starting Charlie Frye in Cincinnati is a very good move. Frye's got to show what he can do against a hostile crowd, and the fact that Cincy's defense ain't exactly the Ravens gives him an opportunity to show that he can have some success on the road or that he still has a long way to go. Either way, that's important information for the Browns to have as they begin to think about draft priorities.

Personally, I think Frye will do okay even without Edwards in the lineup. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Browns score 24-28 points in this game, but they've been so horrible on the road lately that it wouldn't surprise me to see them score 3 points either. In honor of the late Bud Carson, I'm going to go with my gut feeling and say that they show some offense tomorrow: Bengals 38, Browns 24.

The Hornless Rhino is now signing off for the remainder of the weekend. I will be traveling to an undisclosed location for the Browns game (I'll let you know if I see Dick Cheney), but will tell you all about my adventures when I return.

Ugliest Uniform in College Football

This is what the well dressed Oregon Duck football player is wearing this year. The Ducks have a long tradition of hideous uniforms (the banana yellow version has to be seen to be believed), but this looks like what James Caan wore in Rollerball.

You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to outdo teams like Virginia Tech, which gets a massive head start on the rest of college football in any ugly contest based on its bizarre maroon and orange color scheme alone, or "The U," which seems to hold annual clown suit contests in search of the strangest possible uniforms to throw on their players. Yet, I think it is fair to say that the Ducks have overcome all of the obstacles to become the hands-down winner. Congratulations Ducks!

I hope this award is a consolation to the literally dozens of Duck fans across the nation who are so bitterly disappointed that the rest of the country didn't want to see you play in the Fiesta Bowl. Perhaps next time, you'll want to build a 10-1 record off of somebody a little more challenging than Houston and Montana State, and at least try not to get lapped by USC. You remember them don't you? They're the ones who needed 59:57 to overcome Notre Dame, and they're also the ones who beat you in your own house, 45-13.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Surf in Cleveland

The Tribe was dissed again yesterday by a big name relief pitcher. This time, it was Trevor Hoffman who told the Indians that he just wanted to be friends, opting for a two-year, $13.5 million deal to stay with the Padres. However, Hoffman went out of the way to let us know it's not us, it's him, and that lots of girls would really, really love to go out with a nice guy like us. Check it out here.

If your own B.S. meter isn't redlining on this one people, you need to get it adjusted. Hoffman may be letting us down easy with his mealy mouthed line of crap, but any way you slice it, what he's really saying is "you're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

So, it looks like we're going to the prom with the fat girl again (no offense Wickie).

Hope Vinny's right about the trading market, because the Euclid Beach Band had the problem with free agency pegged years ago:

And man we can't impress the girls on the beach
The way they do out in LA
Cause there's no surf in Cleveland
There's just no surf in Cleveland U.S.A.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bud Carson

Bud Carson passed away today. As you'll undoubtedly recall, Bud coached the Browns during the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He led those near-great 1980s Browns to their last moment of glory, a memorable 34-30 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a January 1990 playoff game. That game, which the Browns won when Clay Matthews intercepted a Jim Kelly pass in the end zone with seconds remaining, is still the most exciting football game I've ever attended in person (I was in the west end zone, so Clay's INT happened right in front of me).

Of course, the 1989 Browns were running on fumes. They were blown out the following week in the AFC Championship by Elway and the Broncos. The Browns were catastrophically bad (3-13) during the 1990 season, and poor Bud barely made it to November. Modell fired him on November 5th, the day after they were annihilated by those same Bills, 42-0, and replaced him with interim coach Jim Shofner. Browns fans will recall that this was the game where Bud opted to start Mike Pagel instead of Bernie Kosar at QB, because he "had a gut feeling."

Bud had his troubles in Cleveland, but he will be remembered as one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history. His most notable achievement was building the Steel Curtain defense for the Steelers of the 1970s. That's enough for any coach's career to be regarded as a success.

Vinny's Pearl Harbor Day Post Deserves a Picture

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

That's what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Check out his speech.

It's simple. It's direct. It's eloquent.


Poor Mark Shapiro. He's already spent Larry Dolan's money and has damn little to show for it. The $7 Million he's going to pay Paul Byrd for each of the next two years is part of the $21 Million they had earmarked for Matt Clement last year. Kevin Millwood ate the first year, but he's now looking for a four-year deal worth $44 Million. All those people who think Larry Dolan will loosen the purse strings for that one, raise your hands.

I thought not.

However, there is hope. Due to the crappy free agents available, this should be a pretty active Hot Stove season for trades. GM's get scared when they don't take action. They all have to do something to justify their existence. You know someone will do something really stupid soon. I've read that the Cubs are entertaining offers for Mark Prior. I've always thought Dusty Baker was a piss poor manager. He is ridiculously overrated. But, if he allows the team to trade Prior, he's simply an idiot.

That being said, I'd be happy if Shapiro called that idiot and pantsed him. Now Tina don't be upset. I have nothing against the Cubs. In fact, I actually root for them in the National League, but I'd really like the Indians to have Mark Prior. After all, you know that if he stayed in Chicago, that genius of a manager would ruin his arm before his 27th birthday.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Jags 20, Browns 14

My head hurts. Before we get to the game though, the news on Braylon Edwards can be summed up in three letters: ACL. See you next year Braylon, maybe.

It used to be that the list of the world's most hazardous professions included things like astronaut and firefighter. However, based on experience, you've got to add being a Cleveland Browns #1 pick to that list. Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, William Green, Courtney Brown--the parade of walking wounded stretches back even before the Browns left town.

What's even more scary, however, is that Browns' #1 picks have an alarming tendency to...let's see, how can I put this.., um, well, die. Seriously, think about guys like Eric Turner, Don Rogers and, most famously, Ernie Davis. All of these poor souls died well before their time. While Eric Turner had a solid career and even made the Pro Bowl in 1994, Rogers and Davis are on every Browns fan's short list of "what ifs?" It probably isn't too much of a stretch to say that if Cleveland had Ernie Davis to go with Jim Brown back in the 60s, and Don Rogers roaming the secondary with Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield back in the 80s, there might well have been a few more titles in this town. What might have been...

Anyway, the Browns game was extremely frustrating, because they certainly had every opportunity to win that game. Lots of positives: a decent job by Frye, the ability to move the ball on the ground some against the Jags, the best performance by the O-line all season, and a nice performance by the defense, with the exception of the 3rd quarter. Even then, you can't fault the D entirely for what happened in the 3rd quarter--field position played a big role in their downfall.

One of biggest problems the Browns had yesterday was their inability to adjust to the blitz in the second half. The Browns' coaching staff is taking some heat from fans for play calling, but I think that's not entirely fair. They tried to make adjustments, but the players didn't execute. They tried to run a screen or two, but those plays depend so much on timing, they are very difficult to run with a makeshift offensive line. They also tried to adjust to the blitz by going to three step drops, but Jacksonville played press coverage and, for the most part, tied up the Browns' receivers very effectively. Meanwhile, Frye became his own worst enemy by holding onto the ball for way too long. You can't sit there with happy feet on a three step drop. If somebody isn't open right away, tuck it in and run or throw it away.

I do think it is fair to criticize the way they approached the running game, both in the first and second half. The Browns don't use a lot of deception or misdirection in their running attack. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for trick plays, but I do think that they need to trap and counter more than they do. They've got a bull as their feature back, and so they opt more for the straight ahead power running game. When they do attack the outside, they rely almost totally on the zone stretch play. That is a particularly questionable decision in conditions like those in which yesterday's game was played. The zone stretch play is designed to stretch the defense laterally, thereby creating cutback lanes for the ball carrier to attack. A slippery field makes it very difficult to cut sharply and attack the gaps created by the play. Droughns is a stud, but I can't help but think they aren't capitalizing on his talent as much as they might.

Still, I don't think their inability to adjust to the blitz or the play calling was as much of a factor in the loss as field position, which I think was critical. Jacksonville played with a short field on each of its first two scoring drives of the second half, starting the first on its own 49 and the second on the Browns' 42. For that matter, even though the final touchdown drive started with Jacksonville on its own 21, a 46 yard pass interference penalty put the Jags in business in Browns' territory. You can't consistently give a playoff team a short field and not pay dearly for it. If nothing else, the Browns learned that lesson yesterday.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Browns v. Jaguars

I started out this blog 3-0 on my Browns predictions, and since then, I'm 2-5. I'm a dismal 1-4 over the last five weeks. I was getting a little depressed when I came to the realization that I stink as bad as the Browns. So, I did what I always do when I'm feelin' a little blue. I went right out and put my "Free to Be You and Me" CD in the stereo. I don't know about you guys, but whenever I listen to Rosey Grier croon, "It's Alright to Cry," well, I just feel so good about myself I just want to burst!

Who needs Stuart Smalley when you've got Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda and Dick Cavett to perk you up?

By the way, in case any of your kids tell you that we had it easy in the 1970s, feel free to remind them that we had to deal with crap like this. Anyway, back to the Browns v. Jags.

It's the 12th game of the season, Leftwich is out, so David Garrard will get the start. Although I've seen Fred Taylor listed as probable, the most recent stuff I've seen says he's out too, so Greg Jones will probably get most of the carries. I've lost interest in who is going to start at QB for the Browns. It's going to be cold and snowy, so I expect both teams lean heavily on the running game.

Unfortunately, the expected game plan doesn't favor the Browns, as their defense ranks 28th against the run in the NFL. Jacksonville's in the middle of the pack on run defense, but if the Browns can't move the ball on the ground, God help them. Jacksonville has the top-rated defense against the pass in the NFL, so this one could get ugly if the Browns fall behind early.

If the Browns do get pass happy, I expect that while Dilfer may start the game, but he won't finish it. Jacksonville is tied with the Steelers for 3rd in the AFC in sacks and ranks second in interceptions.

Jacksonville 19, Browns 3.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Health update

Barry Bonds said that he's going to "lose weight" in an effort to take some pressure off his knee. He wants to drop about 35 pounds to get to an even 200. That's going to be either easier or harder since his "nutritionist," Victor Conte, just began his jail term for distributing illegal steroids. Without Conte's help, I suspect Bonds will use the same "diet" that helped Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa and Pudge Rodriguez all lose about 35 pounds this past year---the first year of random steroid testing.

I'm sure one has nothing to do with the other.

Fear the Roo

They play in one of college football's strangest venues: a decrepit 65-year old stadium dug into the side of a hill next to the soap box derby track, and across from a blimp hangar. They have one of college football's most inexplicable nicknames, and their mascot is a kangaroo. They get their players by signing the ones no other D-1 program wants, and until very recently, they practiced on a patch of dirt that they had to be bused 25 minutes to reach. Once, when one of the guys I coach with was playing there, the bus actually caught fire on the way back from practice. Ah, the glamor of Division I sports!

But last night, compliments of a thrilling fourth quarter comeback capped by a 36-yard strike from Luke Getsy to Domenik Hixon with 10 seconds left to play, the Akron Zips defeated Northern Illinois 31 to 30 to claim the MAC championship, and a spot in their very first Division I bowl game. Way to go, Zips -- you've done your home town proud.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

NFL Truths and Myths has a series of articles providing a statistical analysis of the truth or falsity of some of football's truisms. The analysis was conducted by Jeremy Green, who was the Browns' director of pro personnel under the old regime. He broke the truisms down into two categories: sins that probably will cost you the game; and myths that frequently won't.

The "sins" category includes few surprises, but it is interesting to note that, statistically speaking, the second biggest indicator of a likely loss was, believe it or not, trailing at the end of the first quarter. Teams that trail after a quarter lose 75% of the time--only teams that lose the turnover battle end up on the losing end of the scoreboard more frequently (81% of the time).

In the "myths" category, the one thing that surprised me is that penalties aren't much of an indicator. The team with the most penalties lost 54% of the time, according to Green's data.

There are three articles, and you can find them here, here and here.

Ho, Ho, Ho

It's December, kiddies, and that means it's time to buy stuff. The first thing you should buy, if you don't already own it, is your very own copy of the heartwarming holiday classic, Bad Santa. As far as I'm concerned, you can keep George Bailey and Ralphie, for me, it ain't Christmas without Billy Bob Thornton. Billy Bob's a drunken reprobate who, along with his midget sidekick, annually gets a department store Santa and elf gig for the sole purpose of robbing the store blind after closing on Christmas Eve.

Thornton's performance was made even more compelling by the fact that he's admitted to being half in the bag during shooting. I love that, but I love most things about Billy Bob. I guess that self-important wind bag who hosts "Inside the Actors Studio" interviewed Thornton on his show. I didn't see it, but when I think of what the interview must have been like, I can't help picturing something like the last scene in Sling Blade.

In addition to Thornton and his sidekick, Tony Cox, the film features hilarious performances by Bernie Mac and John Ritter, as well as the most bizarre kid character ever committed to film. Trust me on this, "Thurman Merman" has to be seen to be believed.

You will hate yourself for watching this nasty, vulgar, crude, foul-mouthed, depraved, prurient masterpiece, but you'll get over it. Oh, and when I say "foul-mouthed," I mean really, really foul-mouthed--to the tune of, according to IMDB's website, an incredible 147 F Bombs amid a total of 243 "profanities"in slightly more than an hour and a half. Do the math--that's almost three profanities per minute. So, definitely send the kids to bed for this one. But once you do, pop some popcorn, throw another log on the fire and put Bad Santa in the DVD player this weekend.

You'll hate yourself in the morning, but you probably would anyway, so you might as well have a few laughs.