Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Sweet Science seems a little sweeter tonight.

In a huge upset unanticipated by anyone outside of Youngstown, Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik pummeled Jermain Taylor into a TKO in the seventh round tonight to become the undisputed Middleweight Champion of the World.

Before the fight, Taylor's trainer, Emanuel Steward, said it would be a good fight...for one round. He predicted that Pavlik would get knocked out no later than the second. He was almost prophetic. Taylor, who's a tough fighter and who whipped a pretty impressive list of fighters to get the crown, almost made it happen. In the second, Taylor literally pounded Pavlik down to the canvas with a flurry of big rights. On all fours, Pavlik looked stunned, but shoved himself up for more punishment. Somehow he survived the round. He rallied in the third and actually scored a few points. But, by the fifth, he was bleeding from his nose and mouth, and it looked like Taylor would run away with it.

But wait! In the seventh, Pavlik caught Taylor with a short right and followed with a brutal left uppercut. Taylor went down, and just like that, it was over. Now, Pavlik's name is part of the list of famous guys from Youngstown---not including criminals. This one too. If you check out the lists, you'll see a few other fighters from the area---Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Earnie Shavers, Jeff Lampkin and Harry Arroyo, and even the Plain Dealer knows that Youngstown definitely loves its fighters. They love Youngstown too. Or, at least Kelly Pavlik does.

Immediately after the fight, he thanked God and Youngstown, Ohio.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Been There. Done That. Got the T-Shirt.

Wanna know my favorite thing about the Tribe winning the AL Central? It's the handsome sportswear that I get to add to my wardrobe.

Yes, I'm a 45 year old man who runs around in t-shirts with my teams' names on them, and I can't get enough of the ones that say "champions." It drives my wife nuts, because once I get one of these on my grotesque torso, I wear it until it falls apart.

Seriously, I wore a 1995 Cleveland Indians AL Champions t-shirt until about two years ago. It had so many holes in it that it looked more like a rag than a shirt, but my wife was only able to pry it off my back by reminding me that I would still have a 1997 AL Champions shirt to wear, not to mention all those Divisional Champions t-shirts.

As soon as anybody from this town wins anything, I race out and buy a shirt, or a hat, or probably both, proclaiming their triumph and my undying affection for them for all the world to see. To make matters worse, I'm not just an adult championship t-shirt junkie, I'm one of those sad individuals who owns a Browns jersey that not only has his own name on the back, but also his high school number! Pretty nifty, huh?

When I'm not wearing these, I'm wearing shirts from the various schools I went to, and once it gets cold, I replace these with hoodies. Seriously.

You probably think I'm pretty pathetic. Okay, so I have some issues. But you'll pry my Cavs' Eastern Conference Champions t-shirt from my cold, dead fingers, and the same will be said for this little beauty, one XXL edition of which is currently being packed on the UPS truck and headed for my house.

Let's hope it's the first in a complete set of three. Go Tribe!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It Didn't Start With Red Right 88

The Cleveland Browns travel to Oakland today to take on the 0-2 Raiders. As every Cleveland fan knows only too well, the Browns have an unpleasant history with the Raiders, but what some fans may not know is that the unpleasantness didn't start with Red Right 88. The Browns and their fans had their hearts broken by the Raiders the very first time that the two teams met.

The Cleveland Browns first played the Oakland Raiders on November 8, 1970. The game turned out to be a wild affair that the Raiders won, 23-20, on a last second field goal by 43-year old George Blanda. That game was one of an amazing series of comebacks led by Blanda that season, and helped to propel the Raiders to the AFC Championship game. At the same time, the Browns' loss helped to ensure that the team missed the postseason for the first time since 1963 (okay, I'm counting the 1967 Playoff Bowl).

The Browns led the Raiders 17-13 when they knocked Daryl Lamonica out of the game early in the 4th quarter, and they increased that lead to 20-13 on a Don Cockroft field goal with a little more than four minutes to play. It was at this point that Lamonica's replacement, kicker and backup QB George Blanda, went to work. Blanda lead the Raiders on a 70 yard drive that included a 17 yard pass to Fred Biletnikoff on 4th and 16, and culminated in a touchdown pass to Warren Wells.

The Browns got the ball back with 1:34 to play, but the Browns promptly turned the ball over when Bill Nelsen threw an interception, and the Raiders had a chance for the winning score. However, the Cleveland defense stiffened, and the Raiders were forced to try a 52 yard field goal. Blanda had only kicked two field goals longer than that distance in his entire career, but nevertheless, he struck the ball squarely from his own 48 yard line (the goal posts were on the goal line back then, remember?) and drilled it through the uprights as time expired.

Blanda's heroics continued the next week against Denver, where his touchdown pass in the last minute of play led the Raiders to a 24-19 victory. The following week, he kicked a late field goal to beat the Chargers, 20-17. The team finished 8-4-2 that year, and counting an appearance against the Steelers, when he relieved an injured Lamonica with the score tied 7-7 and led the Raiders to a 31-14 victory, and a last second, 48 yard field goal to tie the Chiefs, Blanda's miracles saved the Raiders from five defeats in 1970. Not bad for a guy that the Raiders tried to waive at the beginning of the season.

The Browns went 7-7 that season, which was the worst record in franchise history up until that time. To make matters worse, Paul Brown's bastard child, the Cincinnati Bengals, ended up winning the inaugural AFC Central title. That was a depressing start to what turned out to be a depressing decade for the Cleveland Browns.

The loss to the Raiders in 1970 was a small but memorable component in the Browns slow decline. Today, just maybe, the Browns have a chance to take a small step in the opposite direction, as they seek their first back to back victories in the same season since 2003. I think there are two key questions that have to be answered in assessing the Browns' prospects today. The first is whether the Browns offense that we saw last week is for real, or just the Crennel regime's version of the dead cat bounce. If there really is some spark in the offense, then the second question is whether the defensive line can slow LaMont Jordan down enough to prevent the game from turning into a track meet?

My own take is that the offense isn't going to score 51 points this week, but that the improvement on the offensive line isn't a mirage. That means that Jamal Lewis will be able to run effectively against a Raider defense that's been pretty unimpressive during the first two weeks of the season. If that's the case, then the rest of the playbook opens up and the Browns are going to be in the game. However, Cleveland's defense stinks, and I think we are looking at the potential for another track meet.

I don't like the prospects of trying to win by trading scores all afternoon in front of a hostile crowd, so I'm going to give the nod to the Raiders, 31-27.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

They Don't Come to Play, They Come to Win

This is shaping up to be another vintage year for Ohio high school football, and the team in the white helmets and jerseys pictured to the left is a big part of the reason why.

That's Youngstown's own Cardinal Mooney, a Division IV team that no Division I team in their right mind wants to tangle with. I'm an Archbishop Hoban fan, so I selected this picture from their game with Mooney as the one that I'd include with this post. That's because it shows the Knights shutting down #5 Taylor Hill and fighting off the block of #9 Michael Zordich.

Unfortunately, events like those depicted in this photo didn't happen much that night, as Mooney defeated Hoban 34-0, largely as a result of the contributions of Messrs. Hill and Zordich and their backfield mate, QB Dan McCarthy.

But that's no reflection on the Knights -- who've played a brutal schedule to open the season -- just like it was no reflection on the then #10 ranked team in the country, Gateway (Pa), when Mooney throttled them 27-6 a week earlier, and just like it was no reflection on Mentor, the #1 team in the Plain Dealer Top 25, when they fell to the Cardinals 21-10 in their season opener.

How good is Mooney? The three guys who played in the backfield the night I saw them are all going to high level Division I programs. Dan McCarthy is following his brother Kyle to Notre Dame, Taylor Hill is heading to Oklahoma, and Michael Zordich is following his dad's footsteps (his father is former Philadelphia Eagles safety Mike Zordich) and heading to Penn State.

The scariest thing is that as outstanding as these three guys are, I'm told that none of them is the team's best player. That honor apparently goes to RB/LB Brandon Beachum, who's also Penn State bound.

I've seen a fair amount of high school football over the years, and have watched some pretty impressive squads -- including the magnificent St. Ignatius teams of the early 1990s, and I've got to say that Mooney is a worthy successor to them.

Cardinal Mooney is getting noticed nationally as well. They were 25th in the nation in USA Today's preseason poll, and are ranked 11th in its most recent poll. Max Preps ranks them even higher, anointing the Cardinals as the nation's 5th best team.

If you look at the national two polls, you'll see that St. Xavier from Cincinnati tops the Max Preps poll and ranks second in the USA Today poll. Hat's off to St. X, but with all due respect, Cardinal Mooney's the better story. Nobody's surprised when an elite Jesuit prep school turns out a powerhouse football team, but when a small diocesan school from the most beaten down city in a beaten down state does it, and does it year after year, that's news. It's the same reason why Glenville's football miracle is such a great story. There's just something about a team from the wrong side of the tracks that kicks ass and takes names that makes you want to stand up and cheer -- okay, not when it's your team's ass that gets kicked, but you know what I mean.

My guess is that although they play a brutal schedule that includes such formidable foes as Cleveland's own Benedictine and Bishop Watterson from Columbus, the Cardinals will cruise into the playoffs. But their path to a state title may not be as easy as it was last season. Realignment has dropped mighty Steubenville from Division III to Division IV, and a Mooney v. Steubenville match-up could be looming on the horizon. If you get tickets to that one, I'll trade you tickets to any two Browns games for them.

Now I'm not naive about how football talent gets to places like Mooney, but you know what? I don't really care very much either. Youngstown is a place that needs something to cheer about, and Mooney's success in recent years has its fans not only cheering, but positively strutting. When I watched Mooney play Hoban, I saw Mooney fans wearing t-shirts that said "Cardinal Mooney" on the front and the slogan "We didn't come to play, we came to win" on the back.

I've seen them play, and you can take that slogan to the bank.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Come From Behind Win!

The Tribe started their half of the eighth down 5-2. By the time the dust cleared in the eleventh, the Tribe posted a tough and very important 6-5 win over the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta banged a couple of homers along the way, and Casey Blake ended it with a shot over the left field wall.

The hitters get all the credit, but tip your hats to the relievers. They battled to keep the Tigers in check until the bats could get going.

This was a really good night. Just when the Tigers started creeping back in to the playoff picture, the Tribe came up big and smacked 'em down.

Return of the House of Thrills

I am extremely disappointed that the Browns did not live up to my expectations (84-0, as you may recall). Nevertheless, I'll take the win.

In all sincerity, "wow!" Remember, it took the Cleveland Browns almost four full games last season to score as many points as they scored yesterday. In fact, yesterday's offensive outburst alone would've accounted for almost 20% of the points (276) that the team scored all of last season, and almost 15% of all of the yardage (4,233 yards) that the team gained last season.

Any way you look at it, the offensive numbers are just beyond belief. The Cleveland Browns threw five touchdown passes and gained 226 yards rushing (216 from Jamal Lewis). Are you kidding me? As the numbers bear out, the offensive line's performance was, in a word, tremendous.

And you know what else? It was thrilling. Yeah, that's in large part because the defense stunk, but it was still thrilling. That's saying something, because in some respects the worst part about the Browns performance hasn't been the losses, but how they've managed to bore us all to death on their way to them. Most of their games have needed a laugh track, and on those rare occasions when they have won, the games have usually been snore-fests. That sure wasn't the case yesterday.

Even the old time fan attitude was back. Chad Johnson jumps into the Pound and gets doused with beer? Those are the Cleveland fans that I remember.

For now, I'm eating a little crow, just like almost everybody else who fancies themselves a football pundit. After a week like this, who would've thought that the Pumpkin Heads would come out and play like that? Romeo and Phil definitely had the last laugh of the week yesterday.

As for me, all I can say is that if this is what crow tastes like, I'd like seconds.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wow! The Rhino is a genius.

When he said the Browns would win, I thought he was joking. Damn, that guy is just brilliant. He knew that Charlie Frye was killing 'em. He described just how detrimental Frye was to winning to the proverbial T. About the only thing the Rhino got wrong in his post was that the Browns would score 84 points. They didn't, but I'll take the 51 they posted any time.

All hail the Rhino.

Woof Woof!

The Bengals come to town today looking for a quick and easy win. They'll get the win, but it might not be as easy as everyone seems to think. I'm not gonna do something nuts like predict a Browns' victory, but the Bengals' health raises a few uncertainties about the team. Their offensive line was really beaten up last year, and they haven't really figured out how to use Levi Brown. So, the running game's a little suspect. However, the passing game is not. Carson Palmer will be throwing darts all over the field. If Poole, Jones, Holly and Bodden play like they did against the F***ing Steelers, it's gonna be a long, long day. Carson Palmer is a killer. But, I've got a good feeling.

I think the defense will respond. They'll play a solid game. The problem is that Derrek Anderson isn't going to put enough points on the board or move the ball enough to keep Palmer off the field. The end result is the Browns lose, as expected. I just think the defense makes Palmer and the O work for the win.

The score will be something like 31-24. Have a nice afternoon.

Me, I'll be at the Tribe game.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Time to Appease The Baseball Gods

Vinny's optimism about the Indians is making me very, very nervous. He almost gave me a heart attack when he said they could start printing playoff tickets. Now he's all jolly again this morning over last night's hard-fought win.

Like everybody else, I desperately want to see the Tribe in the playoffs this year, but I also don't want to be blamed if Vinny's sunny postings provoke the always fickle baseball gods.

So, I'll light some incense and share my rum with Jobu (pictured left), and sprinkle a little mindless negativity around in order to counteract the potentially devastating effects of Vinny's positive thinking.

The Tribe sucks. The Tribe will choke. The Tribe sucks. The Tribe will choke.

Suck. Suck. Suck. Choke. Choke. Choke. Choke. Choke. Hell, I'll even throw up a picture of Ozzie for emphasis.

There. That ought to do it. If the Tribe wins the Division, remember to give me all of the credit. If they lose, blame Vinny. We all know that at this point, the players and manager have nothing to do with it. It's all about me appeasing the baseball gods. Well that, plus my lucky hat.

The Browns Are Playoff Bound!

I've got to admit that I was a little skeptical about the Browns decision to become the first team in modern NFL history to trade their starting QB the day after the first game of the season. However, I watched Phil Savage's press conference, and now I know that the team is in good hands.

Before I heard Phil, I assumed that the team's decision was a sign of panic, and a pathetic effort by an extremely insecure GM and head coach to pander to fan sentiment. But then Phil spoke, and my eyes were opened. True, Phil was on record as saying that if Charlie Frye wasn't the greatest thing since the universal remote, Savage would be out as GM by 2008, but he made it clear that that was then, and this is now.

I also was operating under the assumption that this trade represented a fundamental change in the team's plan for the 2007 season, during which Brady Quinn would be given the opportunity to develop his skills over time. Fortunately, I was wrong about that too. As Phil noted, the team's plan hadn't changed, it had merely been "adjusted."

Don't worry about Quinn, Anderson is the starter, and he has the full support of Savage and Crennel. Brady Quinn won't be rushed into the game until the offensive line has had a few games to jell and the team is able to establish some kind of a running game. The only circumstance in which Quinn would replace Anderson would be if the Browns turn the ball over or are forced to punt at some point during the Bengals game, and you've got to admit, that's a pretty far fetched scenario.

I guess I could get all cynical about this, but let's face it, Phil's earned the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is the personnel wizard who shrewdly drafted Braylon Edwards and signed Kevin Shaffer and Ted Washington as free agents. So forget cynicism-- I'm all in for Phil and Romeo's excellent adventure.

All I can say is watch out, Cincinnati! Now that everything's straightened out, I predict great things for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday. Here's why:

  • The fundamental problem with the Browns has always been the quarterback position, and Charlie Frye in particular. Now that the team's in the able hands of Derek Anderson, the real brilliance of Coach Chudzinski's offensive schemes will shine through.
  • The problems experienced by the offensive line last week, and every week for the past eight years, are again attributable to Charlie Frye's incompetence as a quarterback. Sure, Frye did not join the team until 2005, but that's exactly the kind of excuse we'd expect to see from the die-hard Frye apologists, and one that knowledgeable fans will disregard.
  • Frye also no longer hamstrings the Browns' defense. Is there anyone who seriously contends that Ben Roethlisberger would have thrown four touchdown passes last weekend if Anderson or Quinn had been the starting QB? At this point, I also can't see how anyone could argue that the defensive line won't be a lot better with Charlie Frye out of the mix.
  • Did you know that since the Browns returned to Cleveland, the only game in which a punter ever dropped a perfect snap was one that Charlie Frye started? True, he wasn't in the game during that play, but that doesn't mean it isn't his fault.
  • Also, last week was the only time in Browns history, and perhaps in the history of football, that a team had four penalties called against it in a single play. Who was the starting QB when that happened? You guessed it, Charlie Frye. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Speaking of coincidences, don't you find it interesting that General Petraeus told us that we were winning in Iraq and that Continental Airlines announced a $50 million expansion in Cleveland the day after Frye was traded? Hmmm.
  • Now that Frye's gone, look for Gary Baxter and LeCharles Bentley to return to the lineup very shortly and to contend for spots in this year's Pro Bowl.
Now that the anchor around the Cleveland Browns has been removed, the team will be able to achieve the greatness that fans expect from a team with that's just loaded with world class talent, thanks to the Savage brain trust. You know, I pity the Cincinnati Bengals. I really do.

Browns 84, Bengals 0.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Guttin' it out.

The Indians won tonight 5-4, after being down 4-1 after six innings. There were lots of heroes. Franklin Guiterriez and Victor Martinez each homered to drag the Indians back into the game, and then Casey Blake cranked the first pitch he saw from David Riske over the wall to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Rafael Betancourt and Joe Borowski worked a scoreless inning each to give the good guys a chance for late inning heroics.

That was exactly the kind of tough win this team needed to get ready for the playoffs.

Their magic number is now 9.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On being a Browns fan

Shortly after the Browns returned in '99, I bought a little Browns shirt for my nephew. Like a lot of other dads, the Rhino raided his kids' college funds and bought 4 PSL's that gave him the privilege of paying for season tickets.

"Seems like I'm caught up in your trap again.
Seems like I'll be wearing the same old chains."

That huckster from Youngstown, Carmen Policy, peddled the renaissance of the team all over Ohio and immediately started talking about the playoffs. The talk shows and their callers started talking about renewing the rivalries with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and just shitting all over Baltimore.

"Good will conquer Evil. And the truth will set me free. And I know someday I will find the key. I know somewhere I will find the key. "

Dwight and Carmen drafted a batch of stiffs and criminals. They wasted the extra picks the Browns received to ease the transition back. Pittsburgh destroyed the Browns in the opener.

"Seems like I've been playing your game way too long. Seems the game I 've played has made you strong."

They hired Butch Davis after he broke his promise to his players and bosses at Miami. Tim Couch cried. The Browns lost more and more and more. Art Friggin Modell won a Super Bowl. Despite everything, the fans kept showing up, kept buying t-shirts and as much Browns gear as they could grab.

"When the game is over I won't walk out the loser. I know I'll walk out of here again. I know someday I'll walk out of here again."

They finally cleaned house and got rid of Policy and Clark. Butch kept making lousy draft picks and just kept losing. They got rid of Butch too. Everyone hoped for the best with the new regime. After all, it had to get better. There was no other way to go.

"Well now I'm Trapped.
OOh yeah. Trapped.
OOh yeah. Trapped.

Seems like I'vebeen sleeping in your bed too long.
Seems like you've been meaning to do me harm."

They hired Romeo, who had no head coaching experience. The only thing he's done is made losing the norm. He had to flip a coin to figure out which player was best for the single-most important position on the field. About 20 minutes of this year's home opener apparently proved him dead wrong.
But, the Browns keep making money, big, big money, even though the team is a laughingstock.

I knew all that, and I watched. I watched on Sunday with a flicker of hope in my chest. I watched "knowing" they were going to lose, but hoping I was wrong. The next day, I read the fishwrap about them. Now, they're dangling Brady out there as the savior. He's all they've got left. I'll probably continue to watch to see him when he starts. He's another agent of heartbreak, just disguised with a pretty smile.

"But I'll teach my eyes to see beyond these walls in front of me.
Someday I'll walk out of here again.
Someday I'll walk out of here again."

~~~Italicized lyrics from "Trapped" by B. Springsteen

Respite from the idiocy

My pal can tell you all about the nuttiness and disarray in Berea, but how 'bout a little good news?

The Tribe put it to the ChiSox last night 8-3 to extend their lead over the Tigers to 6 1/2 games. They also reduced their "magic number" to 11. That means any combination of Indians' wins or Tigers' losses which totals 11 clinches the division for the good guys.

How did they get there? After all, on August 15th they'd slipped into a dead heat with the Tigers for the lead. Well, since that time, the Tribe has won 20 of 26 games. They've done it with very good all-around pitching and a few well-timed hits. Last night Paul Byrd quietly became the Tribe's third 15 game winner this year. He's never exciting, but he seems to give the Indians a legitimate shot to win on most nights. Of course, Sabathia and Carmona have emerged as guys anyone would want at the front of a rotation. The Indians are lucky to have both of them. The bullpen's been good enough. Borowski scares the hell out of every Cleveland fan when he takes the mound, but for the most part, he's gotten the job done. The set-up guys have been great. They've done a terrific job of "shortening the game."

The hitting during the last 26 games hasn't been spectacular, but it's been effective. Asdrubal Cabrera's really been a shot in the arm for the offense, Garko has been really hot lately, and Victor has methodically driving in runs when he's had the chance. Only Hafner's been disappointing at the dish, but he looked tough last night, driving in three.

The Tribe has 17 games left, and after today's afternoon game in ChiTown, they come home for nine games and then finish on the road in Seattle and Kansas City.

In a gross tempt of fate, I'd start printing the playoff tickets.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Utter Chaos

Will somebody please bring the NFL back to Cleveland?

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more embarrassing to be a Cleveland Browns fan, the Browns remind you that there is no limit when it comes to fan humiliation.

According to the latest reports, Charlie Frye, the winner of a QB competition that the Browns wasted their entire training camp on, is about to receive his one way ticket to Palookaville. Yup, Frye's reportedly out -- as in out of a job, out of town, and maybe out of the league (update: he's a Seahawk). Ken Dorsey's back in, undoubtedly to serve as a mentor to Brady Quinn, Browns QB of the future, or next week, or whatever.

This is what pressing the panic button looks like. I can't begin to tell you how much confidence in the Savage and Crennel regime this inspires in me. Here we go Brownies! Here we go! WOOF! WOOF!

Send in the Clowns. There ought to be Clowns. Don't bother, they're here.

Just Bill Being Bill

The NFL is reportedly investigating claims that the New England Patriots spied on the New York Jets coaching staff during last weekend's game in order to intercept defensive signals being sent from coaches in the booth. This clandestine activity apparently has been part of the Patriots game plan for quite some time, and this time, it might cost them a draft pick.

Bill Belichick's personal reputation has taken a few lumps in recent weeks. First, there was his Clintonesque response to questions surrounding his knowledge of steroid use among his players, then came the dust-up about his efforts to cut a back-alley personnel deal with Vikings coach Brad Childress, and now these accusations.

That Bill and his team would engage in this kind of conduct comes as no surprise to those of us who remember the Belichick era here in Cleveland. The only thing that's surprising is that the media is finally starting to notice. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Since Belichick left Cleveland, he's developed into the greatest football coach of his generation. But Bill was a shifty little dirt bag back then, and it looks like he remains one today. If you want a great reminder of that, be sure to read the late David Halberstam's hagiography of the Little Man, and his discussion of Bill's tenure here in Cleveland in particular.

In the Gospel According to Belichick's Ghostwriter, everything that happened to Bill in Cleveland was just a result of a series of unfortunate events. Kosar's skills had diminished, Art Modell undermined Bill, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah. None of that bothered me too much, but the spin that the book put on the decision to release Bernie Kosar was downright infuriating.

Without getting into the merits of the diminishing skills argument, we all know that there's a two word response to it: Todd Philcox. Nowhere in the pages of Halberstam's book does this guy's name surface, but Vinny Testaverde had injured his shoulder a week earlier, so that's who became Bill's starter when he decided to turn Kosar loose. No matter how far Bernie's skills had deteriorated, he was still light years ahead of Philcox. The Browns were 5-3 at the time of Bernie's departure, and under Philcox's able guidance, they went 0-4 before Testaverde returned to salvage a couple of wins. Funny, those aspects of the story don't get mentioned in the book either.

The bottom line is that by cutting Kosar when he did, the Little Man decided to tank the 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. That's simply outrageous by any standard, but that aspect of the situation was completely glossed over in the book, while fan outrage at Bill was dismissed with this insulting bit of psychobabble:

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, Cleveland fans, we're all a bunch of repressed wife beaters.

Now the little creep has three Super Bowl rings, not to mention 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.

It's starting to look like Bill and his henchmen might finally be in line for a little karmic payback. If it comes, it will be too little, too late for Browns fans, but the thought of Bill Belichick being given a "cheater" tag to hang around his eventual Hall of Fame bust does brighten up an otherwise depressing football week.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Staggering Incompetence

The Cleveland Browns are a staggeringly incompetent organization. There's really nothing else you can say about a team that supposedly had been preparing for yesterday's game since last April, and yet managed to turn in a performance that was so inept that it would have embarrassed a Pop Warner team comprised entirely of kids who eat paste.

Consider the following:

  • The Browns squandered almost the entire preseason in a fruitless quarterback derby that apparently settled nothing, and seems to have accomplished nothing except to ensure that no quarterback on the team would have an adequate number of snaps to prepare for the season.
  • New offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski was supposedly bringing a new style of play to the team, yet the Browns continued to do pretty much the same things they've done in the past -- a point that wasn't lost on the Pittsburgh Steeler James Farrior, who mentioned it in his post-game comments.
  • The offensive line was completely unprepared for what Pittsburgh threw at it, and was incapable of making any adjustments in response to the Pittsburgh defense. I understand personnel issues, but how is something like this even possible against a team that you see twice a year, every year? Gee, maybe hiring an offensive line coach whose only NFL experience was with the Houston Texans wasn't such a good idea after all?
  • Then there's Romeo Crennel, who continues to prove both on and off the field that while he's one of the most stand-up guys in the NFL, he's also in way over his head. For example, confronted last week with yet another example of poorly timed anti-social behavior by a key player, Crennel continued his role as team doormat, defending Leigh Bodden's arrest following an alleged obscenity laced tirade against a police officer at Hopkins Airport as "nothing more than a traffic stop."
  • Poor preparation for early season games has become a hallmark of Romeo Crennel's teams. Whether it's the loss to the Bengals in 2005, the loss to the Saints last season, or yesterday's debacle, you can always count on Crennel's Browns for an abundance of penalties, turnovers and mental errors in their opener. Those can no longer be blamed on Maurice Carthon or Butch and Carmen's players. It's on the head coach.
  • But it's not all on the coach. Someone explain to me how the Cleveland Browns managed not to sign a punter until Saturday when they knew that Dave Zastudil might not answer the bell? Phil Savage, you truly deserve a game ball from the Pittsburgh Steelers, because you and the rest of your front office were instrumental in their victory. You know Phil, there's more to being a GM than making headlines on draft day.
  • Then there's America's number one footie fan, Randy Lerner. What's the deal, Randy? You've been very careful to remain behind the scenes since John Collins attempted his coup back in 2005, but I think it's time for you to start acting like George Steinbrenner with a bad toothache. The time has come for you to very publicly smash some furniture. That is, if you give a damn. By the way, do you?
In light of the dismal performance of Frye and Anderson, many fans are already calling for Brady Quinn to get the nod as a starter. The Browns front office -- which is likely to be in full panic mode by now -- may be willing to do that very soon. All I can say is that if they try that, fans ought to storm Berea with hot tar and buckets of feathers. Don't let these fools squander the slim hope for the future that Quinn represents in what is likely to be a futile attempt to preserve their jobs.

For better or worse, Brady Quinn is the team's future. That's something that Phil Savage ensured when he sent next year's first round pick to the Dallas Cowboys for the rights to Quinn. Do you really want to put Quinn behind what is currently a train wreck of an offensive line? If Frye and Andersen can't play this game, then I'd prefer to take my lumps until we at least see some evidence that this team can protect a quarterback.

I still hold out hope that this offensive line may amount to something this year. If it does, then okay, I'll reluctantly agree to throw the rookie to the dogs. I'm only willing to go along with that because the team's dunderheaded approach to the QB derby and their yanking of Frye after a quarter and a half have guaranteed that they don't have any other alternative. The Browns made it painfully apparent to everyone in the league yesterday that they never wanted Frye to end up with the job in the first place, and Derek Anderson spent the balance of the game showing why he couldn't claim the job despite being given every opportunity to do so.

They say it's always darkest before the dawn. I hope that's right, because after yesterday's performance, it's pitch black outside as far as the Cleveland Browns are concerned.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Boy, Am I An Idiot!

You want to know an interesting fact? I don't know a damn thing about football. Despite playing the game for almost a decade and coaching it for just about the same length of time, I truly have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

How on earth could I have gotten the idea into my head that this team would compete with a legitimate NFL team like the Pittsburgh Steelers?

More later. Right now, all I can say is that this football team makes me want to vomit.


After 4:13 into the game--- BRA-deee, BRA-deeee, BRA-deeeee.

Frye throws his first INT of the new season.

Help & Sorry

Help! Someone kidnapped my friend the Rhino and let an optimist write today's post in his stead.

Sorry. Steelers 27 - Browns 13.

The good guys just can't put points on the board as long as Charlie makes boneheaded plays. He just can't help himself.
That keeps the D on the field too long, and when that happens, so do a host of bad things.

I'm gonna watch and hope the Rhino's replacement is right.

For Cripes Sake, Will You Guys Just WIN!!

I've got mixed feelings as the Browns open the 2007 campaign. I think the team's better, but I'm also aware that they've got some glaring weaknesses and a brutal schedule ahead of them. Overall, I guess I'm guardedly optimistic, but since the first game is against the Steelers, I'm mostly just angry. I'm disgusted by the fact that almost a decade's worth of incompetent performances by the Cleveland Browns have allowed what was once the NFL's greatest rivalry to degenerate into football's version of torture porn. I want this string of humiliating losses to a team I truly hate to end right now.

Cleveland's last victory over Pittsburgh came in a Sunday night game back in 2003. The Browns won that night by a score of 33-13. It's been all downhill since then, with the Browns losing streak to the Steelers now standing at seven games. And what a miserable stretch of games it has been -- we've not only had to watch the Steelers turn Browns Stadium into their home away from home, but we've also had to endure on-field humiliations like 2005's Christmas Eve Massacre and last year's 27-7 debacle.

You'd like to think that in a rivalry as heated as the Browns v. Steelers used to be, blowouts like those two disasters would be the exception. In truth, they're actually fairly typical of the Browns efforts over the past three and a half seasons. The Steelers have outscored the Browns 197-67 in their last seven meetings, and only once during that stretch have the Browns lost to the Steelers by less than a touchdown.

To make matters worse, while the Browns appear to have spent most of the last three seasons engaged in a death struggle with the Oakland Raiders for the title of the NFL's biggest laughingstock, over that same period, the Steelers have covered themselves in glory. While Cleveland's endured everything from Butch Davis's nervous breakdown to LeCharles Bentley's torn patella tendon, Pittsburgh's highlights over the past three years include yet another Super Bowl title and a 15-1 regular season record. The Steelers consider last year's 8-8 record to be nearly catastrophic; if the Browns ever reached 8-8, we'd probably have a parade.

All of that brings me to my point -- ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP!!

It is far past time for the Cleveland Browns to stand up and smack the Pittsburgh Steelers right in the mouth. And guess what? They've never had a better chance to do that than the one they've got today. The Browns are a better team on paper than they've been since at least 2002, while the Steelers have a number of question marks that appear to have been papered over by the media due to their impressive reputation as judges of talent.

While preseason results should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, the Browns appear to have made significant improvements in their offensive line, and Jamaal Lewis looks like he might actually have some gas left in his tank. Putting aside the unsettled situation at QB, Cleveland's biggest weaknesses appear to be on the defensive side of the ball, and the defensive line in particular. However, the biggest question marks for the Steelers relate to the offensive line, so even with Cleveland's defensive shortcomings, it remains to be seen whether Pittsburgh's running game will be as dominant as it has been in the past.

The Steelers are still quite a bit better than the Browns on paper, but they are in the midst of several key changes that could give the Browns a shot, especially in an early season game like this one. Pittsburgh not only has a new head coach, but there are a number of open issues at positions on both sides of the ball. On defense, Joey Porter's gone, and the Steelers are reportedly going to use rookie LeMar Woodley as their left side pass rusher in place of veteran Clark Haggans. That should make for an interesting matchup with Browns rookie LT Joe Thomas.

But perhaps more important from the Browns' perspective are the changes to Pittsburgh's offensive unit. One of the keys to the Steelers recent success against the Browns has been a dominant offensive line. However, that line looks a lot different than it did in recent years. Sean Mahan will replace the retired Jeff Hartings at the Center position while Willie Colon will start at Right Tackle in place of Max Starks. All-Pro Guard Alan Faneca is still with the team, but is unhappy with his salary situation and is likely in his last season with the club.

Another key change is the replacement of Fullback Dan Kreider with Carey Davis. Kreider has been one of the NFL's best blocking backs for the past several years, while Davis is a journeyman on his fifth NFL team. Kreider was basically a Guard who lined up in the backfield, and the Steelers are reportedly intrigued by the added versatility that Davis provides.

All of these changes don't guarantee that the Browns will be competitive this afternoon, but I think they've got a chance to be. I think the Steelers are being given too much credit for past performance. New faces often mean unpredictability, even if the team in question has a reputation for making excellent personnel decisions -- and remember, it's a new coaching staff that's making those decisions this season.

This game is probably more pivotal than any opener that the Browns have played since their return. The Browns have better talent at several positions, but the difficulty of their schedule means that unless they come out of the gate strong, this season could rapidly deteriorate into another disaster. On the other hand, if they figure out a way to win it, the nightmare of a 1-5 start will begin to dissipate. Crennel will have a little more job security, and the risk of Brady Quinn being forced into the starting role prematurely will lessen considerably.

I'm so damn tired of losing to Pittsburgh. For cripes sake, Brownies, will you guys just WIN!!! This is a classic example of the triumph of hope over experience, but to hell with it -- I'm going to predict that they're going to do just that.

Cleveland 17, Pittsburgh 13.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I was getting ready to write a post ripping Leigh Bodden for his disorderly conduct arrest when I saw that Luciano Pavarotti, the great Italian tenor, died today. So I decided to scrap the Bodden idea and write about Pavarotti. What's an Italian opera star who isn't "the fat lady singing" got to do with sports? Maybe more than we sometimes acknowledge.

I think the same thing that attracts sports fans to their games is what attracted many people to Pavarotti. So, on a day when we've been provided with yet another example of stupid behavior by a pro athlete, Pavarotti helps to remind us about why we care about sports at all, and why that's a good thing.

Most of the time, sports and music are just pleasant diversions from daily life. But people don't become passionate about sports or music because they're diversions, they become passionate about them because at their very best, they offer us a chance to see things that can only be described as transcendent.

When you get right down to it, I think we watch sports because we hope to get a glimpse of a human being doing something that we know human beings just can't do. We don't see those moments very frequently, but they are what keep us coming back. That's because when we see LeBron James single-handedly defeat the Detroit Pistons, a crippled Kirk Gibson win a World Series game with a single swing, or a bunch of college kids beat the greatest hockey team in the world, we get a hint there may just be more to all of us than we think there is. Those transcendent moments give us reason to hope that the 8th Psalm's famous question -- "what is man that thou art mindful of him?" -- may actually have an answer.

I think the same thing is true when you hear a once in a generation voice like Pavarotti's. You don't have to appreciate opera to appreciate the vocal feats that he performed when he sang. Nessun Dorma, an aria from Puccini's Turandot, became his trademark (and, in a tribute to his popularity, ultimately a bit of a cliche). This performance at The Royal Albert Hall in 1982 shows you why his rendition of the aria resonated with so many people who wouldn't dream of sitting through an entire opera.

Nobody would ever mistake Luciano Pavarotti for an athlete, but like the greatest of athletes on their greatest of days, he gave us moments of transcendence. That's a tremendous gift, and those rare people who give it are missed when they depart.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Can It Possibly Get Worse for the Wolverines?

The answer is a resounding "yes!" Check out this ridiculous recruiting video for App State that the Starfish found:

Yeah, Michigan, you really lost to these guys. They're HOT! HOT! HOT!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Any Given Saturday

I was listening to the radio as I was running around doing errands yesterday afternoon. The Ohio State game had ended and the Notre Dame debacle hadn't started yet, so I was surfing the dial trying to find a game. It was while I was doing this that I first learned that the Appalachian State Mountaineers were giving the Michigan Wolverines all they could handle.

Like everyone in the Buckeye State, I found the prospect of Michigan being put to the test by a I-AA -- er, I mean a "Football Championship Subdivision"-- team absolutely delightful. Still, I couldn't fathom the possibility that App State might actually beat Michigan.

I knew App State was good, and I also knew that they've been good for quite some time. In fact, I saw my brother's VMI team play against them back in the 1980s when they won back-to-back Southern Conference championships. But beating Michigan? That's a pipe dream.

It wasn't until I got back to my house and my wife handed me the phone that the reality of what was happening began to dawn on me. That's because my youngest brother, who played his college ball at Cornell, was on the line breathlessly asking me "Dude, are you watching this?"

It was then that he informed me that somehow his cable company (he lives in Indianapolis) wasn't engaged in a pitched battle with The Big Ten Network and that he was watching Michigan and App State. To make a long story short, I spent the next five minutes on the phone with him sweating out the long pass to Manningham and the field goal attempt. Then -- after what seemed like forever-- came the blocked kick, and the kind of joy that can only arise when you know that you're going to see headlines like this one in the Detroit papers.

As everybody knows, this is the first time that a I-AA team has ever defeated a ranked BCS school, but when you combine the Mountaineers' achievement with shockers like Boise State's Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma last year, it's hard not to conclude that the entire edifice upon which the BCS system rests is crumbling. In the end, it's not about your national fan base or 100,000 seat stadiums, it's about what you can do on the field, and there needs to be a better mechanism to make sure that teams who deserve their shot get their shot.

For the past 30 years, NCAA football has been operated by and for the benefit of college football's Goliaths. In 1977, many of the major conferences and independents formed the College Football Association for the purpose of lobbying the NCAA on behalf of their interests. Those interests basically consisted of maximizing television revenues, and so the CFA subsequently sued the NCAA to break its monopoly on television rights. The CFA won that case thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 1984, and the money bonanza began in earnest.

True to its high ideals, the University of Notre Dame -- the biggest fish in the CFA coalition in terms of national fan base -- abandoned the rest of the cabal in the early 1990s and cut its own deal with NBC. While the nation's other football factories may still act together and bemoan the greed of the Irish in deciding to go it alone, they have by no means abandoned their own relentless quest for cash. Nothing brings that point home quite like the infuriating dispute between The Big Ten Network and the cable companies that deprived everyone in Northeast Ohio of not only the Ohio State game, but of a chance to witness the biggest upset in college football history.

But while the big schools were raking in the big bucks, a funny thing began to happen. People liked watching all of the college football that they were seeing, so networks like ESPN gave them more. And, since the supply of football superpowers was limited, ESPN and other broadcasters had to expand the number of teams that made the TV cut. This opened up the money spigot for a broader range of teams and conferences.

The money provided schools with the resources to enhance their own programs, and in recent years, we've witnessed the emergence of programs like Utah and Boise State as unlikely participants in the BCS sweepstakes. But those teams are the exception to the rule, and the National Championship game continues to be the exclusive domain of the traditional powers.

So in a strange way, a process that began 30 years ago to line the pockets of football's Goliaths has spawned a generation of Davids, all of whom ought to have a fair shot at the same brass ring that the big guys try to keep to themselves. If it does nothing else, Appalachian State's defeat of Michigan puts a stake through the heart of the myth that it's only the big schools and big conferences that produce teams worthy of playing on the national stage. If the BCS ever had any credibility, it ended with a blocked field goal in Ann Arbor yesterday afternoon.