NFL

Browning Out With Cleveland

By: Blake Probert

A new Sunday routine is taking hold in my living room each week. One that brings emotional highs, tragic lows and lots of questions. You see, I’ve become hooked on watching the Cleveland Browns and it’s nothing if not entertaining.

Perhaps I should clarify a bit, when I say I “watch” the Browns, it is a bit misleading. Like any follower of the NFL who is invested more in their fantasy than any actual team, a lot of my time is spent flipping back and forth between games thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket. For five consecutive weeks though, I’ve landed on the Cleveland game and thought, “Holy Hell, they might win this sucker.” From that point on, I’m in. During week one’s tie with the Steelers, you’d have thought lifelong Clevelanders lived in my house. I’ve been coming back for another dose each week since.

We all know what’s been going on; the futility in Cleveland is so well documented that it has, in all likelihood, contributed to propagating said futility. Despair has hung in the air around the Browns like the acrid black smoke rolling off a river so polluted it caught fire. Their years-long search for a stabilizing presence at the quarterback position was beginning to develop uncomfortable parallels to Sisyphus and his boulder. But a new day looks like it could be dawning in The Land. They’ve been competitive in all their games, each one coming right down to the wire providing maximum entertainment value.

You see, years of high draft picks have brought Cleveland to what might be the most fun stage of any years-long rebuild: Friskiness. They’re young, talented and seemingly on the verge of doing big things; they just aren’t quite sure how to put it together. It’s like watching a baby taking their first steps. It’s slow and wobbly, but they remain confident in their pursuit….meanwhile, you hold your breath. Still, what could be sweeter as a fanbase than realizing you’re right on the cusp of banishing the stigma of being awful and realizing it might just have been worth it?

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There’s so much potential, it’s genuinely tantalizing. The defense already looks like the genuine article with Myles Garrett anchoring it and last year’s fourth overall draft pick Denzel Ward generating turnovers on the back end. The offense is trying to make some serious strides with top pick Baker Mayfield taking the helm during week three. The results have been mixed so far, but in Cleveland, that’s still progress. Mayfield doesn’t lack for confidence and has some intriguing weapons around him, so the breakout game may be right around the corner for the Browns’ offense.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops in Cleveland, though. Obstacles and bad karma from the top of their own organization still stand in the way. For one, Hue Jackson is still their coach. If you saw any of his performance on Hard Knocks, or honestly just heard about it, you know Hue probably isn’t the great leader of men destined to take this team to glory. He assured everyone that it’s his team and he makes the calls, it’s just that most of his calls make him look like a dingus. I’m doubtful that any of the NFL’s great minds would have been on the field holding two fingers symbolizing the time “remaining” in a game while his players celebrated the field goal that just won it. I get it, those overtime rules are tricky, Hue.

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Then there’s all the bad karma. We’ve already discussed the well documented years of wretched play from the Browns. The team’s follies are almost too numerous to mention. Just this year they’ve decided to cut bait with Josh Gordon after waiting years for his return and missing out on two wins because they put those games in the hands of a kicker that was probably injured. The team famously had a player temporarily blinded by an errant penalty flag. Weird, negative stuff isn’t limited to the players, though. Team owner Jimmy Haslam’s company, Pilot Flying J, has been the center of a $50 million dollar fraud case that has seen 17 former employers either sentenced or plead guilty. All that, coupled with all the stretches of irrelevance faced by Cleveland’s pro teams, and it feels like God might just hate the city and any success there is in direct defiance of His will….Unrelated, but that might be one more reason we truly don’t appreciate LeBron enough.

Regardless of all the bad juju surrounding them, I’ll continue to get hyped up watching the Browns take their baby steps toward success. No matter how irrational the other members of my viewing party tell me I’m being, I’ll be there for the Browns….at least once the fourth quarter starts.

I think we’ve all earned this:

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