Thursday, January 31, 2008

Things Change

Remember October 1997. Game 7, middle of 9, Tribe clinging to a 2-1 lead. Did you feel safe? Did anyone feel safe? This wasn't about Mesa trotting in from the humid lat summer Florida bullpen. This wasn't about the potent Marlins lineup, or the stranded runner at third base with 1 out. That feeling of dread was related to what we've all come to accept as the Cleveland Sports Experience.

Not only fearing the worst, but expecting the worst, and usually witnessing the worst. In the last 12 years alone:

Dave Justice, Robbie Alomar, Albert Belle, Shawn Kemp, Edgar Renteria, Pedro Martinez, The last game of 2000 Tribe Season, Tim Couch, Chris Palmer, Ichiro, Dwayne Rudd, Tommy Maddux, John Hart.

Our worst fears came true. Every time. In a given contest, there is always a winner and a loser. When it's all boiled down, it's generally about 50/50 in the long term. By the long term I mean that if they were to play in 2005 the Steelers would obviously beat the Browns more often than now, but if they were to play in 1968, it would be the other way around. So if you were to say The Browns against the Steelers, there's about a 50 % chance we'll win. (Unless Foge Fazio is involved)

However, all of the luck of the above tribulations, went against Cleveland. I know about the curses, and the cheap owners, and the diaspora from the city. But over a given period of time, something good is bound to happen. When those 80,000 walked away from Cleveland Stadium on December 27th 1964, they had to feel confident about the next 44 years, not because of their solid football team, and hall of fame fullback - but because sometime the chips fall your way. Even in Cleveland.

That's what happened 4 and a half years ago. It wasn't a new coach, a great play, or a ticker tape parade. It was a set of ping pong balls, and it affected the town, and the mentality more than anyone has stopped to realize.

The mentality took some time to matriculate, but at least this optimistic blogger feels different.

Tonight, there were 4.9 seconds left, and the Cavs were down 1. All things being equal, odds were about 20% that they would score. But I think we felt confident. 5 years ago, we would have been up 1, and the other team would have had the ball. 5 years ago, our guy might have gotten tripped and no whistle would be heard on the home court. The result doesn't matter. Whether or not Lebron snaked his way through 3 NBA starters, changed his shot in mid-air, and shot a reverse lay-up, blind, with his left hand - and the game on the line is irrelevant.

What's important is that we expected him to do it.

Remember the Seahawks game. Overtime. 4th and 1 for the Seahawks on the brink of field goal range. Think about how it even GOT to that moment. Hassleback GOT the first down. They were marching. 5 years ago, the review doesn't come down from the booth. 5 years ago it definitely doesn't get reversed. And 5 years ago Sean Jones doesn't drag down an NFL running back behind the line of scrimmage. But again that's not the point.

Once we got the ball; once DA trotted back onto the field; we all knew we would win. The final drive was irrelevant, we believed we would win. I know this has more to do with the offensive line and the rejuvenated team spirit than Lebron James, but not to our mentality. We expect to win now.

I'm not saying we have reason to breathe now. We're still damn far from a championship. Will the Tribe be able to outlast the Tigers again. Will the Browns be able to make the jump from a good team to a great one with a tough schedule. Howabout the Cavs getting over the hump. This stuff is the real meat, but the attitude has changed.

We feel good about the future, we feel confident about what's next. Put the ball in Lebron's hands and let him light this shit up. It feels good to be here today.

Now will pitchers and catchers please report.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Romeo is on squad

So Romeo Crennell signed an extension and he's on squad until 2011. Despite what some writers, bloggers and narrow minded friends of mine think, this can only be a good thing. The couple of mil a year they're paying him doesn't count against the cap, the team seems to be going in the right direction and if worse comes to worse, and we start 0-6 next year, WHO CARES.

Chud becomes the coach and we have to buy out Romeo. As if this is the first time this has ever happened. When you sign a QB to a long term deal it matters. If the guy starts to suck, you have to pay him amounts of guaranteed money, the contract could lead to controversy (see Philadelphia), and it could play out ugly.

In the case of the coach, it seems the only effect this has is that his owner gave him a vote of confidence TODAY.

And in his defense, what is the issue. Its funny to me how people get on Crennel and Wedge. Transposed to a baseball season, Crennel just won the equivalent of 100 games. Not bad for a team that won the equivalent of 40 the year before. And look how he's done it.

In his first two years he was subject to not only Butch Davis's mistakes; but many of Phil Savage's too. His two QB's those years were Trent Dilfer and THIRD ROUND PICK Charlie Frye. He didn't have Kellen in year one, and the ENTIRE DEFENSE from 2005 was basically turned over save Roye and Davis. He inherited one of the worst O-Line's I've ever seen, and in two years, the biggest O-line addition he received (LeChuck doesn't count) was Block Faker Kevin Schaeffer.

Schaeffer's first play was a holding penalty that nullified what would have been the longest TD of the year.

It was Romeo's call to put in DA in week 1. It was Romeo's call to stick with him all year. Chud is a genius, and an offensive mastermind, but Romeo put him there.

I admire Phil Savage for bringing in guys like Steinbach, Lewis and Jurevicious. I applaud his drafting of Thomas, Quinn, Pool and Braylon. And of course who can forget signing JC. But it was Romeo's job to establish a winning culture.

Which he has done.

Ask Willie McGinest. The Willie McGinest who admittedly spent most of the year chasing guys half his age and probably was more responsible for the second Pittsburgh loss than anyone, but who also has played for Parcells and Bellichek. Been to 4 super bowls. I think he knows a good coach. He loves Ro.

Ask rookie Joe Thomas who is considered by many (including me) to be the missing link to the Browns' woes. He likes Ro.

The guy is a winner. Blame him for calling time out in the Pittsburgh game (even though it was Leon Williams). Blame him for starting Frye this year (even though the decision probably came from upstairs considering Frye's draft investment and local ties). But if you do blame him for these things. Then give him credit too.

Give him credit for taking a team many considered to be the worst in football after week 1, a team who had lost their starting QB, and who was down 7-0 at home to a division opponent. When Rudi Johnson scampered around Eric Wright down the left sideline and curled in for a score, what were the odds of the Browns ending up 10-6?

The very next week, when the Browns blew a winnable game on the road, sat at 1-2, just ended a teams long losing streak and were on a 5 hour flight home knowing they had the 2-1 Ravens and the 3-0 Pats up next, did you think they'd be 10-6?

The guy succeeded. Like his counterpart at the Jake, fans continue to argue that they won despite his coaching. I'm here to tell you that over 162 game baseball season, and a gruelling 17 week football season - THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN.

You win because of your coach. Like him or not, Romeo's done a hell of a job and now has a brand new deal because of it.

Congrats Coach,
Now take us up to 12 wins.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Dirty Pool

I know this entry is a little late, and I know that my one of the stages of loss is bitterness and I will keep that in mind as I write this entry with full confidence that its content and timing are perfect. But here is the idea.

The last game of the NFL regular season between the Colts and the Titans was not only played under shady circumstances, but there is more than enough reason to believe that the Colts lost intentionally.

Now, I don’t think that Dungy and the Colts went out with the intention to lose, but I do think that towards the end of the game, with winning a reasonable option, they decided against winning and folded on purpose.

The obvious claim is that with more than 30 seconds to go in the game and a 6 point deficit, the Colts could have called time out, and forced the Titans (on 4th down) to kick a field goal. This field goal could have resulted in a bad snap returned for a score, a block, a miss, or perhaps a game-icing dagger right down Main Street. We don’t know. What we do know is that whether or not he was resting his best players or not, Tony Dungy is paid to win football games, and one of the jobs of a head coach when attempting to win a game is to manage the clock. He DELIBERATELY and EXPLICITLY did not.

This was not resting players, or running the ball with a lead. By NOT doing what a coach has to do in that situation, he was making a statement. The statement was “we do not want to win this game.” Which is somewhat understandable. Well no, wait, it’s not.

“We do not want to win this game at the risk of injuring a key player” is reasonable.

“We do not want to win” is downright shady.

But wait there’s more:

I have read several places that the traditional method of “resting your players” really doesn’t make sense. You play the Peyton Mannings, Dallas Clarks and Reggie Waynes in the first quarter, when the game is not in question and there is no way to know how the other team will be reacting. This kind of gets them game play, but you would think that if they were going to play for 15 minutes – you would want them playing the final 15 minutes, for practice in pressure situations.

But Dungy gets a pass on this because it is the traditional method and he was just following tradition.

But the way they played that second half, allowing Kerry Collins to turn into Bart Starr. Why were they in soft coverage, in the second half of a one score game? Why were they giving Tennessee’s below average receivers big cushions like they were lining up against Moss and Owens? Even if you are resting your starters, you do want to give your backups real game experience right. What better time to break in young corners than playing against division receivers (who aren’t very good) in a playoff game for them, with no repercussions. To me this doesn’t make sense.

Unless you consider some more facts: The Colts benefited (albeit slightly) from losing the game.

1. I have read elsewhere and believe it to be true that the Colts considered their first opponent in the playoffs. The Titans would HAVE to be considered by anyone (including Dungy) as significantly weaker than the Browns. Indy considered Cleveland a better match up with San Diego and perhaps a better candidate to upset the Chargers. Had the Chargers been upset (by either team), The Colts would have met the red hot Jaguars (or the Steelers, a team built on defense and knocked out the Colts in their building 2 years ago) as opposed to San Diego. Therefore, putting the weaker of the two teams (Tennessee) in the playoffs instead of Cleveland, increases their chances of seeing who we had to believe was the weakest of their three potential playoff opponents.

2. Draft choices! A loss potentially moves them up one spot (despite not having a first rounder), but more importantly it significantly affects Tennessee’s choice. A Titans win brings their draft choice from potentially 19, up to 25. Indy’s division foe now has to watch 6 teams draft in front of them thanks to that loss. And when they will be losing their best defensive player (Haynesworth), replacing him becomes that much harder.

It no doubt benefits the Colts to lose that game.

But hey, they got what was coming to them. Look at the teams that rested their players significantly at the end of the year – Indy, Dallas, Tampa. How are they looking? Meanwhile, the other locked in playoff contender, New England, looked great and fresh despite a two week layover. Suits them.

But still, even with all of this “they got what was coming to them” I still think that intentionally losing a game, in front of 65,000 people who paid ridiculous amounts of money to watch you try to win, and when you are paid a lot of money to win football games is shady.

Remember when Pete Rose said “I never bet against my team.” And the response was “well if you bet on your team on Friday and Saturday, and didn’t on Sunday, then you were essentially betting against your team on Sunday.”

That’s what this Dungy thing is. If you didn’t try to win, that is – put your team in the position to win without risking the health of one of your key contributors – then you essentially tried to lose. Super shady.

And furthermore, in a 1 score game, against a playoff hungry foe, don’t you think Manning (who’s not exactly known as Mr. 4th quarter) could have used one more 2 minute drill. Maybe a little more work in the 4th quarter, pressure situation, would have helped him when he was put to that same challenge 2 weeks later. So Dungy again, did not do his job.

By not calling time out, and by not game planning to win the game (with whatever personnel was on the field) was a violation of what I believe to be Dungy’s integrity, and I believe that it cost him his season.

This game was bullshit, and I hate that we had to watch it.

One thing we did learn from this game though, is that Indy can use their improved draft position to draft a new backup QB, because I don’t think Jim Sorgi can cut it. Unless it was Sorgi who through the game….

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The year after the tribe won 111 games

OK, so I'm watching Back to the Future for the 4,543,221st time, and every time I find some anachronistic error, or something that doesn't make sense. The viewing of any time travel movie always brings up questions.

For instance, if Doc ended up opening the letter saying that the Libyans were coming, and he had the wherewithall to suit up with a bullet proof vest, wouldn't it just make sense to not show up at the mall that night - avoiding the Libyans and arming yourself.

But that's not what this is about. This is not about time travel questions, but about the state of the world in 1955.

Ok, so the whole plot of the film relies upon channeling 1.21 gigawatts of electricity into the time machine. Unfortunately, the only ways to do this are either a nuclear reaction or a bolt of lightning. Doc's admission that the nuclear option is impossible due to the lack of ability to secure plutonium, which he assumes is easy in 1985.

So they obviously construct a harebrained scheme to harness the bolt of lightning which lasts a fraction of a second and relies on all sorts of things going right, which almost kills Doc (which would set off all sorts of problems in the space time continuum)

But wait, was plutonium readily available in 1985? Doc lied and cheated his way to the plutonium, but it still wasn't every day activity. Here's all I'm saying:

Lets say the lightning bolt scheme doesn't work. I don't think that all is lost. I mean, I'm not saying they need to con the Soviets, or steal it from Area 51, but I mean - it was the era of nuclear warfare. Is it not feasable that an appeal to the US government could yield a success.

I mean, they take the time machine to the feds, they tell them the story, eventually, after they all accuse them of being nutjobs, Marty uses the same methods he's already used (knowledge of the future, the picture of his family, artifacts brought back) to convince SOMEONE that this is real, and that he needs plutonium, and if the government wants to monitor everything, that's fine - but can they still have it.

I don't think that this is a crazy idea. The plutonium in 1985 was just as hard to secure in 1955 and they got it.

All I'm saying

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

NFL Culture

I have been a fan of the Cleveland Browns for as long as I can remember. I mean that too. I have pictures of me at my first birthday wearing a Browns sweatshirt. I have always loved the Browns.

I also love the sport of football. In all its incarnations. I associate football with autumn, with playoff baseball, the first cold winds coming down from Canada, the drums of the band on a Friday night or Saturday morning. I associate football with personal things: college, personal happiness, and camaraderie.

But the NFL is a different subject. I don't know if it is possible to love the Browns and the sport as much as I do and loathe the NFL as much as I do. Does that work? There are tons of things I can't stand about the NFL, from the way it is presented (on national television with a dizzying array of incompetence), I hate the amount of commercials, I hate the 3 months of discussion about the draft that starts in February. I can't stand the coverage, on almost every level form the putridness of Tony Grossi and the PD, all the way through Sean Salisbury at ESPN. I find it all offensive and repugnant.

But I look around myself and I am alone. The NFL is the most popular league in the world. People through giant tissy fits about their inability to watch a Packers Cowboys regular season game. Who were they mad at? The cable companies have made a business decision that the exorbitant amount that the NFL network is asking for is too much. I didn't hear anyone saying "why is this greedy company playing the game on Thursday night anyways." Had the game been on Sunday afternoon, like all other games, I'm sure FOX would have loved to have carried it.

People eat up the draft coverage. Just because I get mad at ESPN for shoving Mel Kiper in our faces in February to talk about who the Dolphins MIGHT draft, doesn't mean people aren't eating it up.

The problem is with the culture. The culture of the NFL. It is a frat boy, testosterone driven culture that has been developing over the past ten years with the explosion of the NFL from Sunday afternoons to 24/7 365. People aren't necessarily fans of teams, but of the league itself. I hate to get academic here, but the exposure of the NFL leads to its popularity. Its straight forward Marshall McLuhan or Jean Baudrillard. If we put Sean Salisbury up talking about the NFL all day, and then we start treating a Thursday night game (that's on in every bar in America) as a news story, eventually we as a culture will begin to accept it.

Its not that the NFL draft is so important that we better start covering it 3 months early. Its BECAUSE we cover it 3 months early, that it is important. Like the Red Sox/Yankees "division race" last year. It was unimportant, they were both in the playoffs, and who they played was more dependent on the other 2 teams. But Bristol covered it, it became important, and next thing you know, it was part of our culture.

The NFL is gross. But it will continue to be gross with offensive production, insane amounts of commercials, and repugnant coverage because that's how they create this culture. The NFL culture that I feel ashamed to be a part of.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


It was just over two and a half weeks ago that I wrote on this blog that December 29th, 2002 was the greatest day of my life. That was the day that the Browns beat the Falcons to get into the playoffs. I wrote that I was unashamed that a sporting event can provide as much or more joy than a real event that actually happened to me. I have graduated twice, been in several great relationships, and have had successes of my own athletically, but I was completely convinced that a sporting event, A REGULAR SEASON SPORTING EVENT, could be and was the greatest day of my adult life.

Five days after I made that post, I experienced what was unequivocally the worst day of my adult life. It put things in perspective. In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t make a post for almost two weeks. The reason is because on Thursday, December 27th, I lost two grandparents. Two completely unrelated illnesses brought upon two people only related by marriage, and they had to hit on the same day. To lose two people who are that close to you, a mere fourteen hours apart, is an unlikely tragedy that few can even comprehend.

Ironically, this day occurred three days before the third gigantic Cleveland Sports heartbreak of the year, the Browns elimination from postseason contention. Two weeks ago, I would have told you that nothing would be as bad as a ten win playoff miss. Two weeks ago I would have told you that a Browns loss to the Bengals would be a heartbreak only trumped by games 5, 6 and 7 of the ALCS. Now here I am trying to cope with the loss of two of the most formative figures of my life, and I’m supposed to “put the rest in perspective” and remember that it’s just a game.

I couldn’t help but think that I believed that 5 years earlier was the best day of my life because the Browns beat the Falcons, now I have to acknowledge the dichotomy between the best and the worst. A football victory and the death of two family members.

But guess what???

I realized something in all this. That Titans/Colts game still drove me nuts. I still had trouble sleeping that night knowing that the season was over. And eight days later, Les Miles' undressing of Jim Tressell made me fucking crazy. I still don’t want to think about late October, and the fact that I have to watch the NFL playoffs without who I believe would be one of the top 6 teams left is absolutely getting the best of me.

So…I put things in perspective. I buried two grandparents, and will always believe that Dec 27th 2007 was the worst day of my life. But does that mean that sports don’t matter? Does that mean that December 29, 2002 can’t be the best day of my life?

I ask you this, what was worse, your absolute worst breakup – the one that got away, or watching Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youklis and Josh Beckett dance all over Fenway in Game 7?

What was worse, the day you lost your best job, the day you got a DUI, the time you lost a ton of money, or realizing that the last 5 months of emotional investment and reallocation of Brown and Orange hope was tossed out the window by a guy named Jim Sorgi?

These questions are easy for me. I have braved the worst day of my life, and I have “put things in perspective” and I am still not ashamed. Next New Years, when I’m back in Cleveland for two stone settings, remembering the pain and misery that was last year, I will feel A LOT more comfortable if I’m also home for a home playoff game. Against Pittsburgh, in the cold, and in the snow.

And if we win that day, I guess I’ll need to make a new adjustment to “the best day of my life”

Monday, January 7, 2008

Buckeye Shame?

I never attended The Ohio State University. I no longer live in the state of Ohio, and I no longer possess an Ohio Drivers License. In fact, in the fall I plan on applying to the University of Michigan’s PhD program. But tonight, like last year, and like every third Saturday of every October as far back as I can remember – I will be wearing scarlet and gray and pulling for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

For whatever reason, pulling for the Buckeyes has become a sort of faux pas in the last several years. Perhaps it is their success on the national stage (and accompanying domination of the Midwest recruiting pool) that has turned them into the Yankees of the Big 10.

Perhaps it is the obnoxious and viral behavior of many Buckeyes fans that has followed the success – a feeling not familiar to fans of Ohio sports teams.

Maybe it is merely friendly competition between friends that root against each other in all matters, regardless of whether Heismans, Bowl Victories or sweater vests are involved.

All of these reasons to loathe all things scarlet and gray are valid. But these arguments are valid with the hatred of any fan base or team, collegiate or pro. But one of the more common reasons has really irked me.

The idea that because I didn’t attend Ohio State and therefore have no right to root for them, is ridiculous. First off, I was an Ohio State fan long before I applied to Kent State. So one day, when I’m already a mature eighteen year old, with years of scars and beliefs in a team or concept, I’m supposed to abandon this allegiance in favor of a lesser team, in a non-competitive league, even though I know NOTHING about the history, tradition or culture of this team. I find this stupid.

In 1996 The Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore. My Sunday’s were given up to practicing guitar and running around outside. But I still loved football. I had always watched and rooted for the Buckeyes, but now, without an alternative to direct my rabid football allegiance, my focus turned to the red hot Ohio State Buckeyes. Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Terry Glenn and David Boston. This will be an easy team to root for (boy was I wrong)

In January 1997 I got my first scarlet jersey, a 75 Pace jersey with the Rose emblem on the shoulder. Ohio State beat Jake Plummer’s Arizona State Sun Devil’s that day to finish #2 in the nation. I was in 9th grade and had no earthly idea where Kent State was. I was a Buckeyes fan.

I consider the 2002 Fiesta Bowl a high point of my sports fandom career. I saved newspaper clippings of Troy Smith’s Heisman run, and I have ventured from Cleveland to Columbus many times to merely be in the city for a big Buckeyes game.

Why should I feel guilty about this. The players on the team went to high schools that my friends and I went to. My parents and their parents rooted for the Buckeyes. I own the same amount of scarlet and gray jerseys as I do brown and orange. I am a Buckeyes fan – and I’m proud of it.

So when the Buckeyes take on another school I never considered going to tonight, I won’t feel guilty that I’m donning the same Big Ten Championship shirt I wore on January 3rd 2003, right beneath my scarlet 2 jersey that my college girlfriend had branded with the letters “Doss” on the back to honor my favorite player.

From the lots outside the horseshoe, through the bowels of the SuperDome, all the way to my home, minutes from the Pacific Ocean – shout Go Bucks – and do so with no shame.