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Post-Super Bowl Thoughts

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Most people watch the Super Bowl because they are sports fans and love football. Others watch just to see the halftime show or the commercials. Then there are thousands of Clevelanders who watched Super Bowl XLVII in hopes of seeing the Baltimore Ravens get beat by the San Francisco 49ers, badly. Unfortunately for those people, they did not get their wish.

I was only 12 years old when Art Modell announced he was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The announcement came after the team made the playoffs the previous season and seemed destined for further success in the near future.

Born in 1983 I did live through the Browns’ glory years of the decade. However, I have not one memory of them. I do not recall ever seeing “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” or any of the big plays which made Bernie Kosar so beloved in Cleveland or John Elway hated by Cleveland. I do recall hearing “Bernie, Bernie” to the tune of “Louie, Louie” when I was a child. But that is all I remember.

Still I was devastated when the Browns were moved from Cleveland because the previous season was the only memory of winning football I had and wanted more.

From that point on most Clevelanders looked at the team which became the Baltimore Ravens with nothing but disdain. I freely admit I was not one of those people. To me the Browns still existed. Most of the players remained on the team. In my 13 year old mind they were still the Browns, just in a new city with a new name and colors.

People called me crazy and others would not speak to me. But the fact is while it hurt to lose my team, I only had a few years of memories of Cleveland Browns football. So I probably was not as devastated as those who do remember those great teams of the 80s, and especially those who were alive for the 1964 NFL championship team.

I cheered the Baltimore Ravens players for the next three seasons until the Browns returned to Cleveland and even a couple seasons afterward. I sided with the Ravens when they won Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. Clevelanders, including my own family, could not understand why I would back a team that was stolen from us by Art Modell. That was just my point. Ownership withstanding, I cheered for the players that had no control over who their owner was or where the team was being moved.

To this day I still do not have any issues with the Baltimore Ravens. I do not cheer for them every week like I used to for those three seasons the Browns were gone, but the hatred for them simply is not there. I do not cheer against them unless they play against the Browns. Unfortunately most others in Cleveland have not joined me in this line of thinking.

Art Modell gave up ownership of the Baltimore Ravens almost nine years ago. He passed away three days prior to the 2012-13 season opener. Yet, most of Cleveland’s hatred of the man and the Ravens franchise by association still exists and probably always will.

When the Ravens won its second Super Bowl last night, defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31 after a shocking Superdome power outage and fending off a comeback sparked by young Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the hatred continued to pour over social media. Clevelanders once again cursed the departed soul of Art Modell and displayed remarks about Cleveland being tortured.

What these people fail to understand is the Baltimore Ravens are only what the Browns could have been, not should have been. When people say it should have been the Browns instead of the Ravens winning the Super Bowl in 2001 and last night, there is only an inkling of truth to those statements.

The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens are completely different franchises. Obviously history would not have taken the same course as it has the last 18 years because the Baltimore Ravens would not exist in the same way they do today, if at all. Furthermore, even if the Browns drafted Ray Lewis like the Ravens did in 1996, it is foolish to believe the team would have played out the ensuing seasons in the same way as the Ravens. The history of the league itself would also be completely different if move had not taken place.

Yes, the Cleveland Browns were stolen from us right when it appeared the team was heading in the direction for sustained success. Yes, there is a chance they could have at least made it to the Super Bowl if not won by now if the original franchise remained in Cleveland. But there is no guarantee. That is how I am able to watch the Baltimore Ravens play with success and win Super Bowls without any sense of feeling like a tortured Cleveland football fan.

While I can understand the feelings of such fans, I always wonder how much longer they will continue to torture themselves. Will it be when the Browns finally turn into a successful team? Call me crazy again, but I have my doubts. Even if or when the Browns do win a Super Bowl in the future, many Clevelanders will still resent the Ravens because they “should have been us” with their wins many years before. The hatred for Art Modell, long after his death will still exist.

As renowned Cleveland chef Michael Symon said on his Facebook page today, “living in the past will never help the future.” Sage words to live by.

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Written by apokorny

February 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Have the Browns Turned the Corner?

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The Browns shocked the NFL with a 34-14 crushing of the New England Patriots.

The Cleveland Browns have been competitive in each of their games all season long. In four of their first five games they had leads in the fourth quarter, only to watch the defense tire out, give up the leads, and see the offense make a poor effort to win the games.

Then suddenly, two weeks ago something changed. A week after suffering their only blowout loss of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns went down to New Orleans and destroyed Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints 30-17.

While this huge victory came as a shock to most, there was a part of me that was not surprised. The Browns beat the defending Super Bowl champions the previous two years, so to think they could not do it again was not in my mindset.

Another point from that amazing blowout was the Saints had suffered a similar defeat just two weeks earlier when they were blown out by the Arizona Cardinals. What makes it so similar is in that game, the Cardinals’ defense did all the work. Behind rookie quarterback Max Hall, the Arizona offense could only muster nine points off a very good Saints defense. The Browns’ offense did score the majority of points in their game, but the team’s defense was the difference maker.

Because the Browns offense has been far from great this season, I got the feeling that the only way the team would put up 30 points or more in another game this season was if the defense played like they did against the Saints, forcing opponents to make mistakes and converting them into touchdowns. Those thoughts all changed this past Sunday.

Like the previous two seasons, I figured the Browns were for having one great game against a great team, beating the Super Bowl champions and going on their way. Especially since their schedule did not get any easier. After the bye week, they were scheduled to play the 6-1 New England Patriots. Though they beat the Saints in remarkable fashion two weeks ago, nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in a hot climate to do it one more time against another elite quarterback in Tom Brady.

The critics turned out to be wrong again as the Browns scored ten points before Brady stepped onto the field and never let up, destroying the Patriots 34-14. Many Browns fans throughout northeast Ohio were left wondering over the last two games where the “real” Cleveland Browns are? The questions after the last two games are now “what changed for this team?” and “is this a fluke or have they turned the corner and become a good team?”

The answer to the first question may be the name Colt McCoy. Since he took over the quarterback position after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace suffered injuries, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He appears very poised in the pocket, makes good decisions, and his passes are very crisp and accurate. Even more impressive is his first three games were against Super Bowl contending teams.

Of course, McCoy has not done all this alone. He is protected by a very good offensive line, an excellent power running game, and a good defense.

While McCoy did look very good against the Pittsburgh “steel curtain” defense when throwing the ball, none of his cushions held steady for a full game. The week after there was some measure of improvement. As I mentioned, the Browns defense did most of the work against New Orleans. The turnovers it forced gave the Browns short fields to work with, but only converted into a touchdown once. McCoy, though he played well again, was held in check by another very good defense.

Two weeks later the proverbial stars aligned. It is no secret the New England Patriots do not have a good defense. They are near the bottom of the NFL in every major defensive category. They rely on their offense to win games. Given two weeks to prepare, Eric Mangini and company came up with the perfect game plan to shut down this potent offense. The Browns offense took advantage, relied heavily on their power running game, threw in a few trick plays, and gave Colt McCoy every reason to feel comfortable in leading them to another victory.

All throughout the last two games, Browns fans watched on as Colt McCoy looked every bit the player he was at the University of Texas. Even I said to the TV that he made me do a complete 180 on my opinion of him. Then I realized what defense he was playing against.

Next week’s game, however, will be a different story. The Browns play another of Eric Mangini’s old teams, the New York Jets. Now tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, the Jets are a team comparable to the Steelers, whom McCoy faced in his pro debut.

On paper the Jets have the edge, but I believe this is another winnable game for the Browns for a few reasons. First of all, the Browns defense controlled the Patriots, who have a better pass offense than the Jets. New York, like the Browns, relies on its running game to set up the pass. The Browns have shown throughout the season that they are very good at stopping the run. When under pressure to make plays, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will make mistakes. So long as the Browns defense controls the running game and avoid the big pass play that has killed them this season, I think they can keep the Jets off the scoreboard.

Second is the coaching game. Eric Mangini used to coach the Jets and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was on his staff. Rex Ryan, the Jets head coach, is the brother of Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The ties the Browns coaching staff have to the Jets will give them ample knowledge to prepare another successful game plan.

The final reason I think the Browns can win this game is the crowd factor. Two of the Browns’ three victories this season have been at home. Had the offense played earlier in the season like it did this past Sunday, the team would be undefeated at home right now. Browns fans are some of the most rabid fans in the NFL. No doubt they will be into the game this coming Sunday. While the other two factors are up in the air, this one is a no brainer.

The Cleveland Browns are playing very good football right now. That much is true. Whether it is for real remains to be seen. Why it is happening is also a wonder. Many fans and media alike believe the reason lies solely on Colt McCoy taking over at quarterback. Though I proclaimed this past Sunday that I have taken a complete 180 turn on McCoy, I now think better of my words. What I said was probably a rush of excitement seeing the Browns play better football than they had all of last season and the first six games of this one.

Remember fans, other Browns quarterbacks in the past have excited us after two or three games like McCoy has, then failed miserably when anointed the starting quarterback. Also remember Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, though injured, are still on this team and at least one will soon be healthy enough to play. Wallace has also shown flashes of good play, and perhaps more mobility than McCoy. So while McCoy has been very good so far, Mangini may decide to go back to Wallace if McCoy falters down the line.

As for me, right now I am going to sit back, watch the rest of the season, and enjoy the ride.

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Written by apokorny

November 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Browns Latest Quarterback Controversy

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After the injury to Seneca Wallace, the Browns are left with another quarterback controversy.

Hello readers, I’m back! I apologize for neglecting you the last few weeks. I have had a few developments in my life that have taken up a lot of my time. In addition, instead of writing about what everyone else in sports is writing about, I was waiting for that next big, controversial story. Now the time has finally arrived.

For the first five weeks of the NFL season I have refrained from talking about the Cleveland Browns because they are, as I mentioned, what everyone else is talking about. I can hold my tongue no longer as a controversial issue arose after yesterday’s game.

Yes, the Browns are now 1-4, but if you look really closely, the team is in fact improving. The Browns have held a lead in the first half every week, only for the opponents to catch on, make adjustments, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The only exception being last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, when the defense held strong to preserve the first win of the season.

The same held true for yesterday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Everything was going well for the Browns until the controversial issue showed its ugly face. Joe Thomas, who had the worst game of his career yesterday, gave up a sack to John Abraham just before halftime and quarterback Seneca Wallace was injured on the play. As a result, Jake Delhomme, who was already injured, was forced to enter the game.

One would think four weeks of sitting on the bench and limited practice reps would help Delhomme’s recovery. Wrong. At age 35, Delhomme’s resiliency is low. He noticeably limped through the second half and it was clear the injury was more on his mind than leading the Browns to victory. He repeatedly made bad decisions such as throwing into double coverage or taking a sack rather than throwing the ball away. The result was two interceptions, including one which was returned by the Falcons for the game sealing touchdown.

So now the controversial question: with two injured quarterbacks, what do the Browns do next? With two injured quarterbacks, signing an experienced veteran free agent seems like an obvious move. Those on the market include Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia, Jamarcus Russell, and J.P. Losman, just to name a few. Yes, that is definitely a weak market. Culpepper and Garcia, like Delhomme, are damaged goods, well past their prime. Russell and Losman, meanwhile, were never good to begin with. To be honest though, what other options do the Browns have?

Let us take a look at what the Browns have left. Rookie Colt McCoy has been holding a clipboard all season like it was promised by Mike Holmgren. When he was shown on the scoreboard during last week’s game against Cincinnati doing just that, I could not help but smile. Because that is what I feel he should be doing this season. Despite the injuries to the quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, I still feel he should be holding the clipboard this season. There are fans who think he knows the system now, but the fact of the matter is he’s still a greenhorn rookie who has not played against a first-string defense.

The Browns’ next game, as most who follow the NFL know, is against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. To send Colt McCoy, on one week’s notice, into that kind of atmosphere against the dreaded “steel curtain” defense would be lunacy. There are some who feel it would be a great test of his mental acumen.

While that may be true, I’m thinking in terms of his physical stature. Like Seneca Wallace, McCoy is barely six feet tall. To make matters worse, he is less mobile than Wallace and he would be facing a defense much better than that of the Atlanta Falcons. Despite having a better offensive line to protect him, if McCoy were to start, it could end up being a repeat of Tim Couch’s first few career games against Pittsburgh.

The next option the Browns have starting the healthier of their two injured quarterbacks. Since Wallace was just injured yesterday, he is still very tender, so he likely would not be ready by next Sunday. Delhomme, who did not expect to play yesterday, would have a week to prepare. While this does not sound very smart given what I just explained about the Steelers against immobile quarterbacks, there is another possibility.

At one point during the third quarter of yesterday’s game, Brian Daboll finally decided to shake up his offensive playbook. Josh Cribbs lined up several times at quarterback and was very successful doing so. Not only did he gain eleven yards on two carries, he also completed a ten yard pass. By now everyone is aware that Josh Cribbs was a quarterback in college at Kent State University. While he is not the most crisp passer, he is definitely capable of holding down the position for at least one game.

The final option, as I briefly covered earlier, is signing a veteran quarterback. If they chose to do so, I believe the best choice would be Jeff Garcia. Yes, the Browns have gone down that road once before with horrible results. Why would they want to do it again? Because this is a different story. A huge reason for Garcia’s problems in Cleveland the first time around was his issues with Butch Davis. The two butted heads repeatedly and the whole situation went up in flames.

This time Garcia would not have to worry about Davis, but he also has a history with one of the executives. Browns general manager Tom Heckert signed Jeff Garcia a few years ago in Philadelphia. After Donovan McNabb went down with one of his many injuries, Garcia stepped in and took the Eagles to the playoffs. I am not saying he would do that with the Browns. I am just saying he would not be a bad choice if Heckert were to call his number one more time.

Just when the Cleveland Browns appeared to have some stability at the quarterback position, the football gods intervened and proved everyone wrong once again. Now they once again have a controversy at the position. However, unlike the past, this one involves a rash of injuries. There are some interesting options, but which one will the Browns choose? I covered all of those which appear to be the most obvious or viable. If none of them work, maybe Vinny Testaverde is still sitting by his phone, waiting for a call.

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Browns Fans Rally Against Municipal Lot Time Change

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Larry Oliver has pulled his van into the Muni Lot at 4am for several years now.

Cleveland Browns fans have often been called some of the best fans in the world. Reason being no matter how bad the team may be (one of the worst in the NFL since their return in 1999), its fans still flock to the stadium every Sunday to watch the games. However, this season, unless the Browns show marked improvement, that may change.

While Al Lerner answered the fans’ cries for a new team management structure, the city of Cleveland now must answer to them as well. This past Saturday, while tailgating before the Browns’ preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, many fans caught wind of plans to not only raise of the price to park in the Municipal Lot from $15 to $20, but to also push back the lot’s opening time from 4a.m. to 7a.m.

The result was a massive outcry. Outraged season ticket holders, led by Larry Oliver and Chuck Dean, are protesting this change to the best of their ability, while still following the first amendment to the Bill of Rights.

In addition to creating a Facebook page called “The Muni lot should open at 4am on game days,” the two men also created an online petition addressed to Cleveland Commissioner Liegh Stevens, asking him to reconsider the decision.

Furthermore, the controversy was also covered by Cleveland channel five news affiliate WEWS. Larry was interviewed by the station and the report was aired on a recent newscast.

The efforts are not going unnoticed. Browns fans all over the city are rallying around Larry and Chuck, as the petition as of this writing garnered almost 1,000 signatures in only two days.

Because I have only been to one regular season Browns game in my entire life and did not participate in any tailgate activities, I cannot fully come to grips with the impact of these changes to the “Muni Lot.” However, I do have some understanding of what it means to season ticket holders.

Larry Oliver is my cousin’s long-time boyfriend and a good friend of mine. During Browns discussions with him at family parties, I heard many stories of tailgating rituals and how it enhances relationships between the fans. Last year I experienced that for the first time when I joined my cousin, Larry, Chuck Dean, and many of their friends for my first tailgating experience. I stood in amazement as I witnessed the interaction between those in the Muni Lot that day. Though it was only a preseason game, fans embraced the culture they have shared together as if it were a real regular season game. Many of these fans have attended these sessions for so long that it seemed like they banded together as an extended family. This past Saturday I joined them all again. Despite the nonstop pouring rain which plagued the entire time, nothing changed. They answered all my questions as to why they would wake up at 3a.m. on a Sunday and spend over twelve hours downtown near Lake Erie, especially once cold weather set in for the year.

Because I am not much of a drinker, I did not see much point in tailgating until I finally witnessed it for the first time. Tailgating is not about fans having the opportunity to drink in public without fear of incarceration. I encountered many fans who choose not to indulge. Instead, it is about fans banding together and connecting at a deeper level to better support their team. Fans who do not participate in tailgate activities still do come together at the stadium during games, but the season ticket holders who do this every Sunday know each other better than a few random fans sitting near each other in their seats during select games.

The theory is the time change for when the Municipal Lot opens is another part of Browns President Mike Holmgren’s efforts to crack down on unruly fans. The thought is by opening the lot later, that is three hours less the fans get to drink, resulting in less intoxication during games.

While there is some weight behind this theory, I truly believe that this time change is really cutting down on time between Browns fans and their extended family. Right now, in support of a struggling franchise, there is nothing more important than family.

Credit for image: Larry Oliver

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Written by apokorny

August 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Browns at a Glance

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Mike Holmgren must have enjoyed what he saw from the Browns Saturday night.

Since the night the Cavaliers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, most fans in Cleveland, aside from a few diehard Indians fans, were anxiously awaiting the start of football season. The anticipation is higher than ever this season because Mike Holmgren, the guru of quarterbacks and the man who took two teams from the bottom of the NFL to Super Bowls, is the Browns’ new president.

Once the “Big Show” hit town, he promised Browns fans a turnaround. Of course, fans have heard these lines whenever a new regime was hired. But this one is different. The team has a front office in place with an impressive background. Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert immediately went out and formed a new quarterback contingent and signed some veterans to beef up the defense. Add in a solid draft class and this upcoming season does look very promising.

I attended the Browns’ scrimmage at the stadium and, truth be told, it was not very pretty. It looked like a typical Cleveland Browns game. Incomplete passes, penalties, interceptions, and punting plagued the scrimmage game. Aside from a few solid plays, neither offense could get in sync. The Brown team won 14-6 when new quarterback Jake Delhomme finally threw a touchdown pass to new tight end Ben Watson in the late fourth quarter. One could look at the game from a different viewpoint, thinking it was a good defensive game rather than sloppy offensively. However, what happened a week later suggests otherwise.

This past Saturday the Browns opened the preseason against the Green Bay Packers, expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year. The Browns received the opening kickoff and immediately shocked the viewing audience. Jake Delhomme threw sharp, accurate passes and the receiving corps ran crisp routes as the offense marched down the field to score a touchdown on the opening drive.

Mangini decided that was all he needed to see of Jake Delhomme for the game. Nobody expected Delhomme to play much in the first game, but being yanked after one series was interesting. In this case, though, due to his injury history and how impressive he looked on that first drive, letting Delhomme sit the rest of the game was the right thing to do. In addition, this move gave backup Seneca Wallace time to work with the first team. And Wallace did not disappoint either. After the defense recovered a fumble on the Packers’ first play from scrimmage, Wallace took the Browns down a short field for another touchdown, a nice pass in the back corner of the end zone to second-year receiver Brian Robiskie.

Then Aaron Rodgers went to work. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Rodgers picked apart the Browns defense and immediately got Green Bay back in the game. Pulled after three series, Rodgers completed 12 of 13 passes for 159 yards, a touchdown, and an amazing 143.3 rating.

Wallace led the Browns to another touchdown to give them a 21-14 lead. Then both teams’ starters were pulled and the game turned ugly. Neither team’s backup quarterback could muster any sustained offense until midway through the third quarter when the Packers found the end zone to tie the game again on a short run. The rest of the game looked like of the Browns’ first 14 games last season.

Then Phil Dawson showed why he should be the next Browns player to be paid. Down by three with 90 seconds to go, Dawson launched a 58-yard field goal to tie the game. He had hit long field goals in the past, but this was his career long and it is always impressive when any kicker nails a field goal of such length.

After a quick three-and-out, the Browns got the ball back with plenty of time to win the game. After fourth-stringer Brett Ratliff showed his inner Pro Bowler and got them back into field goal position, Dawson booted another three-pointer, this time from an easier 46-yard distance to seal a Browns victory.

Obviously with the game being just a preseason opener, this victory does not mean a thing. Keep in mind the Browns won two games in solid fashion during the preseason last year only to lose the first seven games of the regular season. However, Browns fans cannot help but feel a small glimmer of hope from watching the beginning, then the outcome of this game.

Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace both looked very good in their first outings with their new team. Second-year players Mohammed Massaquoi (before leaving with an injury) and Brian Robiskie appeared to be much improved from less than spectacular rookie seasons. Ben Watson and Evan Moore totaled three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, causing Jim Donovan to exclaim “the tight end is back in Cleveland!” Colt McCoy left the game with a thumb injury reminiscent of Tim Couch and Brady Quinn, but that was just a small downside since he will likely not see the field at all this season.

What could use some help after first glance is the defense, which was torched by Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps this was just a case of Rodgers coming into his own as an NFL star or a defense with new parts, players, and roles needing plenty of game time to adjust and jell. Whatever the case, outside of some flashes of excellence by rookie safety T.J. Ward, the defense was not very sharp until the Packers’ first-team offense left the field.

Despite solid play leading to much excitement early on, I am in no way chanting “Super Bowl” as I am fully aware this was only the first game of preseason. However, as one Browns player said after the game “this is what happens when we execute.” So long as each player keeps this quote in mind, knows his role, and does his best to avoid injury, this game could be viewed as a good start.

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Written by apokorny

August 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm