It was a sad day in Cleveland when Art Modell packed up the beloved Browns and moved them to the greener pastures of Baltimore. The team of Paul Brown, Jim Brown and other people actually not named Brown had broken the hearts of fans who, every Sunday, came out to the freezing cold stadium and waved around rubber dog bones in expression of their undying love.
Cleveland would spend four years in NFL gulag before being awarded an expansion franchise. Thankfully, Art Modell had left behind the team’s name and colors (why the hell would he want them?), guaranteeing continuity with the former Browns at least superficially.
Thus far, the new Browns have had very little in common with the old Browns beyond those ugly helmets and that boring nickname. In their first decade in the NFL, the old Browns won three championships. In their initial ten years, the new Browns made the playoffs once, and finished over .500 exactly twice.
Most painful for old school Browns fans, however, was having to witness Art Modell’s success with the Ravens in Baltimore, culminating in a Super Bowl championship in 2000. “It could’ve been us,” the Dawg Pounders wept as they watched Modell attempt to dance in celebration alongside knife-happy Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
It’s nearly ten years later, and the weeping still hasn’t stopped.
But, perhaps the franchise has at last given its fans reason to hope. After last season, the organization bade farewell to Romeo Crennel, and replaced him with another former Bill Belichick assistant, Eric Mangini, who was himself booted from the Jets after failing to make the playoffs despite acquiring Brett Favre.
Mangini’s biggest task in Cleveland was to settle the lingering quarterback controversy. Would it be Derek Anderson? Brady Quinn? Would Mangini somehow lure Favre to Cleveland and once again entrust his future to that aging right arm?
Thankfully for the Browns, Cleveland was never on Favre’s radar. Unfortunately for Mangini, that left him having to choose between two guys who both basically stink.
Mangini spent the off-season giving off subtle indications that he would rather jam a sharp object into his own urethra than have either Quinn or Anderson as his quarterback. Meanwhile, he traded away the team’s former franchise tight end, Kellen Winslow, and also apparently mulled trading franchise receiver Braylon Edwards, who contributed mightily to the team’s QB issues in 2008 by refusing to catch most of the balls they threw at him.
Mangini may have garnered a reputation as a boy genius while under Bill Belichick’s protective wing, but prognosticators are skeptical that he can bring that magic touch to the Browns. SI, for instance, has picked them to finish dead last in the grueling AFC North. And pretty much everyone else who picks football seasons ahead of time, because it’s their job or because they just like futile exercises, agrees that the Browns have no shot at going anywhere this year.
Of course, sometimes teams can surprise us. Nobody saw the Browns going 10-6 two years ago and almost making the postseason. There’s always a chance that the Ravens and Steelers could have unusually bad years, and that the Browns could get a couple of fluky wins and wind up taking the division at something like 9-7.
It’s more likely, however, that the space-time continuum will remain intact and our universe will not shift into bizarro mode, meaning the Browns will end up with about 5 wins…just enough to grab third place ahead of the Bengals.
Yes Browns fans, you always have that one thing to hang your hat on, don’t you? At least you aren’t the f**king Bengals.