Two bits of Browns-related news today likely to result in a roller coaster ride, from panicked helplessness, to depression, then wistful remembrance, to hope, before returning to the depths where we’ve grown accustomed to dwelling.
Starting with Browns owner Randy Lerner. The above photo of Lerner accompanies this incredible interview that he gave to the London Times almost exactly one year ago upon donating $10 million to the UK’s National Portrait Gallery, the largest donation that the Gallery has ever received.
Some excerpts from the Times interview by Tim Teeman:
[Lerner,] a tricky one: blunt but friendly, handsome and fit (he runs in Hyde Park)
[HE RUNS IN HYDE PARK]
… with mournful grey eyes.. . .
At university he studied ‘mainly history’ and left his American alma mater to study at Cambridge. For the first time in our interview, his eyes dance. ‘I had no plan to go back to the States. I wanted to stay here, but it didn’t work out. Oh God, I loved being on a bicycle, not in a car.
[OH GOD! THE STATES! CARS!]
Cambridge was beautiful. I met great friends and it was a great place to concentrate, a real sense of academic immersion.’
[NOTHING LIKE CLEVELAND STATE]
What excites Lerner most [about his bequest] is that the money is being used ‘within the current appetite for thinking very hard about contemporary portraiture, asking very difficult questions about portraiture and performance and the wider way portraiture is being interpreted by young painters and art-makers.’”
[WON'T ATTEND A BROWNS PRESS CONFERENCE EVER BUT GLAD ABOUT VERY DIFFICULT QUESTIONS ABOUT PORTRAITURE.]
Lerner didn’t grow up in an arty household in Cleveland, Ohio.
[ONLY BEEN TO CLEVELAND LIKE SIX TIMES.]
What kind of boy was he? ‘Oh God, completely nondescript,’ he scoffs. [NO.] What was your favourite subject? ‘Maths.’ Did you like sport? ‘Yeah, no, yeah, I loved it.’
[YEAH, NO, YEAH, NO, YEAH, IN FACT, I HATED IT.]
Did you play it a lot? ‘No, yeah, I was perfectly average.’
[NO, YEAH, NO, YEAH, NO, I NEVER ACTUALLY PLAYED A GAME OF SPORT. NOT REALLY EVEN ONCE.]
What did he want to be? Here he pauses and looks serious. ‘A teacher. My interests were around history.’
His father ‘wanted things handled properly’ after he passed away, which, disentangled, means he wanted Lerner to become head of his business empire.His fortune is estimated at $1.6 billion. It seems there is a tension between academic manqué and businessman, I say.
. . . So did he want to be an academic? ‘Yeah, I did yeah,’ he says forcefully. So what stopped him?
‘I probably felt the influences suggesting more of a professional life seemed to be more persuasive than the influences suggesting an academic life …
… which begs the question, ‘Why can’t I make a decision for myself?’
… and the answer is ‘Personal weakness’. Absolutely.
[THERE'S THAT REFRESHINGLY BRUTAL BRITISH HONESTY. ARE WE SURE THIS GUY WAS BORN IN THE STATES?]
Lerner bought Aston Villa last year for nearly £63 million and relishes the business challenges of running two football teams.
The big difference between here and the States is that here you can get promoted and relegated (this makes his stomach “churn”).
[PAYS NO ATTENTION TO THE BROWNS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T BE RELEGATED.]
He has homes on Long Island and in Kensington, and as for being a high-living billionaire, he confesses: ‘I like to think I’m not immune to a certain appetite for niceness, but I haven’t become addicted to the narcotic.’
[TOO SCARED TO TRY DRUGS.]
No, he isn’t a collector, he says, ‘I just own some pictures’ . . . ‘In this day and age you look, react and there you go. There are no strict rules for how to look at things. For me it’s about movement, motion, the amazing convergence over decades between easel painting in the traditional sense, and photography and film.’ And again, the passion button is suddenly on.
[PASSION BUTTON: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE EASEL AND THE VIDEO CAMERA.]
There is at the very least a frustrated academic inside you, I say. ‘That’s what you say,’ Lerner mugs, looking like a schoolkid who’s been busted.
Are the football teams really satisfying him creatively, I wonder? ‘That’s a good question,’ he says with an expression that suggests the internal answer is another screaming and heartfelt ‘NO!’
It might actually be an excellent moment to send him a begging letter.”
[YES YOU SEND ONE TOO MY GOD PLEASE HELP]
On the bright side of all of this, it’s probably conclusive proof for our campaign to seize the Browns from Lerner’s clammy clutches through eminent domain proceedings, and this will help, too: Memories of Akron native Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli, Hall of Fame Browns receiver who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 85 via Bob Dolgan in the Plain Dealer:
“Lavelli was the Browns’ starting right end for 11 years, from 1946 until his retirement following the 1956 season. He caught 386 passes for 6,488 yards in the AAFC and the NFL, ranking second in club history in both departments to Ozzie Newsome. Lavelli’s 62 touchdown catches place him second to Gary Collins.
“In seven of Lavelli’s 11 seasons, the Browns won a league championship. In three others they won a conference title and lost the championship game.
[!!! . . .!!!!!!!!! . . . !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
“Lavelli was knocked out by an opponent when the Browns defeated the Yankees, 34-21, on Nov. 21, 1948, on the way to becoming the only team in football history to win three games in a week.
“‘Jack Russell hit me with his fist,’ Lavelli recalled. ‘That was before face masks. They always tried to KO me and Speedie.
[WE USED TO HAVE A GUY CALLED MAC SPEEDIE.]
My eye hurt so much when we got on the plane I was lying on the floor during the flight to Los Angeles. When we got to the Hotel Green, I sat by the pool and the sun took away the swelling. But I had the discoloration for five months.’
“Lavelli caught a TD pass as the Browns beat the tough Los Angeles Dons [BRING BACK THE L.A. DONS.], 31-14, on Thanksgiving Day, four days after winning in New York. Then they played the tough San Francisco 49ers the following Sunday, with only a two-day rest after the Dons game.
“‘We didn’t practice at all,’ recalled Lavelli. ‘We just sat around and healed our bumps and bruises …
[DRANK SH*T-TONS OF WHISKEY]
… and walked through some plays. We didn’t really need much practice. All but a couple of the 33 guys on the team were with us the previous year.’
“On the first play, Graham hurled a 41-yard TD pass to Lavelli as the Browns won, 31-28.
“Lavelli was proud of a 1954 play in which he seized the goal posts, which were then on the goal line, and reversed his direction to take a TD pass from Graham for the winning score against Philadelphia.
[PUT THE GOAL POSTS BACK ON THE FIELD.]
“Lavelli, who always interacted well with other players, helped unionize NFL athletes when he met with Cleveland lawyer Creighton Miller in 1956, his last year as a player. The first meeting was held in the recreation room of Lavelli’s house in Rocky River. . . The union’s goals at that time were modest. It asked for meal money on trips, minimum pay and a pension plan.
[SOME WHISKEY MONEY IS ALL WE ASK FOR!]
That led to the current NFL Players Association.
“Lavelli’s mission in his last years was to get the NFL to recognize AAFC records and statistics. After the AAFC folded, the NFL behaved as though it never existed, although it absorbed three of the league’s teams. In contrast, the NFL counts the stats of the old American Football League, which also became part of the NFL.
“Paul Zimmerman, veteran football writer for Sports Illustrated, was [an ally in this cause]. ‘The NFL had no problem bringing in AFL records and stats,’ he said. ‘In my opinion, the AAFC was a better league than the AFL.’
“‘We were the best team in football when we were in the AAFC,’ [Lavelli] said. ‘We proved it when we went into the NFL and won the title in our first year.’”
The custody of the Lerner family, one of the best arguments there is for municipal ownership of an NFL franchise.