The Browns are a supernatural conflagration of disappointment and despair

by Cleveland Frowns on December 6, 2015

After the Browns finished 7-9 last season for their best record since 2007, the NFL schedule-makers were encouraged enough to reward them with a slot on Monday Night Football for the first time since 2009. The Browns rewarded the schedule-makers in turn by arriving for the showcase event with a 2-9 record, helping to make for “one of the least attractive matchups in Monday Night Football History.” Still, they were considered 4-point favorites playing at home against a 3-8 Ravens team that had lost its quarterback and a number of other key starters to injury. Before the game, Browns players were talking about how the Monday-night lights could help them turn their season around. And on what would be the game’s last play, with the score tied, they set up to kick what would have been a game-winning field goal. Seconds later, though, they’d become only the second team in NFL history and the first in three decades to lose on a walk-off blocked field goal return. The videos capturing live reactions to this ending are like Guernica.


The level of anguish on display here is something to appreciate. It’s not as if these fans didn’t know that they were sitting in a building popularly known as “The Factory of Sadness,” to pull for a 2-9 team and national laughingstock of franchise that’s had only two winning seasons since 1999, hasn’t won a playoff game since 1995, and is one of only two non-expansion franchises (Hello, Detroit!) to have never reached a Super Bowl in a league that makes every accommodation for parity. Red Right 88, the Drive, the Fumble, the Move, and everything after that, of course, it’s not at all as if Browns fans aren’t experienced with unthinkable disappointment. It’s that even despite all of it, Browns fans are still around, all they wanted was for their team to make a decent showing in its first Monday Night Football appearance in six years, and what their team did instead was remind the world why it’s become a synonym for failure against all odds. “Damn if those Browns didn’t go and out-Browns themselves again!

With another win for this team as unlikely as it is, the Monday-night meltdown served as an exclamation point on a campaign of bewildering ineptitude. The most bewildering element of which being a defense – incredibly, the highest paid defense in the NFL – that’s given up more points than all but one other team’s, and more yards than all but two. There’s also the offensive line. Manned by Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas and two more with Pro Bowl credentials, it was supposed to be a major strength. Yet the Browns are ranked last in the league in rushing, and first in quarterback-sacks taken. When head coach Mike Pettine said before the season that the Browns would “run the ball and stop the run,” it was hard to imagine they’d be among the NFL’s absolute worst at doing both.

Naturally, a lot of fans and press are now calling for Pettine to be fired after this, his second season on the job. If this happens, he’d be the fourth consecutive Browns head coach to be terminated within two years. In large part for this reason, it would be as hard as ever to find a suitable replacement for him. The search that landed Pettine in Cleveland in the first place became its own national punchline when even mediocre candidates declined to be interviewed for the job. The perception of Cleveland as a can’t-win destination for potential coaches would only be further supported by reports that Pettine is “mightily respected” by his players, and that his team is a hard-working group undermined by a meddling (and worse) front office and its failed first-round draft picks who are constantly sucking all the air out of the locker room.

Of course, there’s always next year’s draft and the possibility that Cleveland might finally land the ever-elusive franchise quarterback to turn things around. But this hasn’t worked with any of the four first-round picks the Browns have spent on a signal caller since 1999. They do have the inside track on next spring’s first overall pick, but as much as “consensus franchise QB prospect refuses to sign with Cleveland” should be filed under “inevitable future Browns headlines,” there’s no such prospect available in this draft. It might be that a sufficient quarterback is already on the roster, but however one might be identified, the Browns would still have to maintain a level of organizational stability unseen since the 1980’s to allow him to succeed.

So, suffice to say that Browns fan’s traditional late-season mantras – “fire everybody,” “the draft is only 144 days away” – are as hopeless as ever. Maybe that’s just as well, and staying the course is the best way forward. But all we can reasonably expect after the last three decades is that the disappointment will continue in extremely improbable ways.

And still, after every round of torn jerseys, radio rants, and open letters to management, these displays of renunciation must be accepted as ultimately futile. Certain reasons for identifying with this team are impossible to abandon, so it’s impossible for even so-called former-Browns-fans to avoid identifying with the losing in some way.

In this respect, the only thing that might help is to remember that the franchise has as little to do with Cleveland as it ever has. The NFL was one thing when the Canton Bulldogs would follow the canal 20 miles to play the Akron Pros. It was even another thing when Browns fans could buy insurance policies from Lou Groza in the off-season, or find Art Modell out in public on any given night. But Modell’s corpse and Super Bowl trophy are in Maryland, Randy Lerner is in London, and Jimmy Haslam extracts his annual 8-plus-figure annuity from Tennessee. Carmen Policy’s winery is in California and Mike Holmgren’s umbrella drinks are in Hawaii. You can get a good look at Joe Haden’s jewelry on Instagram, but he’s flying south with the rest of his teammates and bosses as soon as football season is over.

It’s also worth remembering that back when the Browns were last capable of winning playoff games, the Canadian Football League was at least somewhat competitive with the NFL in terms of attracting talent, as when Notre Dame star Raghib “Rocket” Ismail signed out of college with the Toronto Argonauts. Since then, this semblance of competitive balance has been obliterated by the influx of TV money into the American sport.

Which suggests it’s no accident that the deterioration of the Browns – along with Cleveland’s job market, middle class, and social safety net – has coincided so perfectly with this TV-cash explosion that Modell himself did so much to create. While the NFL was born in the industrial era, it wasn’t fully bought and paid for by corporate industry until the TV money came in. Since then, what else could the NFL have done for Cleveland (or Detroit, for that matter) other than exactly what industrial capitalism has? Extract and vacate. The Cleveland-football-type-substance sells the cars, beer, and war. The profits go somewhere else. Winning football games is secondary and increasingly unlikely the further removed the host city is from this economy’s benefits. In this era, there couldn’t be a more fitting owner for Cleveland’s NFL team, no one better to follow the Modell blueprint, than an out-of-state fracking pioneer, America’s largest private purveyor of fossil fuels, and rebate-scam-artist extraordinaire.

Extract and vacate. From Browns fans’ wallets, hearts, and souls. How could Jimmy Haslam’s franchise ever be capable of anything else? And what better showcase for this truth than Monday Night Football, Modell’s invention that’s done so much to enable the extraction?

If this run of impossible failure can lead Browns fans to this conclusion, the unbreakable affiliation with the orange helmets will have been worth something, and there’s reason to hope it can lead somewhere else. Sports are supposed to be fun.

  • BIKI024


    • Cleveland Frowns

      Bozos for Bosa

      • Mike B.

        Pate pronounces POTY as potty and so just last week I shared this ‘Pawty’ invite with her and wondered whatever happened to Biki?

        • BIKI024

          wow, 5 years sure does fly!

  • PML

    I’m hate-watching this game right now. Can’t think of any reason to feel anything but utter hopelessness for this team and its future. A big Poop on everyone involved.

  • bupalos

    But. But. There’s a gleam? Maybe?

    Well done here Frowns. Need to go check my Calendar for the next Hale-Bop party.

  • Brian Sipe

    Did we not pound Cincy in Cincy last year and start the year 7-4?! If the team gave Hoyer a hair of support he wins at least 8 last year. NOT saying he was a long term answer, but I am saying it shows just how all over the place this team is an how they have NO PLAN from week to week.

    Was stunned to hear the local talking heads calling for Johnny A hole next week. Give me a break. Start Austin last 4 games and start to prepare for next year starting with a good GM.

  • Tom_RedRight88

    No, no, you’re doing this all wrong. Remember you need to fire everyone because “it can’t get any worse.”

  • Chris P.

    I don’t know whether or not Pettine is a good coach or not. That aside – his desire to do the right thing is admirable. Regardless of whether or not Johnny is in the future, he’s not part of the future unless he matures from 17 years old to 23. He cares enough about the franchise and the kid to try and facilitate those two things, and is trying to see what he has in Davis.

    It’s the exact right thing to do, and there’s not much harder than doing the right thing in the face of overwhelming idiocy from the public and from his higher ups. It seems to me that when you hire a young coach that you’re acknowledging that he’s gonna learn on the job. Much like how you shouldn’t vote based on how a politician stands on the issues of right now or 6 months ago – but on how you see his capacity to make decisions on what will be an issue in the next few years, you hire a young coach based on your perception of how he can learn and adapt to what changes around him.

    So when you have a coach who is making difficult decisions for the right reasons on the long term future like Pettine is re: Manziel – I’m inclined to think that he has in him the desire and work ethic to get better at a lot of other things. Which means that he may not be a good coach, but might have it in him to evolve into a very good coach and Sweet Feathery Jesus I don’t know what else could possibly be available to a franchise so mired in asshattery as we are.

    They’re not winning games because the skill level of the players is inferior to the players we play against. Yet, in the most damning statement I could possibly make, THAT’S NOT EVEN THE PROBLEM.


    The number one fucking reason we never get better despite more first round draft picks than any other team is that the actual problems aren’t addressed. We think that if we just get a franchise quarterback or better blocking or a number one corner or a really stanky slumpbuster or a wide receiver taller than an oompa-loompa or a bigger set of defensive tackles we’re suddenly gonna magically turn into an eleven win team. People can bag on Josh McCown all they want, but they got surprisingly good quarterback play this year. Perhaps the best QB play since we returned. At the very least, certainly on par with the better seasons we’ve had like Derek Anderson’s year and Jeff Garcia’s. And we were worse than ever because we never address the fundamental problem.

    The fundamental problem is this culture. This culture that is always looking for a magic bullet. This culture that emphasizes pettiness and power struggles and uniforms and beating down the media and pretending bad things don’t happen and glitz and giant heaping piles of smelly bullshit. A culture that mistakes bullshit like “wreck this league” for desire. Or perhaps most painfully, a culture that doesn’t see this.

    There always seems to be an every man for himself kind of vibe from this team. When you have that kind of vibe floating around people start looking to get ahead (and who can blame them?). When people are doing that, Instead of focusing of football things people realize they can get a little ahead by focusing 95% on what they need to, and 5% on getting ahead. And when the culture has jealousy running through it, someone realizes they can pass that other guy up by focusing 93% on what they need to and 7% on getting ahead.

    A real organization (fuck football teams, a real company or family or whatever) weeds out that bullshit by nipping it in the bud before it gets too far along. The Browns have systemically let it get to the point where people seem to be focused 50% on ‘not what they need to’ kind of things. And that carries over into the football. And when you take a chance on a guy with a shitton of talent like Justin Gilbert but no real desire… well, you have no chance on making that guy great.

    Pettine might be the best employee in that whole fucking building as he seems to be focused on the right things. He may not (or he might) have huge upside, but at least he’s focused on the right things. He’s too good for this organization. If his upside is Brad Childress level competence and he never gets there he’s still too good for this organization as is.

    Speaking of which I wonder if I still have that picture of Brad Childress roasting marshmallows over a flaming dumpster.

    • Capitalgg

      This is the most excellent point I’ve seen made about this dumper fire of an organization. It should be placed in a more prominent place so that more can read it.

    • bupalos

      So you’re saying we need to draft Goff?

      • Chris P.

        I’ll have to check if he is majoring in Psychiatry

    • Mike B.

      Best assessment of the Browns coach/org drama Ive seen anywhere. (And that’s without factoring in the brilliant imagery of oompa-loompa wide receivers.)

      • Chris P.

        I miss cheddar and random arky state rants.

        • Cleveland Frowns

          You have no one to blame but yourself for this.

          • Chris P.

            indeed. i feel the frown face football is not angry enough.

        • Mike B.

          no cheddars have been caught off guard by hugh freeze’s ole miss teams.

    • Chris P.


  • actovegin1armstrong

    On what may be “The Bright Side of Life”….
    “Life is quite absurd
    And death is the final word”
    Austin Davis is a really good quarterback, and so is Josh McCown.
    Did anyone watch Davis against the Patriots? Or McCown making lemonade this season?
    Stopping the run and finding a cover corner without a concussion and the Browns are in the Superbowl!

  • jpftribe

    Browns hire an Attorney to run football ops
    LeBron gets a new coach
    Chip fires Mangenius
    Frowns is conspicuously quiet……

    There has to be a post brewing in all of that……..

  • Mike B.

    are you gonna rip the shit out of this free agency or do i have do everything around here?

    • acto

      Mike, you know I love you, but you are the one who called Trent Richardson a “grown ass man”. Free agency is not a good venue to get players in the NFL. Joey Bosa with the first pick, Paxton Lynch with the next pick if necessary. i would have liked to see the Browns get Ryan FitzHarvard, or Mark Sanchez in the free agent world. I am however, a bit worried about Colin “He is Olie, You are Swen” Capernick, and the trade that would be required to obtain his services.

      • Mike B.

        i dont worry as much about signing new players as i do about losing nine home grown starters in two years.

        • actovegin1armstrong

          What did you want the Browns to do to get RGINJURY when he was the 2nd pick?

          • actovegin1armstrong

            Mikey B, How do you feel about RGJNJURY now? What about Joey Bosa with the second pick? Hackenberger-miester in the 3rd-ish round?

        • actovegin1armstrong

          I enjoyed our pick a division stuff a few years ago, I know I was blatantly mediocre to horrible at best, but it certainly was 90 minutes of terrific fun pretending that I can write some stuff.
          Shall we do it again?

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