The Cleveland Browns: Lost in the Middle of the City's Success
Cleveland, a city that had long been the one of the laughing stocks of the country and sports world, has become one of the epicenters in the span of only five months. It started in May when native Clevelander and UFC fighter, Stipe Miocic, won the heavyweight championship, bringing Cleveland its champion of any kind since 1964. Then, the town's minor league hockey team the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters, won the Calder Cup in early June.
Sure there are those who said that those didn't count as "breaking the curse" since neither was one of the three major sports, but for a city that had had nothing for so long, they would take anything they could get. Then came the one that no one could deny.
June 19, 2016 will be a day that will live in fame forever in Cleveland. The day that the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a three games to one deficit to defeat the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. All the years of pain and suffering, from "Red Right 88," to "The Fumble," "The Drive," The Shot," "The Decision," and so many more, was wiped away in one fell swoop as LeBron James and the Cavaliers brought the city their first championship since '64, and the Cavs first NBA title in franchise history.
As summer trekked on, the Cleveland Indians were as hot as any team in the MLB, at one point riding a 14-game winning streak, and not relinquishing the lead of their division, all the way to clinching it in late September. Sweeping their way past the Red Sox in the first ALDS, Cleveland was then just four games away from making another championship appearance, and won that fourth game Wednesday night. The Tribe defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 to win the ALCS 4-1 and advance to their first World Series since 1997, and await the winner of the Cubs/Dodgers series.
Being a Cleveland fan or athlete could not be any better than it is right now.
Unless you're talking about the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns. A source of entertainment and distraction from the dregs of everyday life since 1946 - going on their 70th year. A team that saw so many high points; Paul and Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar, eight championships between 1946 and 1964, but is also the same team that has been through the lowest of lows, and continues to be in the dumpster since their 1999 return.
The Browns sit at 0-6 currently on the season, and barring an act of divine intervention, will likely be 0-7 after they face their in-state rival Bengals Sunday afternoon. Poor records and performances are nothing new to the die-hard Browns fans; it's almost become an inevitability at this point. But this year's team, this year's team is special in terms of just how bad they are.
It's not for lack of trying, slightly for a lack of talent, a lot for poor drafting in the past; but this year, their killer have been the injuries. Joel Bitonio, Austin Reiter, Jordan Poyer, Desmond Bryant: those are the players that will not see the field again this season. Not to mention the injuries to rookie receiver Corey Coleman, the newly developing injury to receiver Terrelle Pryor and of course the lingering groin injury to veteran cornerback Joe Haden.
This team is a shambles of what they could have been this season, and what they looked like before the year began.
It's for these reasons that Haden has found it hard to watch the success that the other Cleveland franchises are having, all while being the third-best option in a city that has long been considered a "football town."
"It's so, so bittersweet," Haden said in an article on ESPN.com. "I'm so happy for the Cavs, so happy for the Indians. At the same time we're one of the professional sports teams in the same city where they're doing a lot of successful things.
"It pushes us man. We want to be successful. We want the city to embrace the Browns. We know this is a football town, but we want to get some W's so they can show the same love and support that they've been showing for the other teams."
Who can blame Haden for feeling this way? Since he came into the league, the Browns have not had a single season with a record above .500, with their best coming in 2014 when they went 7-9, and have had held a draft pick in the top-10 six times since 2010. With the looks of it this year, they will land in the top-10 once again, if not in the top-five, or potentially even earn the number one overall selection.
I don't say all this to bash on Cleveland or Joe Haden for saying what he feels, it's just a situation where it is what it is. In Cleveland, water is wet, grass is green and the Browns stink. Every year, this team gives fans reason to believe that this "next year" will finally be different. Are we as fans let down?
More often than not, yes.
The team and franchise as a whole has been "rebuilding" since '99, with nine different coaches, eight different GM's and two different owners. However, this time around, there is a genuine hope that it will be different.
Now this isn't just your typical Cleveland fan "fools gold" type hope, there is truly a different aura about how things are being handled with this new organization.
It started with the hiring of Hue Jackson; the first time in God-knows how long that Cleveland got their first choice for head coach. Then bringing in two geniuses in Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, two Ivy-leaguers specializing in "analytics." While that might have seems like a bad word when they were first brought on, considering DePodesta had spent much of his career in a similar position for MLB teams, their analytical approach seems to be generally welcomed now among fans.
Perhaps the best part of this whole thing, was that owner Jimmy Haslam didn't give fans any illusions of grandeur about what to expect in this first season, openly admitting that rebuilding this team is going to be a lengthy process, that they were going to let Jackson build the team he wanted to build and be patient while all the pieces fell into place.
The problem with many Browns' "rebuilds" in the past - and there have been countless - is that they usually consisted of throwing money at one or two big name, aging free agents hoping they would completely turn the team around, and usually ended up flopping and with a fired head coach. There was no patience in the (Pat Shurmur trigger warning) "process." This regime, even in their first year, has shown a strong commitment to building through the draft, and not rushing into anything.
It may not look pretty now, and it's going to take some time and more agony, but the hope and belief is that down the line, this will be a team that players want to come to. A team that is not only fighting for the division, but for deep playoff runs. A team that is no longer the punch line of so many jokes.
So yes, it can be bittersweet to enjoy watching the Indians and Cavaliers celebrate their success, knowing you have only the Browns to look forward to on Sundays, but if there's one thing Clevelanders are known for, it's their toughness and resiliency. And when this all turns itself around, and the Browns are able to put a winning product on the field, there will be no more deserving group of fans or players than those in Cleveland.