Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What a difference

It’s been a year to the day since I wrote this disgusted diatribe about the then-pathetic state of the Browns. My crabby column came after Cleveland opened the 2009 pre-season with an ugly, altogether boring performance against the Green Bay Packers, a game that would become the harbinger for an equally unsightly and dull regular season.
Twelve months later, the Browns once again traveled to cheese country to kick off a season, and what a difference a year makes. I actually had this odd euphoric feeling while watching the DVR replay of Saturday night’s game, like I was partaking in an activity designed for therapeutic refreshment of one's body and mind – an unfamiliar sensation known in some NFL cities as “fun.”
Yes, watching the Browns score two touchdowns against the Packers’ ones was fun, something that has been sorely lacking with any regularity in Browns’ town since about 1989. A meaningless exhibition matchup should not be cause for myopic, championship-level optimism, but actually enjoying football season again would be a welcome change from the heretofore coma-inducing norm.
And that’s all I really ask of the Browns this year. Realistically, with another new front office working to turn over the mistakes of past regimes, this squad’s talent pool is shallow compared to its three division rivals. Finishing at .500 would be considered a successful season, and rightly so.
As much as we want immediate fulfillment of our worst-to-first Super Bowl dreams, game-to-game competitiveness and player growth should be our benchmark in 2010. Give me exciting, well played games that aren’t decided until the fourth quarter, and I can live with the Browns going 7-9 or even 6-10 this year.
Shooting for mediocrity is not a thrilling prospect, but among the strip club buffet that is the current Cleveland sports scene, the Browns are like that salty, slightly undercooked sirloin steak that's been emulsifying in its own juices for two days: It may not taste great and it’s probably bad for you, but it’s the only edible thing around.
That said, in an NFL era where franchises can turn their fortunes around relatively quickly, a solid, competitive, albeit non-playoff 2010 should rightfully give fans designs on a postseason run the following year. If the Holmgren/Heckert/Mangini trio cannot get the Browns into the playoffs in 2011, that will be the time to start questioning their validity, and high time for Randy Lerner to seriously consider selling the team.
For now, I have cautious optimism that this front office can drag an ever-struggling franchise back to respectability. One preseason game does not cure all ills, but unlike last year, it didn’t make me sick. I count that as a positive first step.

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