Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Unwatchable Browns testing Cleveland's loyalty

How much longer must we watch this?
The Browns crossed a line on Sunday. I don't mean the goal-line, which is prohibited for them to traverse until they're down big in the fourth quarter. Nor do I mean the opponent's 33-yard-line, a demarcation from whence the right foot of Phil Dawson becomes the team's most potent offensive weapon.

No, the Browns doglike rollover against Houston marked the moment in the season when Cleveland football became unwatchable instead of merely tedious. The Browns have been steadily reaching this point all year, but the actual threshold crossing happened like a stroke of lightning thanks to a quick Houston touchdown followed by a Cleveland fumble on their first play from scrimmage. Bang, it's 14-zip and you're looking for something else to do with an unseasonably warm fall afternoon.

Thankfully, I was in a car riding back from Chicago while the Browns thuddingly passionless performance was taking place. While my travel-mates and I did listen to the contest, we at least did not have to watch the carnage unfold. Small favors.

Still, there are eight weeks left in the season, a period in which Browns games are no longer what those suit-wearing jerks in Hollywood like to call "appointment TV." For my personal viewing habits, at least, the Browns have entered a probationary period, meaning if they can't play competitive football, I simply will not waste my time watching them. Instead, I will go to the gym, clean my apartment, finally write that novel about a Labrador Retriever that travels back in time for some reason - anything that doesn't involve Ian Eagle, Rich Gannon or Solomon Wilcots attempting to explain the intricacies of an offense that at one point during Sunday's game ran the ball on 11 out of 13 first downs.

Dull-as-dishwater playcalling combined with the Texans' physical domination of the Browns has the power to make even the staunchest fan fair-weather. I've been accused of this crime over the last few years for turning down tickets to home games. I usually feel a pang of guilt for saying "no," as if my Cleveland fandom relies on heading down to the muni lot at 6 a.m. in support of this lackluster franchise.

Think it through and you'll get my logic: That's seven hours of tailgating followed by a fair chance of witnessing another miserable Browns' performance in the company of 70,000 other drunken depressives. Say the game goes 3 1/2 hours, and you're looking at an 11-hour day if you include the drive getting to and from the stadium. It's the NFL version of a Sri Lankan sweat shop. Randy Lerner may as well have fans in the stands make knockoff Gucci wallets while they watch his inferior product. At least their minds will be kept occupied.

Otherwise, the Browns, for years referred to by Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston as the city's "Teflon franchise," have done little to deserve Cleveland's loyalty. Watching the same on-field issues and off-field chaos season after season makes me more apathetic than angry nowadays.

And why should we remain completely faithful when that dedication is so blithely unreciprocated? I'm not talking about a boycott, at its core a fruitless endeavor, as it's not like the Browns are trying to fail. The investment of time and particularly our emotions are what should be at stake. The Browns don't deserve their usual place in our hearts or heads until they're able to extricate themselves from this culture of losing clinging to them like a stench.

While I'll continue to follow the Browns and watch games from the comforts of home, I'll be damned if I let this franchise ruin my Sunday anymore. A small bit of defiance, yes, but one that's long past due.