Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Strong words can't mask stench of Browns' return to obscurity

I'm singin' to myself, there's got to be another way.
Just two months ago I was sitting in the upper levels of the Dawg Pound as the Cleveland Browns were polishing off Cincinnati in dominating fashion. It was a great win against a division foe, punctuated by two touchdown passes from hometown kid Bryan Hoyer and an aggressive performance by Ray Horton's defense. 

It was a fantastic day for Cleveland sports and an exhilarating one as well. Many high fives were given and/or received that chilly autumn Sunday, I can tell you, while the guy one seat over generously offered me his beef jerky. Whether that last is a euphemism is for the courts to hash out.

Anyway, that first Cinci game was one that made you want to believe a corner was being turned on a season and perhaps even on a decade-and-a-half of futile football. The Browns were actually being discussed as playoff contenders, if not a threat to take the division in a down year for the Steelers and Ravens.

For those who take stock in such things, the gridiron universe has righted itself. Stop me if you've heard the one about the Browns finding extravagant new ways to lose football games - six out of seven if you're still counting - floundering at 4-8 with a very real shot to lose out and actually finish one tick behind last year's miserable Pat Shurmur swan song.

First-year coach Rob Chudzinski had strong words for the media following Sunday's rock-bottoming against Jacksonville. Now stop me if you've heard this one:

“We won’t stand for losing," said Chud. "We’re going to get this fixed. It’s unacceptable.”

Cornerback Joe Haden, possibly filled with self-loathing after giving up the game-winning score to Collinwood's Cecil Shorts, delivered an emotional tirade that seemed to draw inspiration from the sweary oeuvre of David Mamet:

"I f*cking can't stand losing," Haden said after insisting that coffee really is for closers. "It hurts. I go out there and put my f*cking heart out there every time -- every time. And we end up coming up short."

Got to like the emotion and anger from both the head coach and the team's best player. Raw, passionate and unfortunately worth jack right about now. "Words are wind," the characters in George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books are fond of espousing, and by the seven hells there's been a hurricane blowing through Berea for years.

That's because losing seeps from the very walls of the Browns' fancy training facility. It oozes from the locker room. Its stench clings to the uniforms and follows the team out onto the field every week. Some clubs find a way to overcome injuries, bad bounces, or holes in the roster. The Browns' culture is so steeped in failure that the slightest hint of adversity can send an entire season off the rails.

So here we are, face to face with another campaign of double-digit losses. This end was perhaps pre-ordained by the new regime sitting on cap space, trading away Trent Richardson, and not signing a QB when Hoyer went down. Still, having a blueprint in place to build a roster does not mitigate the painful tedium of the week-to-week. And that's if you even trust the tag team of Banner and Lombardi to get it right. 

Angry words and promises of improvement cut zero ice in light of the franchise's thudding return to obscurity. I feel like I've written variations on this theme a thousand times, but that does not diminish their veracity. We all want more sweet days like the one at FirstEnergy Stadium two months and an eon ago. It's going to take at least another year for that day to come, and that's not something anyone wants to hear.