Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The Cleveland Hopes
With the Cleveland Browns running out of ideas to turn its franchise around, here’s one to consider: rename the team and pick new colors. Maybe it’s just time to retire the “Cleveland Browns” and the orange and brown once and for all.
We’re more than a decade into Browns 2.0 and virtually nothing that’s happened in that period of time has honored what the City of Cleveland fought so hard to retain. At this point, the Browns are no longer a franchise with a great legacy but a franchise that’s a stumbling, bumbling mess. It’s the soft spot on every team’s schedule. And unlike, say, the Chicago Cubs, they aren’t even lovable losers, just losers.
I’m not sure it would make any difference substantively, but maybe it is time to simply rename this team, give it new colors and a clean record book. At the very least, no matter what the team does next year it is bound to set franchise marks on both sides of the ball, for good and bad. That would be well worth celebrating even in the midst of another 4-12 or maybe a 5-11 season.
When it comes to being a Browns’ fan, I have my bona fides so I don’t make this suggestion lightly. I was a very long time season ticket holder who smartly didn’t re-up when the team returned. Enron was a safer investment then a personal seat license. I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of games in person and hundreds upon hundreds of games on television. Each of my daughters wore Browns’ onesies in their cribs. Everything about the Browns of my youth is a great memory, even the Forrest Gregg years.
But when Art Modell, a morally and fiscally bankrupt carpetbagger chasing a buck to preserve a lifestyle he never deserved moved the team to Baltimore the equation changed. Modell’s stupidity destroyed the bond between the team and the town and no matter what anyone tells you, it’s not the same and never will be.
The NFL made the entire city dance like a catfish on a fishing line just to get the privilege of building a new stadium at its expense and charging its citizens more money just to keep what it had. It dangled our name and our colors as the ultimate prize and continuously dropped the subtle suggestion that Cleveland would lose its status as a major league city if it didn’t knuckle under the ridiculous demands.
And we bought it the con like a desperate housewife buys a Thighmaster off of QVC without really questioning the underlying cynicism. Undeniably having the NFL in our backyard is a boost to civic pride and brings needed money into the city. That’s not really the issue of the moment anyway. It’s just that we fought so hard to hold on to something we shouldn’t have lost anyway and 12 years later it’s getting harder and harder to remember why.
Look what it brought us. We have a moneyed ownership that’s among the most incompetent in the history of professional sports. We’ve had one coaching regime after another with nothing much to distinguish one from the other. Losing is losing.
The new Cleveland Browns stadium has all the charm of every other generic stadium being built these days. The so-called Dawg Pound is just that, so called. It lacks the humor and the irony of its predecessor at the old Stadium. It’s the kind of space that white-bread architects sitting in Kansas City perceive as edgy, but with better guard rails and step risers that better conform to building codes.
The loges that ring the stadium might as well be hermetically sealed. Honestly, the only difference between sitting in a loge watching a game from a television monitor and sitting at home and watching a game from your television monitor is that the loge probably has better food.
The premium seating, such as it is with its own climate-controlled respite, represents in its own small way why the 99% are so pissed at the 1%. They have a much better view and access to better bathrooms.
None of this, though, is meant as a paean to the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It was a shit hole from the day it opened until the day the last girder was thrown to the bottom of Lake Erie. The plumbing was pathetic, the site lines obscured and the seats were uncomfortable. But in context to the team it housed, it worked.
As a fan you had to put up with a lot of crap to want to spend 4 or so hours at the Stadium on a late November Sunday. The last thing you wanted was to put up with a lot of crap from your team as well. And so in that sense, the players developed a sense of the fans and vice versa. When it worked, it was a beautiful thing to behold. When it didn’t, the bad times didn’t last long enough to matter.
Here’s a little something to chew on to make the case of retiring the “Browns.” Between 1960 and when the Browns were disbanded by Modell, the most consecutive seasons the Browns had losing records was four: 1990 through the 1993 season. Other than that they only had two consecutive losing seasons twice: 1974 and 1975 and 1981-1982. And even in that, the 1982 season could be discounted because the record was 4-5 in that strike shortened season and besides, the Browns still made the playoffs. In context, that’s a pretty amazing history, which is why the Browns are considered a storied franchise.
Since 1995, the Browns have had only two winning seasons total and, of course, they weren’t consecutive. Stated differently, the Browns are mired in their third, yes third, four season losing record since 1995. Nothing storied about that.
In every conceivable way, this iteration of the Browns has nothing to do with the legacy we worked so hard to preserve. It’s been so dishonored as to become completely irrelevant.
Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not arguing for just chucking the franchise completely, though if Randy Lerner sold the team it wouldn’t break my heart as long as it was to Dan Gilbert or someone similarly committed to winning in this town.
What I am advocating, however, is that this town stop honoring the legacy of Paul Brown and find a brand new path with brand new colors. The economic bump on jersey sales alone would help replenish the county coffers that have been systematically pillaged by various politicians over the last several decades.
But if we’re going to rename the team, let’s make sure we do so in a way that’s not generic. No Gladiators or Crush or similarly silly name mean to to convey a sense of brute force. Pick something more aspirational.
To get the ball rolling, here’s an idea. Let’s honor one of Cleveland’s most famous former citizens, the comedian who actually helped close the old Stadium with the fitting “Thanks for the Memories.” It also has the added benefit of reflecting what’s truly become the remaining thread on which this fan’s loyalty is still based. Here’s to you, the Cleveland Hopes. May it take you less years to make the playoffs from here then your namesake, Bob Hope, lived.