Earlier this week I saw this story over on Bleacher Report. Every NFL preseason is littered with articles speculating which teams will finally break through and begin competing in the coming season, so I usually ignore them. But this one caught my eye, because it was a surprisingly well-reasoned article about why my beloved Cleveland Browns might actually be competitive this season. You can read the article yourself to get the gory details, but suffice to say it allowed me to hope just a little bit that this season might be different.
The thing with sports is that it’s mostly about losing. There can only be one champion, and so there will be 31 teams who will have had their hearts broken at some point in the season. But there is something extra oppressive about a team like the Browns, because against all odds, they’ve never actually gotten any better. They just rebuild for another year, lose ten games or more, maybe get a new coach and a high draft pick, and repeat the process. If you lose long enough, you stop having your heart broken. Instead you just live in this constant funk throughout the entire season, knowing that you’re the butt of everyone’s jokes and the object of everyone’s pity.
And yet, every year you think it’ll be different. The Browns have had only two winning seasons since returning in 1999, and they haven’t seen the playoffs since 2002. Heck, before that they even lost the team for 3 seasons, a bizarre kind of indignity that most fan-bases don’t understand. (Imagine if a phoenix emerged from the ashes not as another phoenix, but as a three-legged puppy.) And yet, against all reason I still think that every season will be the one where we turn around. Not that we’ll win the Super Bowl, mind you. I just think it’ll be the year when we maybe begin winning around half our games.
Usually, such optimism is dashed right away. I remember poor LeCharles Bentley, the highly touted offensive lineman who arrived in 2006, blew out his knee in his very first practice, and nearly died (!) as Cleveland slowly began to devour his entire career in a flurry of surgeries and infections. Last night’s preseason win against the Lions wasn’t even close (the Browns like to show up when the games don’t matter I guess), but it was littered with injuries, including a small one to our newest first round draft pick Barkevious Mingo. One of our running backs broke his leg and could be out for the season. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a dimensional rift had opened up and swallowed a receiver as he dashed to the end-zone, only to see him re-emerge six months later wearing a Ravens uniform in the Super Bowl.
But I’m still optimistic, because what choice do I have? I can’t begin the season in despair, because despair is more of an October feeling for Cleveland sports. It’s usually when the Browns are eliminated from the playoffs or when the Indians are choking in the post-season. But we keep hoping. That’s what it means to have a bad case of the Clevelands. It means you’re too naive to realistically assess your team, and too stupid to root for anyone else.
Seriously though, I have a good feeling about this team…