The other day my good friend, Ken, walked past my desk and held up four fingers. He didn’t say anything, but I undestood what he meant.
He was predicting the Cleveland Browns would win that number of games this season.
To understand the significance of his wordless statement, you have to know one thing about Ken: He is the ultimate Browns fan, the kind of diehard who, ignoring all the evidence, sincerely believes each new season is the one in which Cleveland will shake off decades of ineptitude and field a team worth watching.
But not even Ken can delude himself into believing that lemonade can be squeezed out of the montley crew of lemons who will take the field against the New York Jets this Sunday. Even for him, the evidence is too gruesome to ignore. Because this year’s Browns are:
• A team whose first-string quarterback is 36-years-old and went 1-10 in games for the team on which he played last season and whose second-string quarterback’s greatest achievement so far is that he had an uneventful off-season in a facility for alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
• A team whose leading running back was traded this week for a seventh round draft choice, leaving the position open for a running back who made a few nice runs last year, several of which didn’t end with fumbles. They do have hopes for the running back they drafted in the third round this year, but nobody knows for sure because he’s out with a concussion which he got after missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.
• A team whose best receiver currently is setting an NFL record for suspensions. To help fill the void, they drafted a receiver in the fourth round, whom they just released, and signed a former Ohio State star who is a recycled quarterback.
• A team that finished last in the league in run defense, so it picked a defensive lineman in the first round of this year’s draft, which enabled them to cut the defensive lineman they picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, although they’ll still have to pay him $5.5 million.
• A team whose offensive coordinator resigned after last season, whose offensive line coach just got suspended and may face criminal charges and a general manager who has been suspended for violating a league rule about texting. Even when the Browns cheat they can’t get it right.
In the face of all that, it’s possible that Ken’s four-win prediction may be wildly optimistic.
But when the season starts Sunday, I’ll be sitting on my bar stool at Harrigan’s, nursing a cup of decaf and watching them with low hopes and even lower expectations. If the first half doesn’t go well, I’ll go across the street for another cup at Elsa’s, because maybe they’ll do better on those televsions.
What can I say? I’m a Browns fan.
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