Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jim Brown and a grain of salt

So Hue Jackson plans on taking advantage of Jim Brown’s wisdom with regard to his new team.

Some free advice to the new Browns coach: Don’t. You’ll be wasting your time.

“I’m looking forward to finding out as many things as Jim Brown knows that can help our football team be the best it can be,” he said. “We’re talking about a guy that did it as well as anybody ever, so it would be really smart on my part to sit and talk to him and have him tell me things he sees and that he has felt.”

Oops. Too late.

Just about every Cleveland coach since Chris Palmer and the expansion 1999 Browns has used the great running back as a sounding board and you see where it has landed this team.

Now Jim Brown is a revered icon of days past. Best running back I have ever seen. Bar none. His greatness transcends generations.

But at the age of 80, he is nothing more now than a symbol of those glory days. He can add nothing substantive to what lies ahead for Jackson.

Perhaps the coach is saying this as a courtesy to the man whose title with the club is generously labeled special advisor. It was awarded him following the departure of Mike Holmgren, who basically tried to put Brown out to pasture.

The game, of course, is played altogether differently than when Brown ran rampant against the National Football League from 1957 to 1965. It is no longer the game he played.

Why coaches continue to seek Brown’s advice is puzzling. His assessment of players, quarterbacks in particular, are bizarre. Yes he got Trent Richardson right, but little else.

All you have to do is look at how much he continued to support Johnny Manziel no matter how much he and trouble danced a dance that will see him exit Cleveland shortly. Manziel isn’t the only young quarterback Brown has missed on.

Remember Charlie Frye, selected by the Browns in the third round of the 2005 college draft from the University of Akron? Check out what Brown said about him in May 2006 following the Browns’ three-day minicamp.

“Charlie’s is my guy,” he declared. “Charlie’s always been my guy right from the start. He’s a warrior. He’ll do fine.” Bernie Kosar also declared Frye had the “it” factor.

Frye beat out Trent Dilfer for the starting job in 2006. The Browns finished 4-12 that season with Frye throwing 10 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.

He returned the next season and beat out Derek Anderson and rookie Brady Quinn to earn the starting job. He performed so poorly in the season opener against Pittsburgh in the 34-7 loss, he was benched at halftime for Anderson, who went on to lead the club to a 10-6 record.

Two days later, Brown’s “guy”, his “warrior” was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for what turned out to be a sixth-round draft pick. It paved the way for Quinn, who started 12 games for the Browns and departed after the 2009 season.

Jackson has a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. He would be wise to change the course of a conversation with Brown when quarterbacks are the topic.

It shouldn’t take him long to discover that whatever wisdom Brown imparts won’t be as impactful as he now believes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

News and views

News: The Browns will release Johnny Manziel in early March, according to numerous reports.

Views: First of all, the club didn’t actually say in a statement released Tuesday that it would release the troubled quarterback. But the wording of the statement strongly suggests Manziel will be an ex-Brown by the open of the National Football League’s year on March 9.

“We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field,” wrote Sashi Brown, the club’s executive vice president/football operations. “Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization.

“His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time.”

Undermining the team’s reputation? Are those in the Ivory Tower walking around with blinders on? The Browns on the field have done a superb job of building a sad reputation all by themselves. Manziel just added to it.

For reasons involving a salary cap hit, the Browns will wait to jettison the two-year quarterback March 9 rather than the waiver-wire opening next Monday.

So what took the Browns so long to pull the plug? Good question. Better question: Why now?

First things first. What took so long? That should be the first question Brown is asked at the news conference – assuming there is one – announcing Manziel’s departure.

Manziel did everything but brandish daily a huge sign that read ‘TRADE ME!!” after it became more than obvious he wanted no part of the Cleveland Browns, the city of Cleveland or the team’s fans.

The human ticking time bomb dropped all sorts of hints with his constant misbehavior, but the club chose instead to take a more nurturing approach. Yeah, the Browns dropped him to the third team for a couple of games this past season in hopes of straightening him out. Tough love? Hardly.

What those who run the Browns didn’t realize, as least until now, is that Manziel either refuses to be straightened out or doesn’t realize that’s what needs to happen. He is a lost cause. The club’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out warning evolved into four, five and more.

So why drop loaded hints now? Why not wait until March 9? Why go public with such a blatant read-between-the-lines statement? There is no other public relations advantage of saying something now other than to try and lead SportsCenter during Super Bowl week.

If that was the case, it worked. With the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos the focal point this week on all major sports networks, the Browns commanded the lead story hours after releasing the Manziel statement. That’s nothing about which to gloat.

Manziel is still a lightning rod when it comes to making news, no matter how negative it turns out. No doubt he will always be that way no matter where he winds up in the NFL, if he winds up anywhere at all.

That’s the baggage he will always lug around. It will follow him from city to city, from team to team. He very easily could wind up a pro football vagabond. It is obviously the path he prefers. The best part about that is it will be toted elsewhere.

Some day, when Manziel disappears from the sports world spotlight, some enterprising writer will have the perfect vehicle for a book entitled “Johnny Manziel, The Sad Story of a Troubled Quarterback.”

It is writing itself now.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Bury the Pro Bowl Game

It is time. In fact, it’s way overdue.

It is time the National Football League’s journey into crass exhibitionism, the annual Pro Bowl Game, is put out of its misery and retired.

What once was a fairly decent game played after all the post-season festivities were concluded has devolved into nothing more than a romp on the beach in Hawaii followed by a poor facsimile of what the NFL calls a football game.

Now it is played the Sunday between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It is in the strictest sense of the word an exhibition. It doesn’t count in a far-out way. It’s the most meaningless of all the meaningless All-Star Games and nothing more now than a reason to stroke the egos of the players.

It is the only All-Star Game of the four major sports in this country that is played after the season. All others are played as a mid-season break.

I remember when the Pro Bowl was played in the manner of a regular-season game. Back in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s, there was a distinct rivalry between conferences.

Like in the 1965 Pro Bowl Game when Baltimore Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti planted Frank Ryan in the ground and dislocated his shoulder as the Cleveland quarterback attempted to pass.

Marchetti admitted it was an act of revenge because he believed Ryan was trying to run up the score of the championship game the week before, declaring he wanted “one more shot” at Ryan. The Pro Bowl afforded him the opportunity.

The Browns were leading, 27-0, in the 1964 title game in Cleveland when fans ran onto the field and tore down the goalposts with 26 seconds remaining in the game and the Browns in possession at the Baltimore 16. Officials called the game at that point despite Ryan’s protestations to continue.

Feuds used to spill over into the final professional football game of the season. Now, all the players do during the game is waltz – sometimes literally – through games, hoping not to get hurt. Sagging television ratings indicate the fans’ disdain for the game.

As it is played now, the Pro Bowl Game has become a joke and the league, for some reason, chooses to perpetuate it, believing perhaps that fans cannot get enough football no matter in what form it is presented.

Commissioner Roger Goodell a few years ago entertained thoughts of completely doing away with the game, which in 1950 became the game most fans became used to, an extension of normal aggressive football, not the touch football it has become. Unfortunately, they were passing thoughts and passed away.

What we have today is a stepchild of the original format, which featured All-Star teams from rival geographic conferences over the years. The AFC-NFC rivalry has given way to the current fantasy-draft procedure of players selected by fans and coaches.

The so-called “unconferenced” format has Hall of Fame wide receivers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin selecting their teams fantasy football style the last two seasons, often times forcing teammates during the regular season to oppose each other.

The allure of the game is now watered down by the absence of those playing in the Super Bowl a week after the Pro Bowl, diluting the star quality of the game.

Factor in the number of players who have been selected pulling out of the game because of injuries, real or perceived, which further weakens the product. Of the 86 players originally chosen this season, a whopping 47 bowed out for a variety of reasons.

Perfect example: Seven members of the New England Patriots were voted to the Pro Bowl. None participated, having been allowed to pull out.

The number of those selected to the game or as an alternate this season ballooned to 133 from the original 86. One pundit calculated that’s 8% of the players in the league who can claim Pro Bowl status.

The game has become a highly watered-down version of a regular-season game with, among other changes, no blitzing, little or no creativity on either side of the ball, no rushing the punter or placekicker, no kickoffs (teams begin possessions at the 25-yard line) and intentional grounding is legal.

In other words, it has become a game that is totally unlike what you see in the NFL during the regular season and playoffs.

What to do? Cancel the game. Have balloting for a game that won’t be played in an effort to reward those good enough to warrant selection. Give them something about which to gloat, to put on their résumés.

Limit the number of names to the 22 positions on the field, include punters and kickers, and one additional selection for each position for a total of 70, or 35 per conference team. Then pay all the players chosen the same amount of money rather than the winners’ and losers’ share as they do now.

Take away their all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii  -- or Brazil, which is being considered for the 2017 game (no kidding) – because many players don’t seem to really care about taking advantage of it.

Don’t make the fans suffer any more than they have to for the ultimate meaningless game in sports.

It’s time to say aloha to the Pro Bowl. May it rest in peace.