Thursday, July 12, 2018

The window is opening

It has been nearly a generation since the National Football League discovered the errors of its ways when it allowed Art Modell to relocate his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore following the 1995 season.

In the 19 seasons since the grand return of professional football to northeast Ohio in 1999 of what once was considered one of the greatest and strongest NFL fan bases and franchises, Cleveland Browns football has become a national joke.

Those fans have been subjected to the most embarrassing exhibition of football this side of the amateur ranks. The definition of bad football took on a whole new meaning when the new Browns played.

Over those 19 seasons, only the faces changed. The miserable results season after season after season was enough to erode the fan base to the point where it was no longer fashionable to be seen at a Browns game.

The terrific new stadium that replaced the old relic Municipal Stadium was supposed to be a place of joy and happiness in the final four months of the year. Football was back. Instead, it became the aptly named Factory of Sadness.

Fifteen times the Browns landed in the division basement, taking up what has been laughingly referred to as permanent residence. Picking the Browns to finish there became the easiest pre-season prediction.

Since the return, Cleveland has racked up two winning seasons – 9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 five years later – and qualified for the playoffs just once, losing the 2002 wild card game in agonizing style against Pittsburgh after blowing a sizable lead.

Piling on, the Browns have played 304 regular-season games since 1999, winning 88. That’s right, 88 victories in 19 seasons, a winning percentage of .28947368.

To put that in perspective, it took Pittsburgh only nine seasons since 1999 to win 88 games. More perspective: The Steelers have won 85 games the last eight seasons, during which the Browns check in with 29, including the embarrassing 1-31 under Hue Jackson the last two miserable campaigns.

Last season’s ultra-embarrassing 0-16 record was good enough to warrant Jackson’s return. That’s Cleveland Browns football for you. 

In those 19 seasons, coaches, general managers and players responsible for all that misery have come and gone. Only the uniform changed. And not necessarily for the better.

That bright light of hope that shone brightly before every season turned out to be, well, you know what it’s been proverbially. It is suffering, NFL style, at its best. Or worst.

But all that is about to change. For the first time in nearly two decades, that beacon of hope is more this season than just a symbol. It is a genuine feeling that a window of opportunity has been found and is beginning to nudge open.

New General Manager John Dorsey has given this heretofore moribund and dysfunctional franchise more than just a nudge. His reshaping the roster – it’s really more of a massive massage – will feel more like a jolt to the rest of not just the AFC North, but the rest of the league.

For the first time in three decades – or since the Bernie Kosar era – there is a legitimate feeling that this finally, finally, will be when Cleveland’s football sleeping giant not only stirs, but awakens.

In the next few days, I’ll list more than two dozen questions with regard to the 2018 Browns and the direction they are headed as they ramp up for training camp on July 26 in Berea.

Hopefully, the answers to these questions, as I see them, will unlock what is now a team of mystery, one loaded with way more talent than their predecessors of the last 19 seasons.

A brand new era of professional football is about to begin in Cleveland, the one Browns fans have been waiting and yearning for for the last 19 years.

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