Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 I have been waiting for nearly two decades to write the following: The Sleeping Giant known as the Cleveland Browns is on the verge of awakening.

Not stirring. Not rubbing its eyes. Not tossing and turning. A full-blown awakening is more than just lurking around the corner. It is clearly in sight.

Remember those days of gawd-awful football year in and year out? And the victories that turned into improbable gut-wrenching last-minute losses? Week after week, year after year?

Or the gnawing feeling Browns fans experienced for way too long after yet another embarrassingly bad season? It seemed as though the franchise established permanent residence in the AFC North cellar.

Year after year after maddening year the losing continued. It seemed as though it would never cease. The only sure prediction was Cleveland, once a strong and proud franchise in the National Football League, wouldn’t come even close to being a factor in any given season.

Fans hung in there through numerous coaching and front office changes and a couple of different ownerships. Only the faces changed. The only consistency was the numbing losing.

It was only after it became apparent this franchise had no idea how to rid itself of strangling dysfunction that many fans flat out gave up hope and jumped off the bandwagon.

The exodus picked up steam the last couple of seasons when the Browns outdid themselves in the badness department by winning only one game and even that one was a nail biter.

It took courage to be a Browns fan, to be a slave to a loyalty born, in many cases, in happier times.

Some believe all the losing was a test. You have to be strong to be a fan of this sorry franchise. Claiming to be a fan over the last 20 years was usually spoken in hushed tones.

The wait’ll-next-year hopes and dreams would disappear midway through the first month of the season when it became painfully obvious the team was not nearly as good as the fans had expected.

It went on and on and, frustratingly, on. But all that is changing. Slowly, but very, very surely.

The last month and a half has produced arguably the best offensive football Browns Nation has seen since the old Browns, the original Browns, gave the City of Cleveland reason to be proud to be a part of the NFL for 50 seasons.

It is more than a coincidence the solid turnaround has eventuated immediately following the cashiering of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley midway through the season.

It can be argued that with better coaching, the Browns would not be 5-7-1 entering Saturday night’s game in Denver against the Broncos. They would be battling Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the top spot in the AFC North.

Overtime losses against Oakland and Tampa Bay that should have been victories with better coaching separate the Browns from a 7-5-1 record at best or 6-5-2 at worst.

A botched spot and conservative coaching in the final 90 seconds of regulation cost the Browns a victory in Oakland. And it took an improbable 59-yard field goal by the Buccaneers to win that one after the Browns roared back in the second half to forge a tie.

In actuality, the metamorphosis took root the day exactly one year ago that the club hired John Dorsey as general manager. He all but stripped down and rebuilt this team in a few short months.

The fruits of his labor in the last year are beginning to blossom forth. Winning is no longer hoped for. It is no longer thought to be just that, a hope, a dream every so often throughout the season. Those days are just about gone.

Right now, this football team firmly believes so much in itself, the thought of possibly losing is so distasteful, it no longer enters their mind-set. And it has paid off in victories like last Sunday’s against Carolina.

Just when it looked as though the Panthers were about to steal that game in the final moments like so many others that had escaped them through the years, the Browns came up with a goal-line stand that turned yet another dismal loss into a victory.

The offense under rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has become the heart and soul of the offense, if not the entire team, in such a short period of time, has been as dangerous a Cleveland quarterback as I have seen in a long time.

Mayfield, who hates losing more than he loves winning, has brought an attitude to his craft that is translating into the kind of football the good denizens of Browns Nation have yearned for all those frustrating seasons.

Ever since taking over for the concussed Tyrod Taylor – remember him? – in the first half of the victory over the New York Jets in week three, this team has been his in so many ways..

His infectious approach at such a young age is exactly what this franchise has needed to not only open the eyes of the Sleeping Giant, but deliver enough of a kick to send a message throughout the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns are back.

It won’t take long now before the Factory of Sadness, the stadium that houses the Browns and was so aptly named by Cleveland-area comedian Mike Polk Jr. many years ago, is renamed the Factory of Happiness and Joy.

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