The walk on Monday was long, the mourners sang loud and the ashes of the deceased were spread over turbulent waters. These were not the ashes of the average cadaver; these were the remains of a proud franchise located on the banks of a “very interesting” body of water that is appropriately named Lake Erie.
If you add one vowel the lake could sport the name; “Lake Eerie” which is not too farfetched, especially if you have ever been to a night game in Cleveland. The Browns’ 27-14 loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field last weekend prompted the funeral.
Since we are on the subject of ghosts and goblins, let’s investigate the supposed hex of Paul Brown, the late, great coach of the Cleveland Browns. There are times throughout history when the specter of generational defeat looms so large that concessions must be made in order to insure continuity for generations to come.
In the 18 seasons that Brown was the captain of the ship in Cleveland, the Browns had an overall won-loss record of 168-52-10 (132-47-4 in the NFL) including 7 NFL championships. Very respectable, wouldn’t you agree? Since Mr. Brown bolted from “Cleeland,” losing has almost been the rule, rather than the exception.
After Brown left, the powers that be realized that there had indeed been a gargantuan “mistake” made by the lake. Allowing Paul Brown to leave was a blatant display of arrogance by a few men who initiated the suffering of many.
Okay, okay those were different times with different social, economic and procedural rules in the NFL. During the early years, the quarterback was almost treated like one of the “regular” players, at least on the gridiron anyway. There were no grass skirts or hula girls dancing in the pocket when he dropped back to pass. Hey, and as far as “character” off the field was concerned, as long as the field general made it to the stadium in time to play, no one really cared if he may or may not have had a small leather flask filled with his favorite “motivator” namely his friend Jack Daniels or his favorite relative, Old Granddad, in his back pocket to ward off the crisp fall and winter air and to settle the “Monarch” butterflies that sometimes settled in before an important game.
From 1991-1995, the Brownies were led by the video camera deprived genius of Bill Belichick. When Belichick roamed the shores of Lake “Eerie” his won-loss mark was a very disrespectable 36-44. At end of the reign of the NFL’s current resident guru in “Brownie land,” Cleveland owner Art Modell decided that he had just about enough of the curse so he loaded up the truck and moved to Baltimore. Even though Baltimore had the team, the name stayed in Cleveland.
From 1996-99 the city of Cleveland was in sports purgatory, searching desperately for the “Holy Grail” of professional football.
The Browns regained their spot in the NFL for the 1999 season and sported a sparkling record of 2-14, led by head coach Chris Palmer, Chris who? Shortly after the mysterious Mr. Palmer departed the unfriendly shores of Erie, Butch Davis jumped into the fiery furnace and a few years later gained the confidence of his QB, the much traveled Jeff Garcia, by announcing to the world and alerting the defenses of the NFL that Mr. Garcia [seemed a bit] “skittish” in the pocket, thereby giving the green light to rabid defensive linemen and linebackers to unceremoniously tee off on poor Jeff, without delay.
After Butch broke camp, one of Bill Belichick’s “disciples”—Romeo Crennell— sailed into Cleveland with a few Super Bowl rings displayed on his sails. There was no love lost for Romeo as the losing continued. Romeo’s ship sank at the end of the 2008 campaign because of an accumulated 24-40 record. Still don’t believe in curses or Santa Claus? In 2009, the new head man for Cleveland, Eric Mangini, came west from way up north in New York City. Mangini might as well be named Harry Houdini; even he would have a terrible time with his arsenal of smoke and mirrors making this current Cleveland squad look good.
When Paul Brown bought his own squad and departed for the AFL, the curse of the Brownies began and to this day has not and doesn’t appear, at least from this writer’s vantage point, to be ending any time soon.
If Paul Brown were alive and coaching, he would have never allowed any athlete to pass for 417 yards against his squad. Big Ben, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or whoever was quarterbacking against him would have been knocked out of the game, sitting with an ice pack on some part of their body, feeling real damn sore. Mr. Brown would have not given “diddly” about fines, suspensions or any other disciplinary measures taken against him or his team. Paul Brown has passed away and is resting comfortably but the Cleveland Browns will never rest in peace until they find away to break the curse.