Monday, October 31, 2005

My Heart Is The Bums On The Street

I hate it when I'm right.

Last week, I told anyone who would listen my beloved Cleveland Browns would lose to the winless Houston Texans on Sunday, something of an odd statement considering that I am a die-hard Browns fan and the Texans are by far and away the worst team in the National Football League.

Fundamentally, I believed Cleveland's scrappy defense should ransack Houston's woeful offensive line and the Browns plow-ahead running game should win the time-of-possession battle. But I knew better. This was the kind of game the franchise was born to lose.

This is Cleveland, a town cursed since the day Art Modell fired Paul Brown in 1964.

While I think coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage are moving the team in the proper direction, they are not immune to the Cleveland Curse. As predicted, it struck again in a 19-16 defeat at Reliant Stadium.

The thing about the Browns is, it's not only the fact they lost. It's that they go about losing in the most goddamn, painstaking way possible.

This has been occuring for decades, and only the fools among us still fall victim to hope each week. But like Charlie Brown repeatedly kicking air from Lucy's hold, there are plenty of masochists who come back for our weekly dose of abuse.

Sunday was no different. Holding a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Cleveland opted to punt on 4th-and-inches from its own 40-yard line. Kyle Richardson promptly shanked the punt, and Houston tied the game with a field goal after taking over at its own 49.

It was the start of the demise. On the ensuing Cleveland drive, Antonio Bryant appeared to catch a 20-yard touchdown pass on the left side of the end zone. But officials ruled him out of bounds. They made the right call.

Replay showed the toes on Bryant's left foot landed two inches out of bounds. The play foreshadowed the tragic comedy ahead, and the Browns settled for a field goal that Houston quickly matched.

With 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, Kris Brown kicked another Texans field goal to give Houston a three-point lead. Quarterback Trent Dilfer gave us all that a glimmer of hope by quickly marching the Browns 40 yards in the next minute without using a timeout.

Then, in classic Cleveland style, the Browns self-destructed.

On the Houston 40-yard line, Dennis Northcutt dropped a quick out pass on 2nd-and-8. It would have turned a 57-yard field-goal attempt into a 49-yarder. But it wasn't a huge deal, considering there was more than a minute on the clock. And hey, at least the Browns had two more downs, right? Two more chances to embarrass themselves.

On 3rd-and-8, Dilfer commited the Cardinal sin. With the urgency of the moment apparent to kindergartners across Ohio, he takes a sack on a play when the only absolute necessity was not losing yardage. Field-goal range becomes a distant memory.

Fourth-and-17 seems like a death sentence in any other situation except against the inept Texans. Dilfer uncorks a 40-yard cannon shot to Bryant, who is remarkably in single coverage and one step ahead of his defender.

But the throw, perhaps Dilfer's cleanest of the afternoon, is nonetheless a nanosecond behind the receiver. Houston's defensive back tips the ball.

The pass deflects upward into the air, hanging like a pop-fly in the infield. Again, any kindergartner would have had a reasonable shot at the catch. Bryant stumbled toward the ball with all the grace of a retard chasing a balloon.

It falls harmlessly to the turf, three inches beyond his outstretched arms.

This is how it ends each and every week. The Browns play up/down to the level of their opponent. Hope is stirred among the faithful. Fate intervenes.

Names may change and the script may vary, but this is how it ends.

And by the way, you can find me in my usual seat at Jackson's Sports Bar next Sunday when the Browns host the Tennessee Titans.

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