Sunday, July 30, 2006

Heartbreak City

When I was a premature newborn lying in the intensive-care unit at Overlook Hospital, I think God looked over my incubator and pronounced, "That one there can live, but he needs to be kicked in the balls a lot."

There is no other explanation for this week's turn of events.

On Thursday, I was certain a new era would begin on the southwest shores of Lake Erie. Optimism had filled my soul since the Browns enjoyed a fruitful offseason, adding a mix of solid veterans and an impressive rookie class. An 8-8 record and playoff contention seemed possible.

The highlight of their free-agent class was LeCharles Bentley. Not only did the Pro Bowl center fill a void on a shaky offensive line, a need that charlatan Butch Davis dumb-assedly refused to address in four years in Cleveland. But Bentley represented a whole lot more.

He went to Cleveland' s St. Ignatius High School and then Ohio State. This was a cat who was fired up to play for the Browns -- how many Pro Bowlers can say something like that? He was coming home to be the new face of the franchise, the heart and soul of a new Cleveland team.

It took all of five minutes for the Cleveland Curse to destroy these dreams.

Within the first five minutes of the first training camp practice of the season, the first 11-on-11 drill, LeCharles was lost for the season. He got caught in a pile-up on a running play, and the words "No... no..." could be heard from the sidelines.

A torn patella will sideline Bentley for the remainder of the season. If he ever plays again.

This sucks. I spent eager months waiting for the football season to roll around. In five minutes, it was wrecked. But there should really be no surprise here. The Cleveland Curse actually exists. If I may recap:

In 1964, that scumbag Art Modell fired Paul Brown. I think we're still serving pennance for that mistake. We had Red Right 88, which brought a shocking and abrupt end to the Kardiac Kids era in 1981. The Drive. The Fumble.

In the '88 Wildcard Game against the Oilers, the refereers called back a touchdown that should have stood. As a 12-year-old, I distinctly remember fighting back the tears that resulted from the 24-23 loss on Christmas Eve, the tree lights blurred by my babbling.

In the early '90s, we dealt with wretched Bill Belichick, who was an ass and a bad coach in Cleveland. It adds insult to injury that he went on to become boy genius of the NFL. He cut beloved figure Bernie Kosar in the middle of the season when the team was 5-2.

Nice move, you imbecile.

Then the great coward Modell moved the team under the most crooked of circumstances. The move was announced on Nov. 4, 1995, and I remember this day because I was in Morgantown covering West Virginia's 59-26 dismantling of Doug Graber's Scarlet Knights. The next day, Yitzak Rabin was assassinated.

Three long years later, we got our team back. Of course, fresh off watching the expansion Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars succeed in unprecedented time -- two seasons -- the new Browns were dealt the most unfavorable of hands from the commissioner, a partner in Modell's earlier crime.

In our formative years, the Cleveland Curse claimed Orlando Brown, our talented right tackle. Incompetent referee Jeff Triplette threw a flag into his damned face mask and poked out his eye. Three seasons passed before Brown could start lifting weights, because exercise worsened the blindness caused from Triplette's careless flag. He was never the same.

(It should be mentioned that Triplette and other referees disregarded a memo issued by the league following this incident to drop flags at their feet, and not throw them at players. This is a fact I noted in my gamer notes every Sunday while covering football).

Then we had Bottlegate.

Every one in America with even a remote working knowledge of sport understands a simple rule. A play can no longer be reviewed in the NFL once the next play begins. Got it? Well, the NFL referees missed that one in a Browns-Jaguars game in '01.

Officiating henchman Terry McAulay decided to review a fourth-down play AFTER the next play had already been run. He reversed a called catch, giving Jacksonville possession when the Browns had driven into field-goal range at the end of the fourth quarter in a tight game.

Naturally, the crowd went berserk and pelted those officiating bastards with plastic beer bottles. As they should. That horse's ass of a referee tried to call the game, but angry commissioner Tags demanded he return the teams to the field and clean up his mess.

These, of course, have nothing to do with the incredibly awful draft choices the team has made since it returned, nor touch on the season-ending injuries suffered by No. 1 picks Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, and Kellen Winslow, who was lost for the season his rookie year in Week 2 while playing special freaking teams, then followed that up by missing his sophomore effort after toppling off his motorcycle at a high rate of speed -- a cycle banned by his contract. William Green, a troubled young man. Braylon Edwards? Injured last season. ACL.

If we really wanted to get into the nitty gritty, we could relive the cocaine-induced death of safety Don Rogers within weeks of the Len Bias death. We could point out that top pick Ross Finchter was electrocuted in 1965 before playing a down. Or that Eric Turner, the second-round pick in '91, died of stomach cancer three years ago.

I suppose in that respect, LeCharles' knee injury doesn't seem so bad. But even before the players put the pads on, it's another lost cause on the shores of Lake Erie.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

A horse is a horse, of course of course

As Barbaro lingered near his death bed last week, the Associated Press moved a series of photographs from the scene outside the animal hospital.

An entire mass of people had gathered for a vigil for the Kentucky Derby-winning thoroughbred. They had get-well signs posted along the fence and milled about with solemn expressions on their faces, speaking with reverence, as if a family patriarch lay inside clinging to life.

It all seemed a little silly.

Half the people were dressed as if they were headed to the Derby itself, outfitted in their sundresses and hats. For all I know, they were drinking mint juleps too. It was as if they were out on the hospital lawn to see and be seen.

Of course the tumble Barbaro took at the Preakness was a shame. Admittedly, it was worse than watching Theisman -- don't let his Johnny-come-lately Heisman-esque pronunciation fool you; everyone in South River will tell you it's Th-EEE-sman -- snap his leg like a twig.

That was intense. But I felt sad for the horse.

Still, all the hoopla surrounding his deterioration is excessive. You know, there's probably a whole lot of elderly people sitting in nursing homes who would really enjoy some human contact. Or some sick kids in the hospital who need cheering up. Or homeless people who could use a handout of some soup.

Not that I do any of these things myself, but I'm also not gallivanting out on the hospital lawn holding a vigil for a horse.

Maybe if these alleged mourners paid a little bit more attention to the downtrodden among the humans before tending to the critters, the world woudln't be such a sewer.

In two semi-related notes, I'd like to add that acclaimed scribe W.C. Heinz wrote a tale on deadline called "Death of a Race Horse" that is widely held as one of the best pieces of deadline reporting ever.

I don't even know what the other nominations would be, or why it needs to be labeled the best ever, but it is a very good piece of writing. Check it out.

Also of note, Crazy Bill and I ditched school to mill about the Meadowlands on the day Drazen Petrovic got his dome lopped off in a car wreck speeding on the Autobahn. Hey, at least he was a person.

In an unrelated note, I am working on my Top 100 rock artists list of all time, following in Sandman's footsteps. I do not anticipate it being ready any time soon. Definitely not before I hopefully see you all in Jersey from August 3 to 7.

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