Thursday, November 30, 2006

The more things change ...

New York, Atlanta, Toronto, and Charlotte. Great vacation spots? Some of the largest cities in North America? Better places to live than Cleveland?

Or, all crappy teams that have defeated the Cavs this season? Actually, that, and all of the above. And maybe soon, all places that Lebron James would rather play than Cleveland, knowing our luck.

The Cavs' 101-98 loss to the New York Knicks Wednesday night -- at home, nonetheless -- marked the team's fourth loss to the dregs of the Eastern Conference. The Charlotte Bobcats (4-11), the Toronto Raptors (5-10), and the New York Knicks (6-11) have the three worst records in the East. Atlanta (6-7) is already 4½ games out of first in their division, the largest deficit of any second-place team. Combined, those four teams are 21-40. Take out their victories against each other and the Cavs, and they are 13-36 in all other games. Extrapolate a 13-36 record over 82 games, and you've got a 21-win team.

The Cavs have four losses against a 21-win team. Atlanta and Toronto are two of the next three opponents, which should make the Cavs as confident as a high-school freshman at his first dance.

Just when we finally thought we had a good team, the Cavs go and pull this on us. The best player of his generation playing ball in his backyard for a team that plays in what some call the worst conference in the history of sports. The Indians disappointed, the Browns went in the tank, but the Cavs were there waiting for us, waiting to build on the promise of last year.

But once again in Cleveland, it's not next year, it's last year. After Friday's game, Larry Hughes will have missed half the season. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is playing like he thinks it's still the playoffs. The Cavs can't turn up the dial against lousy teams. And God is laughing.

It's kind of funny -- here's the Cavs with a 9-6 record, a half-game out of the Central Division lead, just 2½ games behind the Orlando Magic for best record in the conference. They've defeated the Spurs in San Antonio, which happens as often as Rasheed Wallace says something nice about a referee. They're on pace to win just as many games as last season. They've got a presumably happy Lebron James locked up until the end of the decade.

And yet there's that Cleveland smell lingering around this team. Do we look at the 9-6 mark, which puts them in the top quarter of the league in any given year? Or do we look at the fact that 13 of the first 15 games were against teams currently with losing records, and wonder why that mark is only 9-6?

No one wonders what God's looking at. And really, after what's happened in this town for four decades, no one really wonders what the rest of us are looking at either.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tribe's master plan strikes again

Here's every morning in the Dolan households: Wake up. Grab newspaper. Open sports section. Gasp. Pull covers back over head. Curl up in fetus position. Rinse. Repeat.

The contracts look like Mega Millions jackpots. And owners are handing them out like candy from a parade float. The Cubs alone have committed almost as much money in salaries over the next eight years as Larry Dolan did in buying the Indians six years ago:

  • * $136 million for 8 years for OF Alfonso Soriano after his career year
  • * $75 million for 5 years for 3B Aramis Ramirez
  • * $13 million for 3 years for 31-year-old 2B Mark DeRosa and his .273 career batting average
  • * $5.25 million for 2 years of C Henry Blanco and his career sub-.300 OBP

Then there's the $31 million the Baltimore Orioles will be paying out over the next three years to former Tribe closer Danys Baez and lefty specialist Jamie Walker; the $100 million over the next six years OF Carlos Lee will receive from the Houston Astros; the $50 million over the next 5 years that the Los Angeles Angels will give Gary Matthews after his one good year; the $14 million over the next 3 years that SS Alex Gonzalez and his .255 career batting average will receive from the Reds; and the $18 million over the next four years that former Tribe mopup man Justin Speier will be spending thanks to the Angels.

The Indians said they'd have more money to spend on payroll this offseason. But what they didn't say was that everybody else would have a LOT more money to spend on payroll this offseason. Labor peace in the sport has prompted teams to spend like it's Black Friday at Wal-Mart, just without the deals. Ironically, Larry Dolan received praise for helping hammer out that new contract, which put baseball's 32 teams a collective $500 million in the black.

It started a couple weeks ago at the general managers' meetings when the Boston Red Sox paid $51.1 million for the rights simply to negotiate with Japanese pitching sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras -- kinda like paying tribute to a mob boss before actually sitting down with him. Indians president Paul Dolan said:

"I guess I'm shocked by it. I'm not sure I understand the economics of such a deal. It demonstrates that we have more work to do on the economic disparity within the game."

Hey, a Dolan complaining about baseball finances! On the scale of baseball shockers, that's up there with Manny Ramirez misplaying a fly ball, the Kansas City Royals losing 100 games, and the Indians bullpen blowing a save. Vegas won't even post odds on those events.

But don't worry, as always the Tribe's master plan is in place. This time it comes in the form of outfielder David Dellucci. That's right, another platoon player! The Indians become Dellucci's sixth team since he entered the majors in 1997. For two of those teams -- the Baltimore Orioles (1997) and New York Yankees (2003) -- he collected less than 60 at-bats. For the others -- the Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2003), Texas Rangers (2004-2006), Philadelphia Phillies (2006) -- he played almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. From 2002 on, Dellucci has just 165 ABs against left-handed pitching, but 1,475 ABs overall. Nearly 85 percent of the time Dellucci fills a platoon role. And in that 15 percent against lefties? 23 hits! That's a .147 batting average.

Given those numbers, if Dellucci actually does become the Indians' everyday left fielder, as his agent says, then Mark Shapiro should stop getting out of bed in the morning, too. As it is, they've got another platoon player for the outfield. Dellucci can split time with Jason Michaels in left, while Shin Soo-Choo takes turns with Casey Blake in right. Or if Casey Blake actually does go play first base -- which would be like putting Ugly Betty in a beauty pageant -- then maybe Dellucci can play some right field as well. Just hopefully not against a lefty.

Back to bed now, Larry and Paul.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bye, Casey

Thanks for the memories. You'll never be forgotten.

One last request -- could you put in a word with the big guy for us?


But ... but ... but ... but ...

What a disaster: Cincinnati Bengals 30, Browns 0.

It's not Charlie Frye's fault, though. He's only started 16 games, after all, equivalent to a full season. He has no offensive line. And he has no veteran quarterback to mentor him. No, no, no, no, can't blame Charlie.

It's not Braylon Edwards' fault, though. He's coming off reconstructive knee surgery. And he wants to win, really, really bad -- it's his passion. No, no, no, no, can't blame Braylon.

It's not the offensive line's fault, though. Heck, if not for LeCharles Bentley's injury and Ross Tucker's mystery illness and Bob Hallen's training-camp retirement and Maurice Carthon's stupid playcalling, the Browns would have a great offensive line! No, no, no, no, can't blame the offensive line.

It's not Reuben Droughns' fault, either. An offseason filled with drunken-driving charges and domestic-violence charges just got in his way. He would have repeated his 1,000-yard performance if not for all that, really he would have! No, no, no, no, can't blame Reuben.

It's not Maurice Carthon's fault, either. The radioactive poison of the Browns' season hasn't been anywhere near the team for a month. Still the Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown in two weeks. No, no, no, no, can't blame Maurice Carthon.

It's not Phil Savage's fault, either. His drafts are only two years old -- give those players time to develop! You can't expect Charlie Frye to be good until he *develops*, just like Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo. And it's not his fault every offensive lineman signed as a free agent turned out to be more brittle than a gingerbreak cookie. No, no, no, no, can't blame Phil Savage.

It's not Romeo Crennell's fault, either. He can only do what he can with what Phil Savage gives him. And what's Romeo supposed to do, throw Braylon Edwards off the team next time he says something stupid. Fine him??? No, no, no, no, can't blame Romeo.

It's not Randy Lerner's fault, either. He's been busy, spending time with his European soccer team. He's distracted! Don't worry, he'll turn his attention back to the Browns soon enough. It's not like he only owns the Browns because he inherited them from his dad or anything like that. No, no, no, no, can't blame Randy Lerner.

Really, how can you blame anyone for the Browns' awful season? It's just bad luck! They're on the right path. Just give them time.

Like 40 more years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Yeah, well, Pittsburgh still sucks!

If Braylon Edwards didn't understand the Browns-Steelers rivalry before, he sure does now. This time he experienced it just like all Browns fans do.

Here's the formula: yap at the Steelers all week, suffer a heartbreaking defeat, then yap some more. That's Browns fans during Steelers week, and that's Braylon Edwards during Steelers week. That's what Braylon experienced last year, that's what Braylon experienced this year, and that's what everyone in Cleveland's been experiencing for, oh, the last 20 years at least.

Like the show 24, the script's always different but same in a way. Jack Bauer's going to fight terrorists, watch his friends die along the way, and save the world at the last second. The Browns are going to talk a good game, choke, then talk about how they at least played a good game and have to keep it up. Oh, and don't forget, to hell with the Steelers!

That's what Braylon said in the locker room, just after the Steelers had scored with 32 seconds left to take their first lead of the game, just after Charlie Frye's last-play Hail Mary pass bounced through Braylon's hands in the back of the end zone, just after Kellen Winslow consoled his teammate, who apparently didn't inspire his teammates by calling out the Steelers immediately following last week's victory over the Falcons.

Sunday wasn't the first time the Steelers p0wned Braylon. Last year he said no Steeler cornerback could cover him, then caught just 64 yards worth of passes in the teams' first meeting, a 34-21 Pittsburgh victory. Edwards didn't play the second Steelers game last year because of injury. Then the smack leading up to this year's game, an answer-the-bell 137 yards on seven catches, and two chances to catch Hail Mary passes that slipped right through his hands.

Just an awful weekend for Braylon, a Michigan grad, who had to watch his team go down to defeat against THE Ohio State University Saturday. Then he had to watch his former OSU foe Santonio Holmes catch a touchdown and convert a third-and-20 play after the Browns' home crowd fired up Holmes with an O-H-I-O chant.

So we're right back where we always are. Heartbreaking defeat. No points from the offense. Last place. Spanked by the Steelers. Hated by God.

At least the Browns are good at one thing -- last-second losses. Since the Browns last won two games in a row in October 2003, they've lost games in the final minute or overtime to the Broncos (2003), the Eagles and Dolphins (2004), the Bengals (2005), and the Steelers and Ravens (2006). Number of games the Browns won in the final minute in that span? One.

That's right. Over the past three years, the Browns have lost six games that were decided in the final minute while winning one. That one was the 9-7 victory over the Raiders last year when a replay review overturned a Reuben Droughns fumble in the final seconds, leading to Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal as time expired.

Of course, Braylon didn't play in that one. It came two weeks after he tore his ACL. Which equates with ripped-out hearts Browns fans suffer year in and year out.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Browns stink, rivalry doesn't

They think no one in Cleveland cares about the Browns-Steelers rivalry anymore. They think that just because our team has stunk for close to a decade, just because Ohio State has become our de facto pro football team (especially with THE Ohio State University beating Michigan in the Greatest Game of All Time© being played this weekend), just because the Steelers have dominated the Browns and are the defending Super Bowl champions, they think that no one cares anymore.


We just don't care about the game anymore.

But remember what your current punter, Chris Gardocki, did, Steeler fans? Back in 2000 he flipped off the Steelers sideline, telling your jawhead coach Bill Cowher and the rest of the Steelers what he thought of them after the Steelers gave Gardocki a few cheapshots. That's your punter telling you what the rest of us here in Cleveland think about Pittspuke.

Oh, sure, we've got plenty of things to distract us. We've got the soon-to-be-national-champion Buckeyes. There's that Cleveland native Troy Smith who's about to win the Heisman Trophy. We've got Lebron and his James Gang (what, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference??). We've got the high school football playoffs. We've got Grey's Anatomy.

It's just hard to get worked up for a game when we put our hearts, our souls, our money, and our time into rooting for a team that never pays us back. (That's you, Browns, by the way!!) It's hard to really care about a team that has won 2, 3, 7, 9, 5, 4, 6, and this year 3 games since it returned from limbo.

But it's never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER hard to get worked up over the Browns-Steelers rivalry. Even Braylon Edwards, who didn't even play in last year's Christmas Eve game won by the Steelers 41-0, knows this.

Just the smell that comes into our city whenever Pittsburgh fans come to watch their team is enough to piss us off for six months. The games? Hey, we've been getting clobbered, but what can you do when God hates your sports teams?

But the rivalry? The rivalry! You can almost hear Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now replacing "horror" with "rivalry" in his famous speech: "It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what rivalry means. Rivalry has a face ... and you must make a friend of rivalry. ... The rivalry ... The rivalry."

And here's the Top 7 moments for the last seven years of Browns vs. Steelers:


Browns draft bust Courtney Brown records his career-high third sack when he plants Steeler stiff QB on the 6-yard line with 14 seconds to go and the Browns up three. With the Steelers out of time outs, time runs out and the Browns win 23-20. Later in the week, NFL senior director of officiating Jerry Seemen tells the Steelers that the referees should have stopped the clock to spot the ball, which would have most likely given Pittsburgh enough time to try a hurried game-tying field goal. But tough luck, Steelers -- they finish a game behind the Colts for the final playoff spot.


Bill Cowher needed to lie to his players to fire them up in order to win the first game the Browns played when they returned to the NFL in 1999. Cowher told Browns officials not to introduce the Steelers prior to the game, then told his players the Browns refused to introduce them. He must have known his crummy team would only finish 6-10 that year.


Chris Gardocki flips off Cowher and the Steelers' sideline, giving voice to the feelings of every person in Greater Cleveland.


Even though the Browns sucked, THIS one mattered -- Phil Dawson ran onto the field as the clock wound down, the Browns out of time outs. His 39-yard field goal split the Three Rivers Stadium uprights as time expired, giving the Browns an amazing 16-15 victory over the Steelers just nine games after the Steelers whipped the Browns in their return to the NFL. Apparently Cowher forgot to lie to his players before this game.


If you can't beat 'em, kick 'em out! That's the tact William Green took with Joey Porter before the game in Cleveland in Nov. 2004. Porter likes to get riled up in warmups, and this time he supposedly spat on William Green. That led to swings, which led to ejections for both players -- a pretty fair trade!


Hey, who wouldn't get drunk and run on the field in a 43-0 game? Nathan Mallett found out why maybe you shouldn't do it when Steelers linebacker Jerome Harrison body-slammed him and held him for police. But the best thing about it was Mallett's punishment -- he was sent to jail and didn't have to watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl earlier this year. Not only that, he is never allowednever has to go to a Browns game again!! Justice was definitely served.


Not only do the Browns blow a 12-point lead in the final 10 minutes, they do it in a wild-card playoff game against TOMMY FREAKING MADDOX. And you can believe it's not just any old choke job. It took a Dennis Northcutt drop of a pass that would have given the Browns a first down in the final minutes and most likely taken away any chance of a Steeler comeback. Northcutt and Ryan Tucker are the only two Browns starters from that game who remain on the team.

So there you have it. The rivalry still lives, even if this one hasn't provided any Greatest Game of All Time© over the past seven years. You can bet this one will give us yet another highlight, even if God makes it a bad one for the Browns.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Steel hurtin'

This one's for you, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ...

Straight from the W.W. Jacobs files of "be careful what you wish for" comes this year's Browns-Steelers game. Remember his story "The Monkey's Paw" that we all read in ninth grade? (Well, all of us outside Pittsburgh. They were still working on their McGuffey's Readers in high school.) In case you don't, here's the summary, using small words to help Steelers fans understand. Whoever possesses a certain monkey's paw talisman is granted three wishes. Mr. and Mrs. White receive the paw and all their wishes have horrible consequences, including the death of their son.

It looks Browns fans received their wish this season, W.W. Jacobs fashion. "Please, please, please God, make us as good as those awesome Pittsburgh Steelers!" we prayed. "If only we could be as good as a Super Bowl champion. It's all we've ever wanted!"

Wish granted, Browns fans! Suddenly the Browns are just as good as the Steelers. Of course you expected Rod Serling to appear and deliver the cruel twist of fate, didn't you? The Browns are finally as good as the Steelers BECAUSE THE STEELERS SUCK!!!!

Yes, this year's first Browns-Steelers game is a battle for last place. And who can't get excited about that, especially the day after the Greatest Game of All Time© is played in Columbus? Well, other than Braylon Edwards? Sure, the Steelers have beat the Browns nine out of the last 10 times. Sure, the Steelers have shut out the Browns three times since our return to the NFL in 1999. Sure, the Browns haven't scored more than 12 points in a home game against the Steelers since the turn of the century. None of that matters. God has granted us our wish.

Things are so bad that Steelers head coach Bill Cowher is talking about retiring. See what happens when the Browns catch up with you? Let's check out the scoreboard heading into Sunday's matchup: same record (3-6), our Evel Knievel wannabe is second in the league in receptions while theirs is 22nd in the league in passer rating, and the Browns have given up less points than the Steelers so far this year (184-207). Who wouldn't want to retire staring at all that, Super Bowl trophy in hand or not.

And here you thought God hated Cleveland sports.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are you there, God? It's me, Cleveland

So the Cavs just handed the San Antonio Spurs only their 20th home loss in the last three-plus seasons. The Browns fired jinx Maurice Carthon and won a game. The Indians, uh, they had lunch with Luis Gonzalez!

Maybe things are looking up for Cleveland sports. Maybe God has stopped hating our teams. Or maybe God never really hated our teams at all. Turns out a fisherman off the coast of New Jersey recently hauled in an interesting catch. He found a bag full of letters intended for God, some dating back to 1973, that had been put into a shopping bag and dumped into the ocean.

Let's see. We haven't won any sports championships since 1964. Since 1973, all these prayers to God have gone unanswered. A nine-year drought, no big deal. We can understand that. Happens all the time, even to the Yankees. But 40-plus years is Moses-wandering-in-the-desert territory. That's when you start looking at otherworldly causes. Could some prayers from Cleveland sports fans have been floating in that bag?

What if some kid in Maple Heights asked God to help the Browns beat the Broncos and make the Super Bowl back in the '80s? What if someone in Bedford thought a request to God would help the Indians beat the Marlins in the 1997 World Series and make her grandfather happy? What if some anonymous soul in North Ridgeville thought that a letter to God would help Butch Davis lead the Browns to a Super Bowl?

And what if the letters from Denver, from Florida, from Pittsburgh, from Baltimore -- what if all those letters got through and didn't wind up in a shopping bag in the Atlantic Ocean??

It's bad enough to think that God hates your sports teams. It's even worse to find out that your arguments haven't even had a chance to sway Him. If our letters ended up in that bag in the ocean, it's like a lawyer being banned from the Supreme Court. Not only has the decision been rendered, but we don't even get a chance to argue in our favor. Not only would we have no hope, but we would have no hope of having hope.

At least they found the letters just as the NBA season started. Let's hope God gets the delivery in time to save Lebron's patellar tendons.