Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hitting the jackpot

Once again, our giant slot machine on the lake pays off.

You know how it goes. Sell out every game since the Browns return to the NFL in 1999. Lay an egg in most of them -- a 21-45 home record the testament to that. Raise fans expectations and then dump a bucket of ice water over them almost every time.

Certainly THAT'S not what's bringing 73,089 people to Cleveland Browns Stadium eight times a year. No, it's the slot machine theory. The fans are attracted to the team, they buy tickets (and t-shirts and hates and sweatshirts and beer) once attracted, and they continue to root for the team for years and years. The fans continue these activities despite loss after loss after loss.

Then there's what psychology professor Tom Creed calls the reinforcement function. That's the periodic payout which occurs unpredictably and in variable sizes. Kinda like the Browns' 51-45 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in which Derek Anderson tied the franchise single-game record with five touchdown passes. Triple 7s and a $10 million jackpot indeed.

Anyone who runs a casino can tell you why every Cleveland Browns home game has sold out since the team returned in 1999. It's certainly not the 41-89 record that Browns 2.0 have put together. It's not the procession of quarterbacks from Ty Detmer to Tim Couch to Spergeon Wynn to Doug Pederson to Kelly Holcomb to Jeff Garcia to Luke McCown to Trent Dilfer to Charlie Frye to Derek Anderson. It's not the record against Pittburgh, which has won 15 of the 17 matchups since the Browns returned to the NFL. And it's not cheap beer prices.

No, it’s the shootout that D.A. inexplicably won against Carson Palmer that brings Browns fans back. It’s things like Jamal Lewis’ 215 rushing yards and 66-yard scoring run. It’s things like Braylon Edwards’ diving 34-yard touchdown catch and 146 receiving yards. It’s things like Kellen Winslow’s 100 yards and a score through the air. It’s things like Leigh Bodden’s last-second interception to preserve the victory.

The slot machine effect was in full view at Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday as we saw the Browns score the most points in a home game in team history. It was also the most points by a Browns team since they opened the 1989 season with a 51-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Was it real or was it just a lucky pull of the one-armed bandit? Derek Anderson wasn’t even good enough to beat out Charlie Frye in the preseason. Then, after a quarter and a half of awful football against the Steelers, Frye gets shipped to Seattle, D.A. becomes the placeholder until Brady Quinn is ready, and then …

and then, 20-of-33 completions for 328 yards and five touchdowns. This from a guy with six career touchdown passes coming into the game. And it all came after D.A. started 3-for-10 with a sack and a fumble. Similar stats got Charlie Frye fried the previous week.

So the pendulum swings the other way after a week of turmoil. We went from the optimism of a new season to the pessimism a crushing defeat by Pittsburgh brings back to the optimism a stirring victory coupled with a trip to winless Oakland. Just don’t get too excited. After all, Kelly Holcomb has two of the Browns biggest passing yardage days in the regular season and one of their biggest in the playoffs. There's a reason the slot machine rarely hits triple 7s.

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