The best free lance writer in Ohio1, editor and raconteur, Vince Guerrieri (not pictured)2 returns to talk about Cleveland sports. He stopped by this summer to talk about the Tribe (look for a mention at the end) as well as twice in 2012 to talk baseball and football. The Youngstown native is the author of Ohio Sports Trivia and The Blue Streaks and Little Giants: More Than a Century of Sandusky and Fremont Ross Football, a contributor to Belt Magazine and Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers. Vince’s Facebook banner image:
WFY: Let’s just start off with this passage from our last football Q&A in 2012:
WFY: Do you find yourself thinking “oh, what might have been” with Robert Griffin III, drafted one spot before the Browns pick?
VG: Eh, a little, but I can’t find a whole lot of fault with Trent Richardson, who they got with the third overall pick. He’s a beast of a runner, and has good hands out of the backfield as well. I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea that Colt McCoy wasn’t the answer at quarterback, and really wasn’t happy the Browns burned a first-round pick on a 29-year-old. But Brandon Weeden’s arm strength – the main difference between him and Colt McCoy – has proven particularly valuable, as he’s thrown five long touchdown passes to Josh Gordon.
We were so young…
VG: Yeah we were.
Weeden still has decent arm strength, but that was never his problem. Mike Polk Jr.’s lasting contribution to being a Cleveland sports fan is the term “Factory of Sadness,” but I think his most insightful comment came here where he said Brandon Weeden was already staring down his receiver for the next week’s game (it’s true; I watched him do it in person). From there, we went to the Johnny Manziel experiment (my words at the time: It makes them more interesting, not better. Manziel actually got drafted with the pick they got from the Colts for Trent Richardson. I think that’s the definition of a Pyhrric victory. Now, we finally have RGIII, and I’m kind of thrilled about that, because at one point, there were rumors they’d deal for Colin Kaepernick (which would have been a complete fiasco).
Gordon will come back in Game 5. He’ll be the other player coming off a four-game suspension in that game (the Browns host the Patriots).
WFY: The Browns come into this game 0-3 which feels a lot worse than 1-2. They were in at least two of the games, from what I understand.
VG: Yeah, the Eagles thumped the Browns, thanks to Carson Wentz, who was taken with a draft pick the Browns traded to the Eagles. Admittedly, the Browns got a lot of draft picks from that deal, and who knows what they’ll turn into, but in the short term, it looks like the Browns completely screwed the pooch on that deal.
Then the Browns went up 20-0 to the Ravens before losing 25-20, and Josh McCown broke his collarbone, leading us to the Cody Kessler era earlier than anticipated. (True stat: Kessler was the fifth different quarterback in as many regular-season games used by the Browns.) Hue Jackson asked fans to trust him with that pick, and Kessler acquitted himself reasonably well against the Dolphins last week, but Cody Parkey, the kicker they signed off the street before the game, went 3-6, including shanking a potential game-winner before the Browns lost in overtime.
WFY: Apparently, Terrelle Pryor is the whole team right now which is interesting. I know that rookie Carl Nassib is also injured which is too bad, because he turned into an excellent defensive lineman at my alma mater. Are there enough healthy bodies on either side of the ball to be competitive this week? The Skins are not great, barely winning by two at the Meadowlands last week. I guess I’m putting in the prediction early in the Q&A.
VG: Pryor’s been a bright spot for the team sorely in need of one. He came to camp last year, made it through camp and then got cut to make room for an injured back-up running back claimed from Seattle (one of the reasons last year’s management is no longer with the team). They brought Pryor back late in the season, and he’s gone through another training camp and is starting to come into his own as a receiver — among other things. Last week, he had a game you really haven’t seen from a player since the 1950s, catching passes, throwing passes and even some rushing.
Nassib was one of those draft picks that everyone had high hopes for. The Browns have some success hitting on late-round picks and undrafted free agents. The trouble’s with top picks (there is a four-year span where none of the Browns first-round picks are with the team — and some aren’t even in the league). And Nassib did look good until he broke his hand. We’re all kind of hoping he gets back quickly.
There isn’t a lot of depth, and there isn’t a lot of talent. But the team’s showing improvement week-to-week. That said, I really think 0-16 is a legitimate possibility in Cleveland this year, so I imagine the Browns will find some way to not get out of their own way and lose 28-24.
WFY: Generally speaking, it’s been downhill since German investors Hans and Fritz were unable to buy the Browns after a bad power plant deal in 1991. Are things picking up under owner Jimmy Haslam?
VG: Jimmy Haslam’s taken a team that was a laughingstock of the league and made it WORSE, which is kind of impressive when you think about it.
But he’s making money hand over fist. Everything he’s done makes sense if you look at it as increasing the value of an undervalued asset. Since he’s bought the team, he’s
— raised ticket prices
— renovated the stadium (at taxpayer expense)
— changed the uniforms (we’ll get to that in a minute)
— added a drumline
— added more mascots
and done a host of things to improve the “fan experience.” The team? Not so much. He’s fired three head coaches and as many front offices. The team is terrible and the best-case scenario is that it will be for another two years after that.
And that’s the reckoning that had to happen. For the past five years, Browns fans have been conned or deluded themselves into believing that the team was only a couple pieces away, and a lot of people bit on that when they were 7-4 and leading the division in November 2014. But that was a mirage. A complete teardown is needed, and fans, unsurprisingly, are unhappy.
The good news is that for the first time probably since they hired Romeo Crennel, the Browns hired a coach that appeared to be in demand. Hue Jackson was well-respected as a coordinator and in a brief stint as a head coach, and was legitimately fielding other offers. Mike Pettine — whom I liked — was a desperation heave after the Browns threw Rob Chudzinski over the side — and he’d only been the coach for a year.
WFY: For all the turmoil inflicted on Cleveland fans, at least the Browns uniforms were classic, but not now, they’ve messed that up. I like the brown facemasks, but otherwise, just too much orange, even on the brown jerseys. The CLEVELAND on the jerseys are even okay, but TOO MUCH ORANGE overall. Are they just going to scrap them at the next possible opportunity and go back to the classic Browns look?
Why would you mess this up, Haslam?
VG: Again, the uniform change makes sense when you’re looking at it as increasing value. That summer, Joe Haden had the top-selling jersey in the league — and the move was almost universally reviled. Before the new uniforms were released, the logo was changed, going to an almost traffic cone orange. (the joke in Cleveland is “the orange is oranger,” and you can even buy shirts to that effect: . The Orange Is Oranger – Unisex Crew
The earliest the Browns can change the uniforms is 2019, per NFL rules. I’d be kind of surprised if they didn’t change it back to something resembling what it was before.
WFY: The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.
VG: They certainly did. That will never get old. I might get it engraved on my tombstone.
WFY: You are in a mixed-marriage and your daughter is probably getting to be the age where, if she’s interested, she might be ready to choose a team. Is it looking Steelers or Browns? Are Steelers fans becoming more numerous in your hometown of Youngstown?
VG: I took her to Browns training camp this year (shoutout to my buddy Crin, who wanted to go), and she’s started asking me if we’re going to watch the Browns. There’s a part of me that’s kind of proud, but there’s a part of me that says to myself, “Oh, God, what have I done?”
My primary concern is that she’ll become a Bengals fan because of my father, the only Bengals fan in Trumbull County. He’s got a stuffed football that yells “TOUCHDOWN BENGALS!!” and Sammy has been known to do the same unprompted.
One of my Pittsburgh friends saw a picture we took in a Youngstown bar (the Draught House, as seen on A&E’s “City Confidential”) and was kind of amazed that there were Browns and Steelers paraphernalia on the walls. It’s like a demilitarized zone between the two cities — and there’s definitely a Steelers edge. How could there not be? The Browns don’t give a whole lot of people reason to root for them.
WFY: I almost forgot, but there was a Kevin Costner movie about the Browns, Draft Day, right? How does it stack up against other Browns pop culture appearances, like The Fortune Cookie? For the record, I have seen neither movie. I also didn’t see The Cleveland Show which I assume was overrated, just like Family Guy.
VG: Well, “The Fortune Cookie” at least won an Oscar for Walter Matthau. “Draft Day” was an enjoyable escape, but it won’t win any Oscars. My favorite moment in the movie comes at the beginning, when the Seahawks front office (it was supposed to be the Jets, but the team declined) was talking about dealing the top overall draft pick. They need to find someone who will overpay, someone who’s desperate. Those are almost the exact words. And then it cuts to an aerial shot of beautiful downtown Cleveland.
WFY: What’s keeping you spending your Sundays watching the Browns, in person, on TV, etc.?
VG: Morbid curiosity. The Browns keep coming up with creative ways to lose. I said there’s a part of me that wants to see a Trump presidency, and it’s the same part that keeps me watching the Browns. I know it’ll be a disaster, but I want to see how.
WFY: Lightning round: Greatest 21st century Brown? Best beer you can get in the stadium (FWIW, I think Great Lakes Oktoberfest is the best beer I’ve ever drank). Anything you want to say to the Ravens guest prognosticator I might have next week? Is Bernie Kosar in the team’s good graces again? Is 2 the least respectable number a QB can wear?
VG: Joe Thomas. Pretty much any Great Lakes selection. Art Modell fired Paul Brown, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Belichick, AND went broke with NFL teams in Cleveland and Baltimore. He’s not a Hall of Famer. Bernie’s sort of in the team’s good graces, but they’ve really mended fences with Jim Brown. I think Johnny Manziel was going to tarnish whatever number he was given.
WFY: Let’s finish up with a more pleasant topic –baseball. How do you think the Tribe are going to do in the postseason? What about the Nats (I’m saying eliminated in 4, too many injuries)?
VG: I’m not feeling anywhere near as good as I was a couple weeks ago about the Tribe’s chances. The starting rotation — which was supposed to be the team’s biggest strength — is decimated. Ace Corey Kluber’s injured and out for the rest of the regular season. Carlos Carrasco broke his hand and is done for the year. Josh Tomlin went through a stretch where he looked like a batting practice pitcher. Best-case scenario for Danny Salazar is that he’s available out of the bullpen in the ALDS.
They’ve won the division, and I think they can win at least one playoff series, but probably not much more. Of course, I thought the Cavs were dead and buried after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, so I’m more than willing to be wrong…
12016 Ohio SPJ Awards winners
2Arsenio Hall everyone!