The Ballad of Randy Lerner
Sung to the tune of Escape (The Pina Colada song) by Rupert Holmes
I was tired of my Butchie
We'd been together too long
Like a worn-out recording
Of a favorite song
So while he stood there coaching
I read the paper in bed
And in the sports page columns
There was this letter I read
"If you like Jeff Garcias
And getting caught holding in the rain
If you're not into Tupa
If you have half a brain
If you'd like making kicks at midnight
In the ruins on the Lake
Then I'm the coach that you've looked for
Write to me and escape."
I didn't think about my Butchie
I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my old Butchie
Have fallen into the same old losing routine
So I wrote to the paper
Took out a personal ad
And though I'm nobody's Grossi
I thought it wasn't half bad
"Yes I like Jeff Garcias
And getting caught holding in the rain
I'm not much into touchbacks
I am into Jeffrey Faine
I've got to meet you by tomorrow noon
And cut through all this Bottlegate
At a Barking Lot™ called O'Lerner's
Where we'll plan our escape."
So I waited with high hopes
And he walked in the place
I knew his scowl in an instant
I knew the Okie look of his face
It was my own lovely Butchie
And he said, "Oh it's you."
Then we laughed for a moment
And I said, "I never knew."
That you like Jeff Garcias
Getting caught holding in the rain
And repeated illegal motion
And the tattoos of Jeffrey Faine
If you'd like making first downs at midnight
In the ruins by the Lake
You're the coach I've looked for
Come with me and escape
When I've been reduced to relying on parody and ridicule, you know it's the low-point of a lost season.
At this point, there's little more than can be said about the staggering catastrophe that is the 2004 Cleveland Browns. We all know what's gone on and what happened this week. Of course, because this is the Browns, we couldn't just have the low drama of Butch Davis' suddenly going mad and fleeing to Florida. We also have Granny Holcomb turning up with -- stop the presses! -- broken bones.
So, what's there to look forward to?
Much, but not for another five weeks.
In the meantime, we have little more than a month of bad football to get through. It's like watching a sickly relative suffering. We want them to get better, but there's not much we can do other than offer our support and wait for the healing to begin. In this case, the healing begins by pulling the plug.
Davis' bizarre departure is merely one step in the long road back to respectability and success, and when I say back I mean from 1995. The first six seasons back from oblivion for the Browns are officially a wash, and should be wiped from our memory. They simply didn't happen.
The Year of our Lord 2005 presents the Cleveland Browns with a chance to forge an organization from the front office to the field that honors the past while looking toward a winning future. As I wrote last week, the football team that's been inflicted upon us the past six seasons is NOT the Cleveland Browns we knew for almost 50 seasons. It was some corporate monstrosity forced-fed down our throats because we were too blinded with happiness at having football again to know better.
The sham is over. The embarrassment has reached an uncomfortable level for owner Randy Lerner, who now appears ready to steer this star-crossed franchise where is should have been shepherded in 1999. It was a slap-dash operation six years ago, thrown together by the Judases of the NFL and sleazy Carmen Policy. The Lerners fell victim to snake-oil salesmen, which has been a shame for everyone.
Since 1999 through Sunday's mind-boggling defeat at Cincinnati, fans have watched the Browns lose 62 regular-season games.
To put that into historic context, consider this: From the team's inception in 1946, it took the Browns until Nov. 24, 1966 to record its 62nd regular-season defeat. That's 20 seasons. By the time they lost that game (a 26-14 defeat at Dallas), the Browns had amassed 196 regular season victories.
The current Cleveland NFL franchise has eked out just 29 victories in six years, an average of 4.8 wins a year. At that pace, it'll take these Browns just over 40 years to match that 196 wins.
That is unacceptable. Most of us won't live that long. And after watching this level of play, few of us would want to.
What's worse is that over the same six years, the Cincinnati Bengals have also won 29 games.
When you're as bad as the NFL's litmus test for futility, well, there's not much to do but start over.
But before than can happen, the rest of this nauseating season has to grind to its inexorable ugly end. While many are dancing on the grave of Butch Davis, the problems that plague the Browns didn't vanish into the night with him (and his $12 million).
The roster remains littered with Davis' questionable and failed draft picks and free agent pick-ups. The mission must be to complete the season with some measure of respect while keeping the dwindling core of actually talented players out of harm's way. That last part won't be hard since they're all hurt.
The remaining coaches can only do so much, but a good start would be to eliminate the sideline errors that exacerbate the botched play on the field. That means getting the play into the quarterback on time, and creating an atmosphere is discipline that will eliminate the mental errors.
A team that has limited physical talent can compete if it plays disciplined, fundamentally sound football. For several years, that Browns have shown their physical and mental limits on the field, and Davis failed to provide the coaching control and order to limit the hemorrhaging. He made things worse by failing to acquire impact players, which overshadowed the good work he did in Cleveland. And he did do good work. There are good players on this team, just not enough.
But that's water under the bridge now. Butch is gone. The wreckage he left behind will get cleaned eventually. It should be interesting to see how the players and remaining coaches handle the turmoil of this week against a foe like New England. A close game, obviously, means the team hasn't given up.
But do any of us truly believe the remaining Browns players have the mental and moral fortitude to seriously challenge the defending Super Bowl champions in the wake of all that's happened this week? I'll be rooting hard, but I've lost hope for 2004.
What happens the rest of this season on the field simply no longer matters, other than as entertainment. The real drama will be the mounting speculation and behind-the-scenes maneuvering to find a general manager and new head coach in the coming months.
So my advice is to not take the next five weeks all that seriously. It's not worth bursting a blood vessel over coaches and players destined for the scrap heap of history.
Good times are coming back to Cleveland. Our test is to be patient.
Patience. Browns fans could teach Job a thing or two about those, couldn't they?
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. He dislikes midgets, circus clowns and the Amish, but favors pina colada and getting caught in the rain. Write to me and escape at firstname.lastname@example.org.