Here's the thing to remember: It's not your fault.
It's not Randy Lerner's fault. It's not Romeo Crennel's fault, or Eric Mangini's fault.
It's not the fault of any Browns fan you encounter, even that guy who said something stupid or insensitive on a message board.
It's not the fault of Phil Savage, the ex-GM who signed Stallworth to what now looks like a foolish contract. Savage gambled on Stallworth, and lost. Some of his gambles worked. This one didn't.
It may not even be Donte Stallworth's fault. We don't know right now.
All we know is that Browns fans have taken another punch to the gut.
Thanks to its' absolutely brutal timing, this morning's incident involving Donte Stallworth may eventually rank right up there with the seemingly career-ending injury suffered by C LeCharles Bentley. Bentley, a hometown hero, returned to Cleveland as the savior of the team's offensive line, only to suffer a career-ending injury on the first play of training camp.
Just yesterday, the Browns organization grit their teeth and handed over a reportedly guaranteed roster bonus of nearly $5 million. Even though they knew they wouldn't get that value back, even if Stallworth played every single game.
And now, the team faces the very real possibility that Stallworth may not play for the team again.
We may have nothing left other than questions, anger, and sadness.
* * *
I stayed up very late working late night, because I'm a middle-aged guy with nothing better to do on a Friday night.
The quiet early morning hours offered a chance to take care of lots of little things that pile up. Some web-based security training for my job at Fox, helping some customers, pushing out some smaller news items that piled up. If you can call that "work".
My phone woke me in the late morning. It was 11:30AM. I never sleep that late.
The voice on the other end told me that he had heard some bad news from a source down in Florida, that Donte Stallworth had been involved in some sort of accident and that someone had been killed.
I trundled my way down to my office and started making calls, letting the OBR writers know, and they in turn went off seeking confirmation. I let the fans in the Insider Blog and on the OBR twitter feed know that we were stalking a potentially very bad story, but that it could be nothing.
Reaching out. Trying to find out if what we heard was true.
But the OBR monitors locker rooms and telephones each day, not police departments. The Browns organization didn't even know about it, based on what we heard.
CBS4 in Miami Beach had the story confirmed first, which we immediately relayed to Browns fans.
We were first in Cleveland with the story. Beat our competitors by hours. Yay. Great.
You think the shock of seeing this morning's headline was a crappy way to start a weekend? Dread's fun, too. Trying to find out the truth, hoping you don't.
You know how you feel when you wake up after a nightmare? I sort of feel like that right now.
It's a sure sign I need to put some distance between myself and the subject I cover.
* * *
The Cleveland Browns aren't the Chicago Cubs. They're not loveable losers who choke each year.
Sure, the Cubs had that incident with a fan catching a foul ball that kept them from a potential World Series appearance. That was almost Browns-like, and we then heard about it, ad nauseum, for months afterwards. They eventually blew up that foul ball, and everyone laughed. Just something else to add to the legend.
This team isn't like that. The Browns bad luck doesn't build up their mystique. It just tears it down.
The Browns aren't fun in the way that the Cubs are.
No, this team's modus operandi is to deliver haymakers to the back of your head when you're not looking. Brutal shots that you don't deserve and can't laugh about at all.
You know the litany: Red Right 88. The Drive, Kosar's mid-season cut, Modell's betrayal. A national TV pasting by our arch-rivals in our first game back, Jamir Miller's ankle, LeCharles Bentley's knee. The nicest man ever arrested. Panic attacks.
You can tell the difference between the Cubs and Browns as soon as you tell a friend that they're your favorite team. Cubs fans get a smile and a jokey "I'm sorry to hear that". Browns fans get an "Oh geez".
It's a question a lot of Browns fans ask themselves these days.
Being a Browns fan sometimes doesn't seem like a recreational activity in this century. It seems more like a test to see how much pain and bad luck you can absorb.
* * *
Of course, I'm not going anywhere. I'm married to this.
You probably aren't, either, if you're reading this column on a nice Spring weekend. You are probably married to this team as well, through your family history, local pride, or a simple lack of desire to walk away from decades of waiting for the glory days to return.
We're here for the duration.
A lot of folks aren't, though, and they're leaving. They would rather follow LeBron, or Ohio State, or the Steelers. Anyone who doesn't put them through this.
Maybe we can sneer at them a little, knowing that they lack the pain tolerance we have, and look forward to the day when we can wave them away from the bandwagon. That's not much comfort right now.
I don't have anything I can say to make it better. Wish I did.
Just knowing that there are other people here to endure it with you is something, I guess.
* * *
I'll leave you with some thoughts from one of the smartest and most level-headed people I know, "T-Dog". I won't explain who T-Dog right now. If you're familiar with the OBR's history, you probably know.
I don't think that anyone can put the next steps the team and fans should follow any better or more concisely than he has.
"First, this is clearly a tragic event. A man was killed. And that transcends everything else…
If it truly is just an accident, perhaps even with the pedestrian partially at fault, the Browns should support Stallworth. It has been reported that, after the accident, he did what he should have done - he stopped and cooperated with the authorities. If the Browns use this incident - if Stallworth either was not at fault, or was just insufficiently inattentive for a split second - to cut ties with him, it would, IMHO, send the wrong message to players: That the team is not supportive of its players, and is, instead, waiting for an excuse to cut ties with them.
On the other hand, if Stallworth is at fault - and there is a huge possible gradient of "fault", from talking on a cell phone, to going 5 to 50 mph over the speed limit, to alcohol and drugs being involved - the Browns' response will properly be less supportive, in proportion to his degree of fault. The team can't be seen as protecting a player - if the facts support such a conclusion - who is guilty of malfeasance that has killed a man.
In terms of the team's relationship with its players, and its reputation with the players in the league re: its relationship to its players, it is important that the Cleveland Browns get team's reaction to this incident right.
Which means getting all the facts before the team reacts."
The news today is horrible. Let's hope that the franchise takes the right next steps.
Maybe this is as low as it gets.