It happens every year, a rite that gets very little attention outside of northern Ohio: Just shy of the goal line at a local football field, Earnest Byner walks out, sees his shadow and trips over it, signifying another 12 months of misery for the Browns and their fans.
Already in 2013, the team's new owner, former Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslam, has seen the offices of his Pilot Flying J trucking company raided by the feds as part of an investigation into alleged fraudulent activities. (One couldn't help but wonder if Haslam's purchase wasn't part of some brilliant long con perpetrated by the rest of the Pittsburgh ownership group.)
This came shortly after Haslam promoted to GM Mike Lombardi, who in his previous gig as an NFL Network analyst memorably called Cleveland's 2012 first-round selection of quarterback Brandon Weeden a "panicked disaster." Lombardi's first major move was to draft LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo sixth overall. Mingo promptly left the second preseason game spitting up blood after innocuously covering the opening kickoff. He was diagnosed with a serious lung contusion, an exceedingly rare injury for a football player that one doctor at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center told The Plain Dealer usually only occurs in a "bad motor vehicle accident."
It was a fitting diagnosis. For what is a Browns season if not a car wreck?
So it should have come as no surprise last Wednesday that Cleveland traded starting running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for the Colts' top pick next year. With the Browns most likely staggering home and the Colts looking like a playoff team, Cleveland should end up with a top five pick and another in the early 20s. You'll forgive fans for not being too excited about that: The Browns were in the exact same position two years ago, when they drafted third and 22nd. They took Richardson and Weeden.
And there's your Groundhog Day moment. Thanks, Earnest, we'll see you next year just before Mingo bruises his spleen raking leaves and has to go on IR.
How to defend a trade that essentially asks fans to forget the last two seasons (never mind that they surely would if they could)? The most commonly offered argument is that the Browns are now in better position to land an elite quarterback in 2014, though the addition of a 20-something pick does nothing to guarantee it. The choice itself is unlikely to yield a stud, at least given Cleveland's wretched recent history: Five years before they drafted Weeden, at 22, the Browns took Brady Quinn with the same pick. And having an extra first-round selection won't necessarily make it easier for the Browns to move up. In 2012 then president Mike Holmgren offered his entire draft to get into the top spot so he could take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and he was rebuffed by the Colts.
No, the Browns' best bet in the Teddy Bridgewater sweepstakes is to hope that their own first-round pick will be high enough to land the Louisville junior. That, of course, means being worse than everyone else, which is why Cleveland fans are so despondent: It's impossible to see the off-loading of a player who ran for 1,679 yards at Alabama two years ago, after a rookie season in which he rushed for 950 yards and 11 TDs, for nothing that provides immediate help in return, as anything other than the raising of a white flag. Use the word rebuilding all you want. Browns fans have heard it enough, from each of the four regimes that have run the team in the past six years, that they have become numb to it. The latest long-term plan lasted all of 13 months.
Ironic, then, that with Richardson running in Indy and Weeden, whose days are clearly numbered, out with a thumb injury, the Browns went to Minnesota on Sunday and beat the Vikings 31--27. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, a product of St. Ignatius High in Cleveland, became the franchise's 19th starting QB since it returned to the NFL in 1999 and threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, in his first game of the season after serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a score.
Sure, it undercut the Tanking for Teddy movement. And so what if Richardson scored in his Colts debut and his Browns replacement, 31-year-old Willis McGahee, ran the ball eight times for nine yards? The win happened at the same time the Indians were routing the Astros, running their September record to 15--6 and increasing their wild card lead to 1½ games. Cleveland fans could be forgiven for feeling at least good if not optimistic. Until, of course, they checked the Internet and saw it plastered with reports that the Browns were fielding offers for Gordon.
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Speed, in mph, of a fastball by Royals righty Yordano Ventura on Sept. 17 in his major league debut against the Indians, the fastest pitch by a starter since 2008.
Years since the Lions won a road game against the Redskins before Sunday's 27--20 victory. The last time Detroit got a W over the Skins, Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House—and the Redskins were in Boston.
Years since the Pirates (89--67 through Sunday), Indians (85--70) and Royals (82--73) had winning records in the same season.
School-record touchdown passes thrown by Ohio State QB Kenny Guiton against Florida A&M—all of which came in the first half.
Length of the fourth quarter of Miami's 77--7 win over Savannah State last Saturday. Both staffs agreed to shorten the final period by three minutes after the Hurricanes stretched their lead to 70 late in the third.
FBS teams that scored at least 50 points last weekend.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY NICOLE ZIGMONT; CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: GARY CAMERON/REUTERS (RICHARDSON); TONY TOMSIC FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BRONCOS); MARK DUNCAN/AP (BYNER); DAVID RICHARD/USA TODAY SPORTS (BAGHEADS); AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS (LONELY FAN); DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DOG)
MIKE JANES/FOUR SEAM IMAGES/AP (RADAR GUN)
COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES/NEWSMAKERS/GETTY IMAGES (ROOSEVELT)
JAY LAPRETE/AP (GUITON)
HEINZ KLUETMEIER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IBIS)