Walking through Midway Airport in Chicago today, I came across an older man wearing a Cleveland Browns t-shirt. Noticing me wearing one myself, he expresses the same look you give someone when seeing them leave a funeral. Immediately, “Go Cubs Go” begins blaring over the airport speakers. Welcome to my walking nightmare.
I imagine Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is going through a similar bad dream. Across town, the Cleveland Cavaliers are undefeated and getting lost in the gleam of their brand new championship rings. The Cleveland Indians, despite suffering a brutal end to the World Series, are built well enough to make you believe in future postseason runs. Meanwhile, in Week 9 of the NFL season, Haslam’s football team has yet to win a game.
The Browns lost again today, though I likely didn’t need to tell you that. The end result is essentially assumed when you see an 0-8 Cleveland team is hosting the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys. Everything played out just as you’d expect, with Dallas leaning on Rookie of the Year candidate Ezekiel Elliot and wiping the turf with the Browns by the score of 35-10.
However, the result isn’t really the issue here. Instead, it’s how anticipated the result was. Nobody thought Cleveland would actually win today. Many don’t think the team will win a game this year. The rebuild Haslam told everyone about last January looks like it’ll last a whole lot longer than imagined.
As a result of this, you can’t help but wonder how difficult it will be for the Browns’ owner to stick to his word. Haslam spoke as a man knowing the next year or so would be grueling, as someone who knew this new regime wasn’t going to win many games out of the gate. That said, a winless season sure seems like it’ll test his patience like there’s no tomorrow.
Again, we all knew this wouldn’t be a fun season for Cleveland. The team is littered with inexperience, depending on tons of rookies to learn the game as fast as possible in order to establish a foundation to build upon. The growing pains were unavoidable, and setting the expectation for competitive football seemed like a significant leap.
That said, what we’re seeing a little over halfway through the year has been an eyesore of epic proportions.
The Browns don’t look anywhere close to competing. Defensively, they feel decades away from competence. Opposing offenses don’t need to exert much effort, if any, knowing their running backs will have mile-wide lanes while their tight ends will enjoy coverage-free games. Heck, even the ’99 expansion Browns looked more capable of victory than the current iteration.
It’s not all new coach Hue Jackson’s fault. The aforementioned youth, coupled with a laundry list of injuries would’ve been a huge setback for even Hall of Fame worthy coaches.
That said, those who made offseason predictions of an 0-16 record for Cleveland look smarter by the week. At this point, the Browns just keeping the contest close seems like a lofty goal to set.
Because of this, you’re forced to wonder what Haslam is thinking right now. His neighboring local franchises, even the minor league hockey team, have all made it to the final round of their most recent respective postseasons. Meanwhile, saying the words “Browns” and “playoffs” will elicit uncontrollable laughter more than anything, most likely from the swarms of opposing fans who’ve come to Cleveland to take over First Energy Stadium and witness their respective team win after paying astoundingly low ticket prices.
You can’t help but be reminded of last season, where Haslam quipped in July that there would be no rebuild regardless of what unfolded by the year’s end. As if on a dare, the Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine Browns put forth a soul-killingly terrible season so bad the only surprise would’ve been if the owner kept his staff intact.
Will we run into this again this season? Fans raved about the hire of Jackson, and many (myself included) think he’s the right man to get this team back on track. It’s difficult to believe another coach as highly sought after as he was would be available this offseason, and even more unfathomable to believe said coach would come to Cleveland.
However, can the Browns go 0-16 and still have Haslam keep the status quo?
We’re closer to finding that out with every game. Haslam may have prepped us for a long and painful rebuild, but you have to wonder if even he anticipated it being this terrible. We won’t know for sure until the season mercifully comes to an end, where we’ll see just how patient the Browns’ notoriously trigger-happy owner really is.