Sunday, February 02, 2014

“One Fan’s Opinion”

c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

After another dismal season for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and the firing of Coach Rob Chudzinski, team owner Jimmy Haslam took it upon himself to write an “open letter” to fans. It was the sort of exercise CEOs often undertake to appear “in touch” and relevant to employees and shareholders.
Reading his statement made me recall that, when I was Sports Editor for another newspaper, I used to compose a weekly column about such things. It helped personalize my section with a bit of humor or pondering-out-loud.
I decided to revive this bygone tradition, in order to reply with a personal note to the franchise owner, himself:


Dear Mr. Haslam,

I am a resident of Geauga County, and a long-term fan of the once-and-present Cleveland Browns football team.
I have been through all of the iconic happenings that have beset this club since winning the 1964 league championship, 27-0, over the old Baltimore Colts. These include “Red Right 88” along with “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” Not to mention “The Move.”
I have a #13 Frank Ryan jersey. And of course, #19 for Bernie Kosar.
Your recent letter to the fan community made me think a lot about the modern era of NFL football. With your indulgence, I would like to offer some of my own observations.
First, the “old” Browns were a rival to the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers franchise. But in current terms, as with so much of life in Northeastern Ohio, our population has been overrun by the city-on-the-rivers.
To be blunt, I am the only resident of my neighborhood who is not a Steelers fanatic.
My daily routine includes taking money from my account at PNC Bank, then going to shop at Giant Eagle where I buy Yuengling or Duquesne beer. In each instance, I have submitted to a new paradigm ruled by Pennsylvania, not my native location.
National City Bank, Stop n Shop supermarkets and working-class brews like P.O.C. are long gone from Lake Erie. We are now more of a western suburb of “Da Burgh.”
So struggling to maintain my identity as an Ohioan is a proposition with diminishing returns. I continue to preach about the 80’s Browns teams and the eight championship rings held by the franchise. (Four AAFC and four NFL.)
But, as Hillary Clinton once asked, “What difference does it make?”
Second, in your letter, you say “We believe it is very important to stay disciplined in this process.” Sir, with all due respect, fans have long since decided that you do not possess much “discipline” of any kind. Firing Rob Chudzinski after eleven months only added to the perception that you and your organization’s leadership acts without a great deal of forward thinking. If this perception is untrue, I apologize. But in terms of team history, it has seemed to continue the awful tradition of hapless NFL football in Cleveland, since the Browns returned in 1999.
You also say “We believe the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a very attractive position.” Again, speaking respectfully, I think that point has been proven beyond any doubt to be an assertion clearly up for debate. The search that eventually made Mike Pettine your new head coach became a national story. Not because of any agenda in “the media” but because, in your short tenure as franchise owner, we have already gone through three men chosen to steer the team.
Third and perhaps most importantly, there is one quality which is most valuable for you to instill in the franchise.
If you did a business-level analysis of successful league organizations, that one characteristic would shine out beyond all others. It is the reason that Pittsburgh can boast of six Super Bowl trophies. It is why Bill Belichick devotees can make a convincing argument that he is one of the league’s greatest coaches. And it is what we have lacked in Cleveland for generations.
Just since 1999 we have seen Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Terry Robiskie, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski come and go without much success.
In that same period of time, the “Old Browns” franchise which operates in Baltimore, thanks to Art Modell, has won two Super Bowl trophies.
One could convincingly posit that residents of the greater Cleveland area have become used to the idea that they live here under some sort of “curse.” In a sense, this has become part of the native identity. Businesses, politicians and sports franchises of all sorts seem doomed to life in a twilight world of crushed dreams and misery.
It was expertly voiced by comedian Mike Polk Jr. when he shouted at the stadium “You are a factory of sadness!”
Yet people on Lake Erie are gritty folk. They cling to the idea that deliverance can come through hard work and endurance. In a sense, football itself is a metaphor for that lifestyle. From Paul Brown to Vince Lombardi to Bill Parcells, that sense of discipline and shared sacrifice has been a common theme.
When you consider the Browns future, sir, I ask that you do so in a new light. View the team not as a business asset, or as a way to join the exclusive club of NFL franchise owners. Not even as a conduit to achieving a sense of victory and accomplishment. Look upon the team as what it is for many here on the Northcoast.
Our identity.
Good or bad, glorious or tragic – this is Cleveland, Ohio.

Sincerely, Rod Ice

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