*Sorry, I do not put the Texans and Jaguars in this category.
As many have pointed out, the New Orleans Saints victory yesterday put them into their first ever Super Bowl. This now leaves the Detroit Lions and your Cleveland Browns as the only teams who have yet to reach a Super Bowl. The Saints are the second NFC team in two years to make their first appearance in the big game. Meanwhile, the Browns haven’t won a playoff game since 1994 and haven’t played in a conference title game since 1989.
I am 33 years old. I grew up bleeding Brown and Orange, watching every game either on TV or down at the old Stadium. My formative years were in the middle of the best Browns run since the 60’s. From 1985 (the 8-8 AL Central Champions) to 1994 (Bill Belichick’s 11-5 Wild Card team), the team owned the city and for good reason. Three times in four years those Browns made it to the AFC title game. It probably would have been four in four years had it not been for injuries to its top three QB’s in ’88. That team still made the playoffs thanks to the miracle performance by Don Strock in the final week of the season against Houston.
Sure, the end of the Bud Carson/beginning of the Belichick era produced four straight losing seasons, but they improved their win total in each of those years.
At the time that “The Lord” Bernie Kosar was spraying the ball all over the field to Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne, Ozzie Newsome, and Brian Brennan. Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner were a 1,000 yard talented tandem with third-down back Herman Fontenot a solid pass catcher and clutch performer before handing the reins over to the speedy Eric Metcalf. The O-line was rock solid behind Cody Risien, Mike Baab, and Dan Fike.
Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield were two shut-down, All-Pro corners. Safeties Ray Ellis, Al Gross, and Thane Gash laid the wood. Mike Johnson, Clay Matthews and Eddie Johnson were mainstays in the linebacking corps. Michael Dean Perry plugged up the middle with the best of them. Matt Bahr? Dude was MONEY as a kicker.
Gerald “the Ice Cube” McNeil. Tim Manoa. Clarence Weathers. Dave Puzzoli. Bob Golic. Paul Farren. Ricky Bolden. Harry Holt. “Leaping” Lawyer Tillman. “Big Daddy” Carl Hairston. Al “Bubba” Baker. Mark Harper.
I could go on and on about how much I loved those teams. It was the perfect time for me. Those were my heroes. The best part was that they were great. Sure, they never made the Super Bowl (even though three times they were one game away), but it didn’t take away my love for them. I look back at those years with such fondness and all I can do is feel sorry for that 10 year old kid who watches these games wondering if they will ever be good. Will that kid look back when he/she is 34 the way I did and think of the Browns the way I do? Not likely unless things turn around.
But I do feel much better about where the organization is going today than I did a year ago at this time. There is finally a quality front office hierarchy in place with new Czar Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert on board. The team finished up a miserable season on a high note, winning its last four games and playing hard for coach Eric Mangini, who managed to stay his execution for another year (and deservedly so). It seems like all the BS could finally be behind us.
Now all we need is more talent.
I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. The NFL is a league where you can turn it around rather quickly. Last year was the Cardinals. This year it was the Saints. Why can’t it be our time soon?