With all the negative sports stories coming from Cleveland this year, I thought I’d run down my five favorite Cleveland sports stories of 2010. They may not be the ‘top stories’ from the year, but they are the ones that resonate with me the most. Each day this week you can read my take and chime in with your own memory of the events. Today we start with #5:
The Browns commit highway robbery.
As one who was very much old enough to remember the knife slowly inserted and twisting in my back during The Drive, it felt good to finally get a little revenge on the Broncos.
At the time of the deal, it seemed a bit of an after-thought. Randy Lerner had brought in his ‘football man’ in Mike Holmgren, who wasted little time in securing the services of Tom Heckert and giving Eric Mangini another year at the helm. They reviewed the QB situation and determined that neither Derek Anderson nor Brady Quinn were the answer. Anderson found his way out West, taking up a roster spot in Arizona. Meanwhile Heckert and Holmgren started their QB platoon with Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.
That’s when the Browns pulled the rabbit out of their hat. The Denver Broncos were offered the Notre Dame alum Quinn, in what most considered a dump for a draft pick. Along with that 6th round pick, the Browns acquired RB Peyton Hillis.
Of course, all that Hillis would do is run for over 1,100 yards and run for 11 scores, becoming the youngest Browns back since Kevin Mack to rush for a grand in a Browns uniform. But it was more the way that he did it, as opposed to the actual stats he accumulated.
The first we saw of Hillis was in the preseason game against the Rams. His energy and never give up style were on full display, but it was easy to dismiss the performance as a guy desperate to make a team. After all, the Browns had Jerome Harrison, who had rushed for a single-game Browns record the year before, and another draft pick in Hardesty that we heard nothing but outstanding things about in mini-camps. Could a guy really run like that all the time? It turns out the answer is most of the time.
The list of players that Hillis would truck through, or leap over would grow, and teams would quickly learn who he was. Just ask the Ravens. Or the Patriots for that matter. My favorite run was the touchdown against the Panthers in which Hillis rocked a Carolina DB, and waltzed into the end zone. He did that frequently during the season, but I was there for that one and saw it live.
Not only did Hillis play a tough, hard-nosed style, but his demeanor and attitude off the field and with the press have been refreshing. From his quick dismissal of comparisons to Jim Brown to his aw shucks humbleness, he has won over fans in this blue collar town. Let’s face it- some of the offensive ‘stars’ that the Browns have featured over the past few years could apply for a diva license. Braylon Edwards. Kellen Winslow. Even Brady Quinn to some degree. Quinn easily could have been the kind of player that fans could really get behind, but he seemed to want to be the star, and could really never live up to expectations.
I’m not going to speculate that Hillis will become a superstar for the Browns, or even rush for 1,000 yards again. In fact, the Browns would more than likely be better off with Hillis splitting time with another back and possibly both of them rushing for 750 yards or so. You can only run full speed into a wall so many times in a season, and I think we’re seeing that high end of that limit. Of course, if the Browns had another weapon or two offensively it might take some of the pressure off Hillis to do everything himself.
But it was a great story here in Cleveland this year.