Louis CK, the Emmy-winning comedian who is arguably the best 1 at his craft, kicked off his nationwide tour on Wednesday night, doing so in the city of Cleveland, or as he refers to as “kind-of-big-guy Cleveland.” In typical CK fashion, he weaved between his act and whimsical tangents with no race, illness or creed left unturned.
Ending his show, CK used a self-belief which he has dubbed “Of course…but maybe.” Without spoiling the specific jokes, the crux of these beliefs are that there are essentially universal feelings regarding certain topics (peanut allergies, gender or race equality, The Make a Wish Foundation), but maybe we should, at times, consider an outsiders perspective and reassess our stance. Unfurling his comedic stylings for a little over an hour, jokes were made, and laughs were had. Lots of them.
At least until the headlining show was followed up with the NFL Network’s broadcast of “A Football Life: Cleveland ’95.”
Turning on the much-anticipated documentary, I admittedly did not quite know what to expect in terms of angle and antagonist. Obviously, Art Modell plays as large of a role as anyone when it comes to the entire regular season in 1995, serving as the worst business man to ever own a professional franchise 2 . Naturally, I went into the viewing well aware of what happened, but when narrative and editing come into play, I was admittedly skeptical of a national broadcast on a topic that, just a few weeks ago, appeared to be lost on so many.
Of course I had obtained closure over what went down. Of course I knew all the intricate details; the money-grubbing, the excuses, the tears both on the field and in the stands. Of course I knew about the All-Star cast that littered Berea, surrounding Bill Belichick like the leaves on the proverbial trees that are so often discussed.
When the hour-long broadcast had come to a close, I found myself sitting in silence left with nothing but a shaking head and the thought that today’s Cleveland Browns — from the top of the food chain to the 53rd man — have absolutely zero idea what this team means to the city and that any one of them who spurned the viewing for something trivial is that much more detached.
As the camera pans around the Browns’ war room or sidelines and shows individuals named Saban and Pioli and Mangini and Schwartz and Dimitrioff and Newsome, once getting past the fact that they looked so young and so ridiculous, the shaking head was merely joined by a deep sigh. By no means under any delusion can one believe that all of these men, reaching various levels of success in their own right, would have stayed in the city of Cleveland as one giant super group. But to know that they did stay together for several years, sans Belichick, once the team was ripped from the grips of Browns fans and draped in the still retched combination of black and purple, and then executed on what was learned within the walls of Berea, serving only to add to the betterment of what-could-have-been, made things that much worse.
The magnitude of that final game — the fact that neither the officials nor the law enforcement thought to place themselves above those in attendance, opting to merely use one half of the field rather than attempting to calm the chaos — can not be overstated. This behavior by any other scale would have resulted in 104 players running off of the field while dramatically shielding their heads. On December 17, 1995, it resulted in the members of the Cleveland Browns running into the Dawg Pound, spending their final seconds within the embrace of the fans, sharing levels of emotion that have not since been seen.
I have not had the time nor patience to search for the national talking heads who came to the defense of Art Modell following his recent passing, but I would like to see if this documentary changed their stance even if in the most marginal of manners 3 . Following the airing, however, Browns linebacker LJ Fort tweeted that the documentary was motivating. “It makes you want to win just for the Dawg Pound,” he said.
Brandon Weeden followed suit with “This show really puts things into perspective. It shows why Browns fans are so loyal and passionate.”
Linebacker Craig Robertson said that the documentary was wild. “That whole coaching staff was legendary. It makes you work that much harder.”
The one individual I left questioning in terms of “getting it” was, unfortunately, Ozzie Newsome. All of the men involved in the documentary were all donning their current team’s colors, so the long-sleeve Ravens t-shirt was understandable. The feeling that Modell moved the franchise because he “wanted to win,” however, was perhaps the most absurd line said with specific regard to the 1995 season. Newsome’s reaction when he heard the news was heartfelt; he was legitimately upset, stating that his 30-minute drive felt like three hours. One can hardly blame the man for being biased towards the owner who made him the first African-American executive in the history of the game. However, following the successes obtained since the move, it appears that the Hall of Fame tight end may have been jaded in a “forgot where he came from” type of way.
Those who did not forget the path which led them to their present-day success include Scott Pioli and Tom Dimitrioff. While the sunglasses and suit donned by the Falcons general manager may have appeared to be a bit much, the fact that the two men sat face-to-face talking about how they, in their hearts, still consider themselves “slappies” was very telling.
In the end, the documentary was completely focused on Belichick, but it was about his time in Cleveland — the sights of New England Super Bowls were mere seconds over the course of an entire hour. The eventual Hall 0f Fame head coach was a public relations nightmare in Cleveland, but once the winning started, the one-time cynics became fans. That 11-5 season that led to the Browns becoming favorites for a Super Bowl birth was not by happenstance; this franchise was undoubtedly heading in the right direction.
The team came back. A brand new stadium, the colors and name remained and some talented players have proudly worn the jersey. I admired the countdown ticker that stood in the middle of Tower City. Hell, I’m already over LeBron James leaving Cleveland and he did so just two summers ago. So of course, 17 years is enough to get over everything that happened with regard to the Browns back in the mid-90s.
If anything, “Cleveland ’95″ showed that maybe, just maybe, it will never be enough.
- Living. [back]
- This, coming from someone who deals with the Dolans 162 days a year [back]
- This documentary, if anything, should only serve to cement the fact that Modell deserves to be nowhere near Canton, Ohio [back]