August 15, 2014

Browns’ play pulls the plug on FirstEnergy Stadium

FirstEnergy Stadium Steelers

There is a palpable irony to having a stadium branded with “FirstEnergy” be barren by the start of the fourth quarter in what is billed as a “rivalry” contest. With wind chill measures in the lowest of double figures and a Cleveland Browns point total stuck at the lowest of offensively-derived possibilities, the death march out of the venue began earlier than any game in recent memory. This wasn’t a stadium-wide attempt at beating traffic. Those who decided to not let their previously purchased tickets become a sunk cost were not in some hurry to get home in time for the four o’clock kickoffs1. This was a fan base who had been punched in the face by apathy, walking out on their team at halftime. A cursory look at the scoreboard would signal that the game was well in reach; an extended look at the field of play dictated otherwise.

To this point, these fans had watched their Cleveland Browns cross their opponent’s 40-yard-line just once in two quarters of play. They watched as a text book third-down conversion fell to the ground. They watched favorable field position be turned over by the way of a fumble. Passes soared over the outstrected arms of receivers. Several plays in a row, the football could not be advanced beyond the point of reception as multiple players had to take to the frozen ground in order to make a play. The running game was was a running joke. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t even bother to change out of his sweatpants until well after the National Anthem had come to a close, was barely touched.

In the midst of a game which allegedly pitted bitter rivals against one another, one could make out conversations from a section or two over despite having layers of clothing draped over his or her ears. The din from the south side of the stadium made its way over to the north side without friction. The occasional play would lead to a short cheer or, later, one of the Bronx variety, but the vast majority of fans sat still, quiet, simply baffled at what was unfolding before them. Sure, there were the sparsley placed groups who spent most of their stay by screaming obscenities at the team or officials. As the game progressed on, their voices became more hoarse, their statements, less comprehensible. The very moment that Browns quarterback Jason Campbell went down following a blow to his head, one could feel the life, what little life that had remained to this point, get sucked out of the stadium with savage fierceness—team included. In what was perhaps the most telling of moments, the most raucous of sound came from Browns fans who have made lobbing boos at quarterback Brandon Weeden the very second he steps on to the field an actual event, doing so well before the second-year steward of the struggle bus had the chance to one-hop a pass in the direction of wide receiver Davone Bess.

“All you can do is go out there and march down the field and throw a touchdown—I didn’t hear any boos after I threw that touchdown,” said Weeden, obviously ignoring the fact that the paying fans who did make it to the stadium on Sunday afternoon had vacated the premises long before the marching took place. At some point between Jason Campbell being knocked out of the game, the stadium’s public address announcer not announcing Weeden’s return, and the interception which was returned for a Pittsburgh touchdown, the fans threw in their towels, giving way only to those who stuck around waving their infamous yellow versions.

Throughout the week leading into Sunday’s debacle, fans heard that the players understood what a game against the Steelers meant. “It gets old losing to anybody,” said cornerback Joe Haden. Rob Chudzinski, a fan-turned-head-coach, said that he was doing his best to relay decades of competitive football to a group of kids who simply know that their team was, until Sunday, 1-15 when lining up opposite of Ben Roethlisberger. The team even tried to drape a “The Best of Rivalries” sign over fans in the western end zone. Fittingly, the fans in the Dawg Pound had one of their three panels upside down, rendering their sign more useless than the outright lie being portrayed some 120 yards away.

The procession out of the stadium was as lifeless as the team which took to the field inside. There was the typical angst that comes with another Sunday in Cleveland, but there wasn’t much in the way of cherry picking events that could have changed the outcome. There was, once again, a complete absence of anything resembling a redeemable quality2. There wasn’t anything that referenced Next Week or Next Time or even Next Year. The street-side t-shirt salesmen knew better than to push their products on the frozen and frustrated. It was a toxic parade of bodies, creaking joints wrestling with stairwells and gusts of wind, simply attempting to make their way to the comforts of their own car where things were once again within their control. The team that allegedly had hopes and aspirations regarding postseason play had lost five of their last six games, ushering in a stark reality that even the brisk lakefront winds couldn’t whisk away—the Browns were, once again, in last place within the AFC North with yet another 4-12 record being not just a possibility, but—with a concussed quarterback3 and the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars suddenly winning their last two contests—a probability.

“You can’t come in laying eggs two games in a row and then expect to be a playoff team or anything like that,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. “Two blowouts. So no, we’re not ready [for big games]. I’m tired of losing in this manner. It’s a little bit different if you go to the wire and you’re fighting the whole game and you have an opportunity to win the game at the end. But we’re out of the game in the fourth quarter.”

Ward finally said what many have wanted to hear for weeks, that the team’s offense continues to be an anchor of epic proportions. The Hawaii-bound Haden said that regardless of another losing season waiting in the wings, the team has to play for “tape,” or their own individual resumes. Reports of Browns fans being ejected for fighting with other Browns fans are running concurrent with those involving Browns fans and those who dare wear the colors of the opposition. Finger pointing, raspy screaming and obscenities were naturally just the tip of the apathetic iceberg. The product being provided by the Cleveland Browns is such that fans are relegated to take their frustrations out on one another—years of ranting at the team through a variety of mediums have garnered nothing but a frozen farce. The four-play drives, the dreadful execution, the blown assignments, the turnovers…

Soon, the yelling and booing and in-stadium angst will disappear. There will be less fighting and even fewer what-ifs being deliberated.  After all, empty orange plastic chairs don’t carry much in the way of a tune.

Image via Scott Sargent/WFNY

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Footnotes:

  1. Though given the product they paid to see, seeing actual football being played, for free, doesn’t sound half bad. []
  2. Save for wide receiver Josh Gordon hauling in what amounted to a record-breaking day as a pass catcher []
  3. Campbell will go through the NFL’s protocol on head injuries. There is no update on his return. []
  • Ezzie Goldish

    I’ll admit: I was furious when I saw fans leaving before the third quarter ended, and the (rather large amount of) Steelers fans were rightfully mocking.

    But after the pick-six following the fumble following the missed FG following the missed PI calls, I left a game early for the first time in my entire life. Enough’s enough.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    The sheer boneheadedness of Brandon Weeden’s post game quote completely summed up his entire career. What a freaking dope.

  • Jeremy Campbell

    It may be time to show them empty orange seats at the beginning of games.

  • Kirk

    Here is my question, When will people stop buying tickets? How much worse does it need to get. The browns have 1 QB on the Roster that can play. 1. An 8th grade team has more than that. Vote with your wallet. Stop buying tickets. Until the fans stop buying tickets, we are just the NFL’s Cubs. Haslem has no urgency to improve the team because it is a sellout every week and why spend more than he has to. Just a sad state of affairs.

  • maxfnmloans

    I like the halftime walkout idea…of course if that got planned, the Browns would end up scoring 24 points in the first half of whatever game, causing all of the fans to stick around because everyone likes to see a win, followed by the team coughing up said lead and losing the game on the last play in the most gut wrenching way possible

  • nj0

    78 days until pitchers and catchers report!

  • tnb

    Um, I’m sorry but is this the same browns team everyone predicted would finish sub 500? Is this the same browns team that won 5 games last year, who how has an entirely new front office and coaching staff, with a rookie head coach?

    I’m sorry, what did you people expect?

    look, the fact that this team is still in a spot to contend, a long shot but a shot none the less, shows that this team is probably far more improved than anyone would’ve possibly guessed, and that our expectations as fans are borderline ridiculous. It shows that this FO and new coaching staff have made the right moves to show that they’re going to be competitive, they’re going to make smart moved with assets, and they’ve honestly moved the team in a forward direction for once, and this has fans of this team overreacting to the little bright spots and throwing up their arms as if this team won 11 games last year.

    Lets take this season for what it is, a good sign of things to come plagued by bad luck and injuries, but focus more on the first part, and not the last.

  • Big Z

    Great article! I believe Weeden’s nonsensical post-game comment earned him an extra helping of boos on SUN. What a fraud. Thanks, Mike!

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Thank you, sir. I’m largely against booing, but it’s the least of the battles worth fighting.

  • nj0

    I agree with this. This is a team that is either at or a little ahead of where most people would have placed them at the start of the season.

    I’d also add – a team that was saddled with a starting quarterback who should not be in the NFL. And a team whose lone bright spot at QB was a back-up QB written off by seemingly everyone but our much maligned GM.

    Oh, and a team that traded a non-factor for a 1st round pick.

  • CB Everett

    Sustained losing in a gruesome and heart-wrenching manner going on 14 years is tough to take. The air is eventually going to come out of the balloon. Call us suckers or sadists or the rosiest of optimists for watching, but I can’t condemn anyone who wants to forgo watching this mess so that they can enjoy their Sunday.

    I will also say this–one problem is that we’ve been filled with too many false hopes and premature projections of playoffs which fuel unnecessary heartbreak along the way. We should have never been led to believe by the media & team PR machine (or have believed) that the Browns stood a chance vs Cinci or vs Pitt. Yes, the losses still suck, but false hope added some unnecessary agony. Insulting casual fans’ time, doesn’t bode well for their return to the seats if and when we’re actually semi-relevant again.

  • nj0

    Look, I know that the front office hasn’t been perfect in year one and that there’s some legitimate criticism to be made, but this is still year one.

    Remember, the only time this team looked good was when Hoyer, a guy nobody believed in except Lombardi, was under center. If he stays healthy and we don’t have to go with a career backup or a guy not fit to be on an NFL field (and a guy drafted by the previous regime), who knows where we’re at.

    We played meaningful football in the last week of November. That’s something. Not to give the current guys in charge a free pass, but I think this team is way ahead of where I thought it’d be. Can’t we wait on the torches and pitchforks until season two or three?

  • hash

    Doesn’t sound like Ward will stick around next year.

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    I’m not about to blame the team or its PR wing for fans developing collective delusions of grandeur–the fans did that to themselves. At even the slightest hint of competence, folks want to start projecting weeks ahead, instead of allowing the team to prove itself beyond a small sampling of its season. Not that I can necessarily fault those who want to look on the sunny side and dream big, but given the past 14 years, it ought to be caveat emptor by now.

  • Jeremy Campbell

    I wish my boss and the clients I deal with on a day to day basis had such low expectations of me where I work. I sure wouldn’t have to work as hard as I do

  • nj0

    Being an accountant or welder or [enter any normal job here] is NOTHING like being a professional athlete or acquiring personnel for a major league franchise. Think this is pretty obvious.

    Having unrealistic expectations does none of us any good.

  • matt underwood

    no kidding, walk outs are the dumbest thing ever. it is like going to the drive thru, paying for your food and then driving away before actually getting it.

    Yeah, the browns are really pissed you left early… guess they arent going to get that $4.75 for that hot dog in the 3rd quarter.

    browns fans are idiots.

  • Lunch

    CAUTION: if most Browns fans decided to do this. Jimmy Haslam may think “Hmmm, the city of Cleveland is not as dedicated to the Browns as I thought. Guess I’ll move the team to some other city.” Then what? You think the NFL will give you another team? Think harder guys.

  • Steve

    I’d love to see rebate Jimmy suggest that this team will sell better anywhere besides Cleveland. The only market is LA, and they’re huge bandwagon honks. They won’t pay good money to see this roster.

  • Lunch

    They will when Jimmy gives his organization a chance to improve the roster and the team. Then once again the Cleveland “fans” will once again kick themselves in the behind as they see another football franchise win Super Bowl after Super Bowl in a city not named Cleveland.

  • Gregory Bennett

    “this team is still in a spot to contend”
    Nope. Not with Weeden under center.
    Not. Gonna. Happen.

  • Steve

    Well then I guess there’s nothing left to do but subsidize billionaires who refuse to open their books. Go Browns! Can I at least write a check instead of having to buy a ticket and watching performances like yesterday?

  • Lunch

    Perhaps if they held a Snow days festival within First Energy Stadium maybe?

  • Steve

    Mary Kay Cabot just recently wrote an article stating that she’s absolutely failing in her journalistic duties to report without bias. You certainly can blame the PR wing known as the PD.

  • Steve

    An underrated experience, but alas, not a profit center. Rebate Jimmy won’t stand for that.

  • Toddyus

    This idea that Haslam has no incentive to put good football on the field – something I hear all the time – is a farce. The guy makes money if the Browns lose, true, but he makes a lot more if they win.

    Winning teams like the Pats, Packers, Steelers, etc. have much larger bandwagons nationally and even globally. Bandwagons that buy licensed merchandise. He has lots of reasons to make the Browns better.

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    I have even less sympathy for anyone who reads a word MKC writes and places any meaningful value in it.

  • Steve

    But that’s a significant part of the “delusions of grandeur” you’re talking about. The people (multiple, because I’m highly doubting that MKC is alone in her unbiasedness) who have the key access to the info that the common man relies upon are not presenting it fairly.

    I strongly feel that if you swapped Hoynes and Ocker, the Statler and Waldorf of the Cleveland sports media, with MKC and (fill in your Browns reporter here), there would be significantly less “this is the year we get to 500!” giddiness regarding the Browns, and a lot more optimism with the Indians.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I guess I disagree with the idea that we never should have believed that the Browns stood a chance against CIN or PIT. We already beat CIN once this year (convincingly I might add) and the Bengals have lots of injury issues. The Squealers started 0-4, lost to OAK a couple weeks ago and got 50+ hung on them against NE. Their O-line has been a train wreck, and Roethlisberger has been getting sacked like it’s his job this season.

    CIN was on the road, and road division games are never easy, so I’ll agree that that was a tough game. But if we can’t beat PIT at home THIS year, when are we going to do it? They are as bad as they have been in 15 years…and we didn’t just get beat, we got embarrassed. Call it false hope if you want. I call it taking care of business at home against a mediocre team, which is something you need to do if you’re going to be relevant again.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    it’s not like banner tried to sign ward. he still sits with with 26M in cap space most in the league.

    so banner wanted to low ball ward, if sign him at all.

    and now? ward’s the 2nd ranked safety in the NFL. HAHAHAHAHAHA. /banner’d.

    so anyway why WOULD ward stick around?

    [ditto alex mack.]

  • Big Z

    I’m not a proponent of booing him either, but I imagine many fans will use his ridiculous comment to fuel their booing fire.

  • CB Everett

    I hear you that we did beat Cincy once, and on that basis, I allowed myself to believe that this mediocre team (at best!) could compete for the division or playoff spot by beating Cincy again. I ignored every bit of objectivity that pointed to them being a far superior team.

    As for Pitt, they were down early in the season but have been making a steady comeback. I’m not saying they are good, but again, objectively better than we are, at least on the offensive side of the ball. I agree they are as beatable as I’ve seen in ages, but they still know how to sack up against a division opponent in a big game–something a poor team without true leadership couldn’t do.

    With the talent we have, we’re a six win team…not quite ready yet to even beat the mediocre teams at home.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I agree with you to a point. We aren’t as good as we thought we might be a couple weeks ago. Fair enough. But getting punked at home by this PIT team is inexcusable in my book. There didn’t appear to be any kind of fire or sense of urgency on Sunday, and that bothers me more than just losing. I know it’s cliche, but it’s not as much that they lost as much as it was the way that they lost. They looked like once they got down they just rolled over. I just can’t stomach that.

    You’re right about the leadership thing though. A team with strong leadership doesn’t let that happen. That concerns me a lot going forward. If you can’t get guys motivated for THAT game, what can you get them motivated for?

  • rtpinfla

    A couple of the players weighed in on the fans booing. They should be more concerned about the fans that simply left.

    You can agree or disagree on whether or not booing is an appropriate way for a fan to display frustration but at least it shows they still care that the players on the team are an embarrassment. The fans that left have shown that they are fed up and at this point have lost any interest in the team. That is a much worse problem to have. And who can blame anyone?
    This Sunday I don’t think Weeden or anyone will be hearing much booing. In fact, I don’t think they’ll hear much of anything except the echoes of the players and coaches yelling in a very empty stadium. A far cry from the excitement at the beginning of the Buffalo game when the fans were started to get energized.

  • Big Z

    The playoff talk from the media last week seemed quite unfounded to me as well – pitiful, even. I guess that’s what happens when you report about the same ol’ awful franchise year after year and you suddenly catch a glimpse of mediocrity. As Browns fans we must always temper our expectations or risk our very sanity.

  • CB Everett

    That’s not entirely true. Banner and the FO did try to negotiate with both in the off season–especially with Mack. Mack said he preferred to table it until after the season.

    In the case of Ward, up until last year, he was questionable in terms of health (quite a few injuries in an early career) and his ability in coverage. Yes, we have the benefit of hindsight on him–but let’s be honest and fair—no one viewed him as a top 3 safety prior to this year.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    it’s pretty much entirely true.

    i’ve read over and over that the browns weren’t sure mack was physical enough and they wanted mack to ‘prove himself’ to them. (lane adkins and bett sobieski at theobr/premium). once training camp started the mack camp said they weren’t negotiating in season. mack will be, by far, the best UFA center on the market this off-season. ravens still need to replace birk; niners (mack’s hometown) will be shopping too. here’s a piece if you want further info on the mack situation.

    w.r.t. to ward, it’s true that he’s playing better this year and it’s also true that the browns knowingly let him enter free agency without a decent backup safety and with the greatest amount of unspent cap in the league.

    if banner manages to see either this offseason they will cost more than they would have six months ago. given that ‘signing in house talent’ was one of the prime reasons given for not spending to the cap it’s a pretty obvious and egregious cap mismanagement.

    fair would be to state the truth about banner’s punting of this season but that would also require an objectivity that’s very hard for most browns fans for some reason.

  • CB Everett

    I still didn’t see any evidence that we didn’t try to sign those guys to extensions or that we’re not willing to try or that we don’t have alternatives (i.e. franchise tags). I don’t see evidence of “the arrogance of Banner” as the culprit for them not being signed…or “cap mismanagement” or other slings at the organization.

    I get the sense you generally dislike the FO or disagree with them accumulating cap space or “punting on this season.” But punting on this season has nothing to do with building long term pieces–which I see them doing. And generally I don’t see them as unwilling to impart with money to re-sign one or both of those guys. There are scores of other reasons why they aren’t re-signed. Maybe Mack & Ward think they’ll get more on the market; maybe they’re tired of losing; maybe they want to play closer to their hometowns (as you said with Mack). I know those aren’t as sexy as “Banner is arrogant,” but we can’t disregard those reasons.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    you know what you’re right.

    trading out of this years draft and saving 26M in cap means berea actually wanted to make the playoffs this year and when mack and ward leave as FAs that will be smart and the office renovations with misattributed inspirational mind trick quotations will surely change the culture and result in super bowls.

    thank you cleveland commentariat for pointing these things out to me. i seem to have had an irrational bias based on a longstanding dislike of short philadelphians. this is all clearly my mistake.

  • CB Everett

    Usually here, Browns fans can disagree on opinions and do so in a friendly way (i.e. without being snarky or condescending). Then again, you probably already know this, as you’ve made it clear that you know everything. I hope someday Berea will take notice of your gospel, and then after heading your pearls of infinite wisdom, we will find the promised land. Thanks again for engaging in a meaningful way that doesn’t rub the other co-fan, commentator the wrong way. And Happy Thanksgiving buddy.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    just so i’m clear:

    i put forward data showing how our two big UFAs are likely to hit the market as tops at their positions whilst we sit on most cap space in league thus illustrating personnel malfeasance or greed but at minimum definitely shows that the most cited reason (“we want to sign our young players”) for not spending was b.s. …

    and you ascribe a personal agenda toward banner to me…

    and then i clarify with points that demonstrate in an ironic way that it’s not -my- agenda,, banner/berea really did punt this season and so the empty seats and fan alienation were part of the plan (which unintentionally supports my ‘banner is arrogant’ assertion which you challenged because a willingness to shoulder if not incite fan alienation is in fact the definition of arrogant)…..

    and then you tell me an your most snarky tone not to be snarky.

    so happy thanksgiving back to you my prototypical browns fan brother.

  • CB Everett

    Just so I’m clear:

    1. Substantivtely: “Punting on the season” if true is mutually exclusive from signing long term deals to young players. I disagree with your premise, your arguments in support and so forth. I can accept that reasonable minds differ. So be it.

    2. Clarifying my point about Banner: You attibuted the non-signing in your original post to Banner “arrogance.” Your words, not mine. Then when I say “It appears you have a dislike of Banner,” you fly off the handle in an indignant way of ~how dare you accuse me of an anti Banner agenda.

    3. Snark: Your last post was snarky and dickish. I’m glad you picked up on the heavy snark in return. Wanted to prove a point by tone, but I shouldn’t have resorted. I try to stay above that kind of low talk. And I try to stay about insulting co-fans, ad hominem attacks and so forth.