The fumble, this video, the possible loss of a home grown hero: the city of Cleveland is America's longest running practical joke. The people are a jumbled combination of resiliency, depression, hope and gloom. They deserve your sympathy, but laughing at them is more than justifiable. To put it plainly, they're losers.
Diving into the city's collective misfortune would take an exhausting 700 page tome, so let's leave that for somebody else. Instead let this piece shine light on one of the most optimistic situations Cleveland currently has brewing.
In early winter, right after Christmas and New Year's Day, one of the NFL's great punching bags made their smartest move since, well, since I was born. On that day Mike Holmgren strode into town with his sizable pot belly, jolly Santa Claus like facial features and universally respected football mind with the intention of turning around as lost a situation as there is in professional sports.
He comes into Cleveland with James Cameron like expectations. His success in Green Bay is legendary, and what he did with the once terrible Seattle Seahawks is remarkable. Holmgren sits atop one of the most impressive coaching trees the league has ever seen, with Steve Mariucci, Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, Dick Jauron and Ray Rhodes all going on to become head coaches after leaving his Wisconsin nest.
He's mentored the sport's most accomplished quarterbacks including Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre. That's like an acting coach who tutored Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a five-year stretch. The man is severely underrated in both his influence and his brain power, and should he bring the Cleveland Browns back to the level of success they saw when Jim Brown was off sipping champagne with Raquel Welch, Holmgren could go down as one of the most prosperous sport minds our country has every seen.
The 61-year-old President of the Browns is well rested after taking a year off from football to energize his mind and body. He's always had a belief that the quarterback, more than any other position in the sport, is the most synonymous with triumph. Thus came the gumption to press reset on one of the more dysfunctional quarterback situations in the league.
By unceremoniously cutting Derek Anderson, trading the superfluous Brady Quinn and replacing the two with solid career back-up Seneca Wallace (drafted by Holmgren in 2003) and Jake Delhomme, a one-time star looking to ratify his tattered career, the Browns are finally making correct, sensible moves for their future.
Holmgren will build his team the old fashioned way. He'll take the 12 draft picks he inherited and lay them out like the first bricks on a home's foundation. There'll be a quarterback taken (Holmgren knows Sam Bradford is an unrealistic get, but will surely try and snag a Colt McCoy, Max Hall or Tim Tebow to groom), but most likely not in the first round.
He'll look to solidify a young, talented offensive line that includes center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, and a paper thin receiving corps that includes nobody. He'll tirelessly mold a competent secondary and select a defensive lineman or two who can develop into a game changing difference maker (a necessity in today's game).
Holmgren is making smart decisions. He's already signed disciplined, good-hearted players like Benjamin Watson and Scott Fujita to stabilize a locker room that's been waning by the minute. They have a bullish running back in 27-year-old Jerome Harrison who ran for 561 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games of 2009. (He keeps that up and Cleveland's got themselves a 3,000 yard rusher next year!) These pieces don't necessarily translate to a Super Bowl appearance in 2011, but will allow the people of Cleveland actual, legitimate hope.
This is pure speculation on my part, but should the team disappoint more than they appease, expect the president-head coach relationship to grow akin to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. If Eric Mangini falls on his face--a most natural movement for him--Holmgren could replace him with one of his disciples. Most notably Jon Gruden who would fit perfectly to groom whoever is drafted at quarterback this year.
Five years from now this draft will be looked at as the reconstructive surgery this team finally received instead of the seven or eight band-aids they used to cork the bleeding. Those depressed, resilient, gloomy, hopeful fans in the dog pound just need to be one more thing in order for this all to come into fruition. Patience.