Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - Incoming owner Jimmy Haslam popped out of the Browns locker room with a smile that stretched ear to ear Sunday afternoon.
“Great work and great win,” Haslam said as peeked into the interview room before quickly exiting the hallway leading to the tunnel.
Sunday’s 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals marked the end of 1 era, and the beginning of another and the players felt it before kickoff.
“When we saw the jets fly across at the beginning of the game for the first time in a long time, that’s when the feeling came. It was like, ‘We got jets? Haslam’s in town,’” Cribbs said. “Then there were jokes like, ‘That’s his jets.’
“It’s a sign of things to come. He’s really hands-on. He’s down there greeting the fans, greeting the players. We love to see that because he cares. Not saying that past regimes didn’t, but you all know.”
It’s surprising how a simple military fly-over during the national anthem could resonate that much among players.
With the win over Cincinnati, the Browns ended a franchise record tying 11-game losing a streak and 12 game AFC North losing streak.
While the victory lifted a weight off the shoulders of the entire organization with Haslam set to take over, it was hard to ignore the underlying message that the victory sent – maybe the plan is working after all.
“He’s awesome. He’s such a great guy,” Weeden said of Haslam. “We’re happy for him. He’s about to take over a franchise that just won a big divisional game. Hopefully with his help we’ll keep moving forward.”
Fittingly, outgoing owner Randy Lerner was nowhere to be seen Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
It sums up his tenure as owner perfectly.
Lerner was not one for the spotlight.
He avoided reporters and left the executives and coaches to do his speaking. Mike Holmgren was hired not just to completely run the franchise but to represent and vote for the team at league meetings which did not sit well with the other 31 owners.
His disdain for any attention was perceived as not caring and that could not be further than the truth.
Lerner was constantly seeking the advice of former players and executives about how to get the once proud franchise turned around.
He paid Butch Davis and his regime to go away after Davis broke down and couldn’t take the heat. He gave contracts to Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel, Rob Chudzinski when it appeared the team was on the right track then paid them to go away. He did the same with George Kokinis and Eric Mangini as well as numerous other executives.
Money was not an object to Lerner, who was not equipped or prepared to take the team over in October of 2002 when his father passed away.
The changing of the guard in the owners box which is set to take place Tuesday in Chicago has left the current regime in doubt – especially coach Pat Shurmur who dealt with a lockout and no offseason last year, and now an ownership change in the midst of trying to continue to develop a young team.
“My conversations with him have been terrific to this point,” Shurmur said. “It’s interesting, he has a business model that works, and every time we finish a conversation, he keeps asking, ‘What can I do for you?’ The fact that he was in the locker room after our first victory this season says a lot.”
Since the sale was announced on Aug. 2 and Haslam introduced a day later, the Tennessee businessman has supplanted the current president as the face of the franchise.
“Mr. Haslam has been around a lot,” Weeden said. “I’ve talked to him quite a few times. He’s a first-class guy. I think everybody’s really excited about him taking over. He’s obviously a really savvy guy and he loves football. He’s a good guy to have on our side.”
Instead of fear or trepidation, Haslam’s presence is being welcomed with open arms within the locker room.
“When we’re out there on the field, it’s not just the fans and the coaches, but the owner’s down here — that’s accountability,” Cribbs said. “If you don’t do well, you know you’ve got the owner watching. He’s not off somewhere, he’s right here down on the sideline looking at us. That lets us know that he cares about us.”
Haslam is a businessman but he’s also a fan. He knows the players by name and went around the room shaking players hands and congratulating them for a job well done before the doors opened for reporters.
“You can tell he’s going to be around,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s going to be a good thing.”
It was only 1 win, and the first in a very, very long time but maybe Sunday’s victory was a sign of good things to come with Haslam set to take the helm.
There was a sheet hanging on the wall in front of the Dawg Pound that read “11-5 Starts Today.”
As delusional or delirious as it sounded for a team that was trying to avoid the worst losing streak in team history – only that kind of optimism can be found in Cleveland for a team that was wrongfully taken away only to return and win 69 and lose 145 since.
“I wish they would let the fans do that more often,” Jackson said about the sign. “It was huge. It took you to that next level. And every guy was talking about it.”
There’s always hope for the Browns, no matter how bad it gets.
“It says that they never give up,” Cribbs said. “We’re 0-5, and they’re still packing the house; they’re still cheering for us. They believe in us. That’s why this is Believeland. And we’re right there with them.”
Hopefully the worst is behind the Browns and their fans.
And better days, just like Sunday, are ahead.