BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns were once one the most revered franchises in all of sport having racked up 8 championships and seen 16 players enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
After completing an 0-16 season, the Browns are no longer the pride of the NFL. They’re a punchline.
“It can’t get worse than this,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said as his teammates cleaned out their lockers and sat in on exit interviews with their coaches.
For as painful as the annual 3-13, 4-12 or 5-11 seasons had become in Cleveland over the last 2 decades, no one could’ve envisioned this.
“Hopefully they forget my name as the years go by,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “[It’s] a terrible thing to be a part of. [You] wish you weren’t a part of.
“1-15 gets you out of the history books but 1-15 is awful, just as bad.”
The stain of the 2017 season will be hard to remove for years – and maybe even decades – to come. Just ask the Detroit Lions, who just fired head coach Jim Caldwell despite him finishing with 3 winning seasons in 4 years. Detroit has made the playoffs 3 times since that fateful 2008 campaign while the Browns are now the proud owners of the longest playoff drought.
But everyone remembers the Lions – and now the Browns – because of 0-16.
“It is awful,” Hue Jackson, who is an appalling 1-31 as head coach of the team but will return for a third season, said Monday morning. “We all have to wear it. I don’t think anybody wants to be associated with that. No one started the season thinking that this is how it would turn out.”
As the losses mounted and hit 10, then 11, then 12, then 13, then 14 and 15…you could see 0-16 coming from a mile away but the specter of going winless was downplayed by Jackson and many players within the locker room, which rubbed fans the wrong way.
The sense of urgency to avoid making history that was present a year ago didn’t exist in 2017, and Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh reality hit home. And hard.
“It lasts forever,” receiver Corey Coleman, who dropped a fourth down pass at the 11 with less than 2 minutes to play that sealed their fate, said after sitting at his locker in Pittsburgh with his head in his hands. “It sucks. Nobody wants to go 0-16.”
First thing Monday morning Jackson found himself apologizing for the perception that avoiding a winless campaign didn’t seem to be much of a worry, let alone a priority.
“I’m sorry and I apologize if people think that we are not distraught about it,” Jackson said. “But I don’t think us talking about it over and over and over again [does any good] because I think everybody else will. I think what it has done is the urgency within the building, within our team, within everybody to get it fixed because if you don’t, this is what things lead to.”
Since Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore in 1996, football in Cleveland has never been the same.
While the Ravens have gone on to win 2 Super Bowls, 4 division titles and make 10 playoff appearances, the expansion Browns have been an embarrassing blemish that has now eclipsed the legacy of what used to be a bedrock franchise in the NFL that is now in shambles with “hope” as the only thing they have to peddle to their long suffering fans.
The Browns are 88-216 with 1 playoff appearance and 17 losing seasons. 76 of those losses have come since 2012. And now the indignity of 0-16.
“You feel for the fans that have cheered for the team for so long and had to be a part of so much losing, you feel for everybody,” McCourty said.
The losing has caused Browns fans to develop their own 5 stages of grief: unbridled optimism followed by frustration, then anger, tears and now laughter.
Some of those loyal fans are just fed up which is why a group of them will hold a parade to “celebrate” imperfection with snark, sarcasm and humor on Saturday at noon outside of FirstEnergy Stadium, dubbed years ago by local comedian Mike Polk Jr. as the ‘Factory of Sadness.’
The players want to forget the nightmare that just happened.
“Knowing this feeling, we never want to experience this again,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said. “That’s going to be the driving force to bringing this thing back to where it needs to be. It’s a first for a lot of us but we gotta own it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”