Chiefs? Panthers? Bills? Bengals?
OK, let’s start this one off with a new feature available here at JoeBlogs — a poll!
Yes, Substack now gives me the option to put polls on here. That’s exciting because those of you who have been around for a while know that I just LOVE polls.
OK, we don’t have time for a bunch of polls right now — this is meant to be a somewhat serious piece about the unpleasant and plainly heartbreaking process of leaving your lifelong team behind — but just know that this poll thing is a definite game-changer. I have like 500 polls already in mind and I’m sure that I will just randomly, in the middle of a piece about Aaron Judge or what’s happening with strikeouts, put in some poll about the best kind of peanut butter or some utterly arbitrary trivia question …
OK, fine, I couldn’t help myself. I’ll give you the answer a bit later … after I get to the dismal saga of the Cleveland Browns and the sad but oddly hopeful process of moving on.
For more than 50 years, the Cleveland Browns have brought me so much more pain and misery and despair than anything that you might call happiness. They have never won a Super Bowl. They have never BEEN to a Super Bowl. They have lost their most important games in the most dramatic fashion, as if their sole reason for being is to cause me and my Browns brothers and sisters the highest level of pain possible. Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. The Helmet Toss. Hue Jackson. That other coach, whatever his name is. Johnny Football.
They also left Cleveland for Baltimore and won multiple Super Bowls there.
All of these and so many more I forgave. Hell, I more than forgave. I doubled down. I never even considered leaving the Browns for a luckier, savvier, more competent team. No, I kept finding some new reservoir of hope and, like the sucker that I am, I kept investing that hope in the Cleveland Browns.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 5,394 times, and I’ll buy a new Browns shirt.
Three months ago, the Cleveland Browns traded six draft picks — including three first-round picks — and dished out the highest-guaranteed contract in NFL history in order to get quarterback Deshaun Watson. They did this even though Watson had sat out the entire 2021 season because of 22 lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault during massage sessions.
They did this even though Watson was certain to be suspended for some amount of time — being sued for sexual misconduct by enough women to play a full football scrimmage does demand some sort of disciplinary action. The Browns were so sure that the NFL would suspend Watson that they cynically manipulated his record contract to pay him only $1 million in salary this season. That’s $1 million out of the $230 million they guaranteed.
See, this way he would not be too hurt financially by the suspension.
I mean, that’s some cold-hearted, Soprano-level business dealing right there.
In the three months since the trade, the number of lawsuits against Watson ballooned from 22 to 24, he insisted that he would not settle the cases because he’s totally innocent, he then settled 20 of the 24 cases for an undisclosed amount of the Cleveland Browns’ money. Watson continues to claim total innocence but admits at least one of the massage therapists cried after he left (he has no idea why). The New York Times reported that he booked appointments with at least 66 different therapists (totally normal behavior) and that some of these women were not even licensed to be therapists (sounds sensible), and that even some of the women who were not suing him conceded that, yeah, he’s a scumbag. Finally, in sort of a triumphant crescendo, his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, defended his client by telling a Houston radio station that it’s not a crime to request a happy ending during a massage.
What a guy.
The Browns traded for Watson with their eyes wide open. Sure, Browns’ owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam released a statement about the team spending “a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating” Watson, and how “humble, sincere and candid” he was. Give the Haslams credit: You rarely find BS that pure and unfiltered. But they knew exactly what they were doing. This team, which has been a continuous disaster ever since starting up in Cleveland in 1999, had grown desperate. And desperate teams, like desperate people, can and do make unconscionable choices.
I’ll tell you what I think will happen from the football side: I think Watson will probably be suspended for this entire season, at least.* That would mean he will be out of the NFL for two full seasons, maybe longer. It’s certainly possible that a player could miss two full seasons and still come back and be as good as ever. It’s also possible that he will never be anything close to the player he was in 2020, when he led the NFL in passing yards (and led the Texans to a lovely 4-12 record).
*The NFL leaked that its recommendation is an indefinite suspension of no less than a year. The NFLPA is expected to fight this recommendation not by pointing to Watson’s innocence — even the union has moved on from that nonsense — but by saying that the NFL didn’t apply comparable punishments to despicable owners Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft and Daniel Snyder for their alleged sexual misconduct. What a league.
In other words, there’s at least the possibility that this team mortgaged its entire future and put itself in salary cap jail and alienated a rather large section of its fan base for … nothing?
What a team.
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In any case, as I wrote at the time of the trade, the Browns did something that after all those years of suffering I simply did not think was possible: They lost me. I’ve heard from plenty of Browns fans since I wrote that, some who feel the same way I do and many who think I’m the traitor here. I get both sides. I really do. I’m not naive. There’s a long history of teams in every sport and at every level selling their souls to win, and even if this Watson thing is a particularly brazen example, it’s also just more of the same. I get it. I’m honestly not trying to make it sound like I’m taking some moral stand here. I’m not.
No, it’s just this: I don’t like the Cleveland Browns anymore.
So now I am going about the process of finding a new NFL team. I am not sure exactly how to do that. I mean, sure, it’s easy to just pick a team. But how do I make myself care about them?
In the poll above, I’ve listed the four teams that make the most sense.
— I put down the Bills because I love Buffalo, it’s super close in spirit to Cleveland, the Bills have their own tortured history, and I totally love the whole Bills Mafia ethos. I mean, donating a half-million dollars to Lamar Jackson’s charity after he got hurt in the Bills’ playoff game? I totally can see myself as a Bills’ Mafia member if they’ll have me.
— I put down the Carolina Panthers because I live in Charlotte and many of my friends here are Panthers fans. I will concede, however, that I’ve never previously felt any particular affection for the Panthers. I did love watching Luke Kuechly play.
— I put down the Cincinnati Bengals because, hey, it’s Ohio, the colors are similar and I can see myself decked out in Joe Burrow gear … I’ve been a huge fan of his, going back to his high school days. But, being honest, I’m not sure I could actually switch to a Browns’ rival like that … and jumping on the Bengals right after they went to the Super Bowl seems like a bridge too far.
— I put down the Kansas City Chiefs because … well, they’re the obvious choice, right? I lived in Kansas City for longer than I lived in Cleveland, my wife and oldest daughter are big Chiefs fans, I have written way more about the Chiefs than any other team in the NFL, and rooting for the delightful Patrick Mahomes would be an absolute treat.
— I put down “Other” because maybe there’s another team and fan base interested in making a compelling offer for my free-agent fanhood.
We’re still a few weeks away from the NFL preseason beginning … my goal is to have a new team—and a new diary—by the third preseason game. Please cast your vote above, let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll keep you updated here as I go through the free agency process.
Some people have asked me how I will feel about the Browns once I’ve chosen a new team. Will I ignore them? Will I secretly root for them? Will I hope they lose?
And the answer is: I don’t know. So much of fanhood is involuntary, I think. I have a friend who is a devoted and pain-stricken Mariners fan even though he never lived anywhere close to Seattle. He just saw Ken Griffey Jr. play, fell in love, and that love mushroomed into a lifelong marriage with the Mariners, through better and worse (mostly worse), in sickness and in health (mostly in sickness).
I don’t know how I’ll feel about the Browns after the divorce. But as I turn around from my desk, I see my Bernie Kosar football. And I think about that time Bernie helped put the Browns in position to win, only to watch John Elway drive the Broncos 98 yards. I think of that time Bernie helped put the Browns in position to tie, only to watch the admirable Earnest Byner fumble at the goal line. And I think of that time Bill Belichick suddenly and cold-heartedly released Kosar in the middle of the season, and the headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next day:
Kosar: “Dad, They Cut Me”
The answer to the trivia question by the way is: Stan Musial.
Musial hit six All-Star Game home runs, two more than anyone else. Musial also had the most pinch-hits of any player in the All-Star Game, with three. OK, as long as we’re on All-Star Games, I’ll give you one more trivia question:
Don’t look at the answer yet.
Don’t look down.
OK, the answer is Brooks Robinson — Mays and Robinson had three triples in the All-Star Game. This sounds weird because we think of Robinson as slow, but he actually hit 68 triples in his career and was among the league leaders three times. He had a knack for it. In fact, only five players in the last 80 years have had more than 60 triples and fewer than 30 stolen bases. These are:
Brooks Robinson: 68 triples, 28 stolen bases.
Dick Groat: 67 triples, 14 stolen bases.
Gene Woodling, 63 triples, 29 stolen bases.
Bill Mazeroski, 62 triples, 27 stolen bases.
Wade Boggs, 61 triples, 24 stolen bases.
I told you I would not be able to control myself now that Substack lets me do polls.