I've forgotten my Christmas gifts, but I clearly remember the gift the Browns gave to football-crazy Cleveland, winning the NFL Championship in a 27-0 victory over Baltimore. It was — and remains — unforgettable.
I hope the Browns do well this season. Their PR folks and local media certainly are trying to convince us that this could be a winning year. There have been only two such seasons since the franchise returned to Cleveland 20 years ago, and the last was 2007.
However, the Browns continue to be plagued by rookie mistakes that I believe hold the team back. It's nothing new. It started with frequent fumbles by team owner Jimmy Haslam, who had no experience playing in the NFL or managing a football team when he paid $1 billion for the Browns in 2012. His micromanaging has hurt the team. The revolving door in the front office and coaching positions caused instability throughout the organization. But what I really abhor about the Haslam reign is his errant decision to push his GM to draft and play Johnny Manziel.
Lesson not learned, the owner's post-Manziel decisions led to records of 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017. At one point, I wrote a column suggesting he get a hobby and stay away from the front office, locker room and practices.
Perhaps Haslam's turned a corner with the hiring of GM John Dorsey, who I believe would walk rather than have the owner dictate draft choices and player personnel. Certainly the acquisition of Baker Mayfield has given Cleveland fans reason to hope that the Dorsey era has begun well.
Just a few days into summer camp, Chad Thomas lost his temper and mixed it up with teammate Pharaoh Brown. I know tempers flare. There are 90 guys on the field now and, before long, it will be reduced to the mandated 53.
Then Thomas did something inexcusable. He flipped the bird at fans. I do not care that they were expressing opinions about his lackluster performance. At the very least, he should have apologized immediately. He has not, nor has the owner or coach urged him to do so.
If Thomas were employed by most other businesses, he'd be G-O-N-E.
Instead, our rookie coach told the public the matter would be handled internally. Seriously? The offense was committed in public. Resolve it in public.
For those who say Thomas is a kid who will learn over time, I say baloney! He is a 23-year-old man, not a 13-year-old adolescent.
Coach Kitchens, you want to create a team? I doubt running sprints will do it. Have these "kids" study history as often as they study their playbooks. Focus on the 1964 Browns Championship team and its coach, Blanton Collier. He knew how to build a team and he built it with honorable, selfless men who happened to be solid football players — Vince Costello, Dick Schafrath, Lou Groza and Jim Houston. No disrespect to other team members; it’s just that my family knew these four through their Skyview Boys Camp, a football camp my brothers attended. One brother eventually became a camp counselor and to this day considers Vince one of his role models.
I believe taking a hard look at the current Browns organization through the lens of the '64 championship team will tell us whether the players will develop as a team, become role models for Cleveland kids, and are capable of becoming champions anytime soon.