Red Right 88

Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Archive for the month “July, 2010”

The Well-Educated Fan

The august Cleveland Frowns made an interesting point in one of his posts this week. He was taking a critical look at a Tony Grossi article in Sunday’s Plain Dealer dealing with some of the top storylines for the Browns as they head into training camp.

Frowns took exception to Grossi focusing on off-the-field issues rather than writing about the players and strategy for the upcoming season. In the comment section, he made the following point about the PD:

“… the PD frames the discussion in this town, and that it’s telling that they go out of their way to avoid discussing football in “kicking off” the discussion in 2010 to manufacture needless and entirely speculation-based intrigue about the coach’s job.”

We had never thought about it that way before. While we certainly read the PD and the Akron Beacon Journal to follow the Cleveland sports scene, we also read national sites and magazines, local newspapers covering the teams that the Browns/Cavs/Indians are playing and other blogs.

We also follow the NFL on Sirius radio. Every year, the Sirius NFL Channel visits each team’s training camp and we learn more in the 3 hours they are at Browns camp than we would in a month of listening to WTAM or WKNR.

You can see a list of some of the sites we follow along the right-hand rail of this blog, (go ahead and look, it’s right over there). Any well-organized blog will have a similar list and those are a great source for finding new sites and information.

We assumed that the majority of fans did that as well, since the growth of the Internet and satellite radio, to name a few, make so much more information available if you want it. We no longer have to rely on a local newspaper or two and a blowhard radio “personality” for our sports news; the info is right at our fingertips.

But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that’s most likely not the case. A majority of the fans probably don’t have the time or the desire to seek out more news and information and use that to not only learn more about the local team, but about the leagues they compete in. And that’s too bad.

It’s much better if we, as a fanbase, absorb as much knowledge as possible to understand not only what is happening on the field, but what is happening off it. Then we can use the local media coverage to supplement our knowledge, not drive it, so we can form our own opinions.

***

As we pointed out a few weeks ago, the Browns are having trouble selling tickets this year.

Perhaps if the in-stadium experience were more like this, they would be moving ducats a little bit faster.

It certainly couldn’t hurt.

***

Yeah baby!

The Changing of Sports Entertainment

LeBron James’ recent party at Tao in Las Vegas has taken on epic proportions, not just because of the nude women in the bathtub, but because ESPN originally posted an article about the party and then took it down off its website.

The full article was captured in a screen grab and posted on Deadspin, The site also posted ESPN’s explanation for pulling the article:

“The story should have never been published,” an ESPN source told Deadspin. “The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter.”

Now comes word, via Waiting For Next Year, that Sportscenter was going to discuss the LeBron in Vegas story but, during a commercial break, something happened and suddenly the anchors were no longer interested.

It’s not surprising that a higher-up at ESPN would spike an article or a TV report that portrayed an athlete they are developing a relationship with in a negative light. It wouldn’t be the first time.

ESPN wants to promote itself as the worldwide leader in sports, the place sports fans go to for all their sports news and entertainment. But day by day, ESPN is moving farther away from being able to present itself as a news organization.

Now, if you tune in and there isn’t a game on, you find yourself being yelled at by know-it-all personalities, have to deal with studio hosts bleating non-sensical phrases over and over again (boo yah!), or an over-abundance of promotional spots (Budweiser Hot Seat, etc.)

The network still does some things right – most notably the on-going 30 for 30 film series, which is phenomenal – but more often than not they are trying to be both a sports network and an entertainment network.

And by trying to be both at once, the network ends up not doing either one very well.

They’re Breaking up the Band

Delonte West is the latest Cleveland Cavalier to be elevated to the status of ex-Cavalier, as the team traded him, along with Sebastian Telfair, to Minnesota for guard Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins and a 2013 second round pick.

It was understandable and not a surprise that the Cavs moved West, but it’s still disappointing. West was one of the players that made the Cavs so enjoyable to watch over the past three years. He was one of the team’s best players and his gritty, fearless style of play on the court fit in well in Cleveland.

Sadly, West’s off-court legal troubles – he recently plead guilty to two gun charges in Maryland and was sentenced to eight months of house arrest – and ongoing medial problems were too much for the Cavs to deal with anymore and they moved him out of town.

Sessions had his best seasons in Milwaukee, which is what made Mo Williams available to Cleveland two years ago after Sessions’ rookie season. Following the trade, he averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists in his second season. He moved to Minnesota last year as a free agent and struggled, averaging 8.2 points and 3.1 assists.

Sessions is in the second year of a four-year, $16 million contract, which means he is very cap friendly for the Cavs. Plus, the team picked up another draft pick, which is just another chip that can use in a potential trade down the road or to pick up another young player.

The 25-year-old Hollins is a super-athletic, but raw, forward/center who averaged 6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds last year.

So, while certainly not a blockbuster type of trade, it is another step in the slow process of rebuilding the Cavs.

But you’ll be missed Delonte.

Pondering Preseason Prognostications

With training camp just around the corner, the media is starting to compile its list of preseason “favorites,” working on “power rankings” and telling us what will happen this year in the National Football League.

All without the benefit of a single practice, preseason game or training camp injury.

OK, that’s a little harsh. Just like all of us they have space that needs to be filled, and since I’m actually reading what they are writing, I’m part of the problem, not the solution.

However.

Every year it seems as if 31 teams have a chance, have made progress in the off-season, picked up some significant players and are looking at a solid year. One team – Cleveland – is perpetually cited as the one and only team in the league that is absolutely void of all hope.

Consider ESPN’s power rankings, which put the Browns 28, which is somehow three spots lower than where they finished last year, saying “The first year of the Mike Holmgren era could be rough. This team lacks talent across the board.”

No one is realistically expecting the Browns to post an 11-5 record this year, not after what’s gone on here the past few years. But to actually drop?

The best one is SI’s Peter King, who in his Monday Morning Quarterback column writes that there are 28 teams that could make the playoffs, with the Browns, of course, one of the four that have no chance.

Somehow Detroit and Kansas City, in King’s eyes, have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, but not Cleveland.

Let’s think about this a minute: the Lions were 2-14 last season, 26th in offense and 32nd in defense, but they can make the playoffs this year. Of course, one of their wins was against the Browns, but that was due more to coaching incompetence than the Lions having better talent.

Whatever you say Peter.

I know it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s still frustrating. The Browns can’t get this turned around over night, but with the addition of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert to run the front office, another year in the system of Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan, and a powerhouse running attack (8th in the NFL last year!) to keep the heat off Jake Delhomme and the defense off the field, things are slowly moving in the right direction.

And no matter what happens, just by simply not having Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn around makes the team better.

I’m just glad things are about to start for real.

***

More good news from Brownstown, as Montario Hardesty and TJ Ward have both reportedly agreed to contracts to they will be in camp when the veterans report this weekend.

Now the team just needs to work out a deal with Joe Haden and they will be set.

Sept. 12 can’t get here soon enough.

Why Do We Watch?

In today’s The Way We Live Now column of The New York Times Magazine, author Walter Kirn asks why people are more interested in the backstory and behind-the-scenes machinations rather than in the actual movie or sport they are watching.

Kirn calls this fascination “procedural voyeurism,” which he describes as:

“a redirection of mass attention from the spectacle of the game itself to the circus of the game behind the game, as when LeBron James … commandeered the TV sets of upteen thousands of sports bars, not to mention the better part of the Web’s bandwidth, to tell us … that he was moving from Cleveland to Miami … “

Yep, he made this about LeBron; and you were wondering how this would tie into Cleveland sports.

It’s an interesting question; one certainly worth pondering. There was enough palace intrigue breathlessly reported in the weeks leading up to LeBron leaving Cleveland: all the “sources” who knew what he was going to do, the work of Wes Wesley behind the scenes to deliver LeBron and John Calipari as a package deal, Maverick Carter going to a basketball game with David Geffen. At times it felt like it would never stop.

But that’s not why I watched: I watched because LeBron’s decision had an impact on me as a Cavs fan. But if it was Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant or any other NBA player making an announcement, would I have tuned in? Not really. I would have just checked the Internet or the ESPN crawl after I knew the announcement had been made, but I would have no reason to watch it live.

It could be that we’re not really interested in the backstage shenanigans, but rather we absorb them because that’s what the endless media news cycle pushes down our throats. Think of how many hours ESPN devoted during the hours leading up to LeBron’s announcement. People watched because it was just … there. Watching TV is a passive activity, I think ESPN was counting on the fact that if they said it was a big deal, then people would believe it was a big deal.

On one level it worked, as LeBron’s decision gave the network its second-highest ranking of the year, but it left ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer questioning the network:

“Some found ESPN guilty of violating a key ethical journalistic tenet — paying for news. Others disdained the network’s perceived pandering to a superstar, a trait causing them to ponder the network’s biases. Still others decried a simple announcement being manufactured into the suspense of a “second coming.” The monstrous hype that led up to the special was a calculated and constructed spotlight that media far beyond ESPN helped feed. To many, the aggregate was an affront to humility, loyalty, moderation … and instead became a celebration of greed, ego and excess.”

And the media who criticized it actually helped feed the spectacle, as Kirn wrote:

“Not long after James appeared on television … media critics and sports writers weighed in to debate the business ethics of the broadcast itself. One observer wondered whether the show would usher in a crass new age of unpaid advertisements for brand-name athletes whose egos have grown larger than the leagues they play in. He needn’t have wondered this, though. He knew the answer. Of course it was a sign of worse to come and partly because he helped define that worse thing by publicly criticizing it.”

Kirn concludes by saying that, by being invested in the behind-the-scenes work, viewers feel a sense of control, as if by watching we can influence the outcome:

“procedural voyeurism grants us an illusion of control over realities that we secretly fear we have no power over… (and) symbolic participation in games-within-games that are way above our heads and occur within heavily guarded inner circles that we can peek into but never truly penetrate.”

As Cavs fans, we knew we had no control over what LeBron did, whether we watched his decision or not. And the fear was not one of a loss of power, but the fear of life without the two-time MVP on our side.

The last few months have left me seriously burnt out. I watch sports because they are entertaining. I follow the business side because I find it interesting and, with so many player decisions made solely on the basis of money (see, Indians, Cleveland) you must have a working knowledge of that side as a fan.

But the rest of it leaves me cold. And the next time I hear an anchor or reporter start off with “sources say” I’m more than likely to tune them out.

Because that’s not why I watch.

Bless you, Tottenham Hotspur

Earlier this week, Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League announced it was banning vuvuzelas from White Hart Lane, the team’s home stadium.

Arsenal, Birmingham, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, West Ham and Sunderland followed Spurs lead later in the week, letting people know that the popular South African horns are not welcome in England.

I, for one, say “thank you” to the teams. When the vuvuzelas were a part of the World Cup that was OK because they were part of the culture of South African football. You accept the country as a host, you accept the customs.

But if they had infiltrated England’s stadiums, it would have been intolerable. Hopefully, Aston Villa will soon join the ban or else it could set off a ripple effect that will be felt here in Cleveland.

If Randy Lerner walks into Villa Park this fall and hears the stadium buzzing with the sound of vuvuzelas, he may get the crazy idea of importing them to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Can you imagine sitting next to a group of hoople heads blowing on those for four quarters?

And with attendance dropping for the Indians, there’s little doubt the Tribe would add them to their promotional schedule. And Dan Gilbert wouldn’t want to be left out, as he just loves “enhancing the in-game experience.”

Come to think of it, handing them out the first time Miami comes to town might not be such a bad idea.

Maybe not.

***

He hasn’t even played a down of football yet for the Browns, but Colt McCoy has already shown that he’s smarter than Brady Quinn.

The third-round pick from Texas has reportedly signed a four-year deal, so he will be in camp when rookies report today. Guard Shawn Lauvao has also reportedly signed.

The Browns previously signed draft picks Larry Asante, Carlton Mitchell and Clifton Geathers.

Nice work by new GM Tom Heckert on this one.

***

Finally, news out of Baltimore is good. Safety Ed Reed, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery, has said he will start the season on the physically unable to perform list, missing the team’s first six games, including a key Week 3 tilt with the Browns.

And quarterback Joe Flacco is whining about the team signing Marc Bulger to be his backup.

Seems the Flacco is concerned that adding Bulger will upset the other backups, Troy Smith and John Beck.

We think it’s more likely the Flacco is concerned that the Ravens actually have a legitimate backup, knowing that with Smith and Beck on the bench, anything short of death and Flacco was staying in the game.

Poor baby.

The Anti-Lebron

Steven Gerrard is no LeBron James.

And Liverpool fans couldn’t be happier.

Gerrard, captain of Liverpool and England, decided this week to turn down the opportunity to “take his talents to South Beach,” we mean to a star-studded Real Madrid team, and remain at Anfield. Gerrard, a Merseyside native, joined his hometown team’s youth academy at age 8 and has been with them ever since.

This isn’t the first time Gerrard has turned down an opportunity to leave home. He almost moved to Chelsea – a wealthy, high-priced London team – in 2005 after leading Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.

But rather than turn his back on home, Gerrard remained, realizing that winning titles as the leader of your hometown team is infinitely better than joining an all-star team that is trying to buy titles.

He was 25 at the time, but was mature enough not to be lured by the bright lights and fast living of the big city. Sadly, we can’t say the same about a 25-year-old LeBron.

Now 30, Gerrard is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. It would have been easy for him to leave Anfield for one final big payday, one more chance to lift a cup, especially with:

  • a new manager, Roy Hodgson, taking over for the fired Rafa Benitez
  • one of the worst ownership situations in sports (seriously, we think the Dolans are bad, but Tom Hicks and George Gillette are worse. Google them, you’ll see)
  • the team coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish that leaves them in the wilds of the Europa League for the upcoming season, rather than the more lucrative Champions League.

But he stayed. He realizes that there truly is no place like home.

“I wanted the chance to meet Roy (Hodgson) privately and having done so, I’m very impressed with his plans for the future,” Gerrard said in The Daily Mail. “I can’t wait for the start of the new season.”

That’s right, Gerrard met with his new coach before he made his decision. LeBron, of course, couldn’t be bothered to speak with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, let alone new coach Byron Scott in the days leading up to free agency.

Gerrard not only stayed, he actually spent time at the World Cup recruiting players, selling them on coming to Anfield. According to The Daily Mail:

“During the World Cup finals, while every Liverpool fan and their new manager endured sleepless nights, worried that their talismanic captain would finally be lured away from Anfield to either Madrid, Milan or Manchester, Steven Gerrard was actually busy recruiting new players for his club.

“He may have claimed he was deferring all talk surrounding his future during the difficult time leading his country in South Africa, but Gerrard appears to have made an exception when it comes to players signing for his beloved team.

“We know now the Liverpool and England skipper was actively working behind the scenes at the England camp to sell his club to one of the game’s most talented players – and this week the Merseyside giants signed Joe Cole.”

Hodgson credited Gerrard and teammate Jamie Carragher, a fellow Merseysider, with selling Cole on the move to Anfield.

“Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard did a good job in selling the club to Joe at the World Cup,” the Liverpool manager told The Daily Mail. “He was undecided about what he wanted to do and, to be fair, it takes a bit more selling to persuade a Londoner, who has played all his life in the capital, to move up to Liverpool. The simple solution would have been to stay in the London area.”

We all know about the problems the Cavs have with luring free agents to Cleveland, a city very much like Liverpool, and LeBron’s unwillingness to help out certainly didn’t help. You can’t help but wonder how effective he could have been if he’d used his status as one of the league’s best players to actively recruit players to Cleveland.

But LeBron is no Steven Gerrard.

And Cleveland fans couldn’t be sadder.

Cleveland Sports On Demand Wishlist

Last week, during the mid-summer dead period of sports – World Cup over, baseball on its All-Star break, no basketball, football not yet here – I started to dream of an on demand channel that featured Cleveland sports games through the decades.

No sporting events happening? Just order up a complete game from the past, sit back and enjoy. And if I had every Browns, Indians and Cavs game at my fingertips, which would be my go-to selections? Most of my top choices are older games, either ones that happened before I was born or I was too young to remember.

For the Browns, you’d have to start with the championship games, not just the NFL titles, but the AAFC ones as well. Other must-have games include:

  • A Jim Brown game vs. Sam Huff and the New York Giants
  • The 1972 Monday Night game vs. San Diego that the Browns won on a late Mike Phipps to Frank Pitts TD pass
  • The Browns defeat of Dallas in 1979 on Monday Night Football
  • The 1976 game vs. Pittsburgh when David Mays came off the bench to lead the Browns to the win
  • Brian Sipe’s last game as a Brown, a 30-17 win over Pittsburgh at the Stadium
  • The double OT win vs. the Jets in the 1986 playoffs
  • The 1986 win in Three Rivers Stadium

For the Cavs:

  • Any of the four playoff wins vs. Washington in the Miracle of Richfield season
  • The blowout of Boston in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals that same season
  • The Cavs Game 3 win vs. Boston in the 1985 playoffs
  • The Game 4 OT win vs. Chicago in the 1989 playoffs
  • The OT win in Boston Garden in the 1992 playoffs
  • The Game 2 win against Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992
  • The team’s first ever victory, a 105-103 win over Portland

For the Indians:

  • A Luis Tiant game from the 1968 season, when he won 21 games with a 1.60 ERA
  • A Sam McDowell game from the 1970 season, when he won 20 games
  • An early 1970s game when the Indians had Chris Chambliss and Graig Nettles
  • A Gaylord Perry game from his Cy Young season of 1972
  • The 1975 home opener when Frank Robinson homered
  • Dennis Eckersley’s no-hitter in 1977
  • The home opener in 1980, when Super Joe Charboneau became a legend
  • Game 5 of the ALCS in 1995 when Paul Assenmacher struck out Ken Griffey
  • Sandy Alomar’s homerun off of Mariano Rivera in the 1997 playoffs

That’s a good start for a list. I’m sure, given enough time, I could come up with several games I’ve overlooked.

I don’t know if something like this will ever become available as it’s unlikely that film exists of some of these games.

But I’m old enough to remember when we only had five channels to watch on the TV and televising a home game for the Indians and Cavs was not even a consideration, while the Browns could only sell out their home game vs. Pittsburgh. Plus you got one college football game on Saturday.

Now we have games in HD, virtually every game is televised, NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass and MLB Extra Innings, so anything is possible.

We may be on to something here.

An Inside Look at Free Agency – Allegedly

When I first read Adrian Wojnarowski’s take on LeBron’s free agency journey from Cleveland to Miami, I, like most Cavs fans, said, “yep, that’s the LeBron I know.” A me-first, spoiled, athlete who treats others poorly and who turned his back on Cleveland.

But when I went back and read it a second time, I started to wonder. Am I agreeing with Wojnarowski because his story is accurate, or do I believe it because, as a jilted fan, I want to believe it? I’m not sure, but what I do know is, it would be a lot easier to buy into this tale if Wojnarowski actually quoted someone.

That’s right, in almost 4,100 words on how LeBron landed in Miami, we get exactly two quotes – one from a “league official” and a “top NBA front office executive.” Neither are quoted by name, of course.

The article lays out some pretty harsh criticisms of James:

  • claiming Team USA did not want him on the 2008 Olympic team
  • that James forced Dan Gilbert to fire coach Mike Brown and that Brown did not respect James
  • that James wouldn’t allow photos or videos at the birthday party of Chris Paul’s son because James was attending
  • that William Wesley was driving a wedge between James and Maverick Carter

And on and on.

Now all of this may be true, or at least mostly true. But without a single person willing to go on the record for the article, how can we know? How do we know that someone with an ax to grind didn’t feed Wojnarowski an “inside look” that is more speculation and half-truths than reality?

Or that Wojnarowski wanted to believe this so he allowed himself to be led down the path? He wasn’t exactly balanced in his coverage of LeBron during the free agency period:

Sadly, as we all learned during the past few months, proper sourcing and going on the record just isn’t all that important in today’s media. On any given day, ESPN will have 3-4 stories on it mainpage without any attribution.

And that leaves it to us, the fans and readers, to try and sort through the mess to find out what’s the truth and what’s propaganda.

Standing Tall in the Pocket

Since their return in 1999, the Browns have had, to be blunt, horrific quarterback play. From Tim Couch to Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, the QB position has been a giant pool of stench.

But that may all be changing, especially if you look at the current quarterbacks on the roster as a whole, rather than just presumed starter Jake Delhomme.

John Clayton recently had a column on ESPN.com detailing how the state of backup quarterbacks in the NFL is dismal”

“The backup (QB) landscape is a desert,” Clayton wrote. “More good teams have unknown, unproven quarterbacks behind the starter than ever before. An injury to a starting quarterback could take a 13-win team to six or seven wins in an instant.”

Just take a look at some of the examples Clayton cited:

  • Brian Hoyer backs up Tom Brady in New England
  • Curtis Painter backs up Peyton Manning in Indy
  • Caleb Hanie backs up Jay Cutler in Chicago
  • Jim Sorgi backs up Eli Manning in NY

Clayton continues that “football people talk about the value of a backup quarterback, but so much of it is just talk.”

Which brings us to the Browns. With eight-year veteran Seneca Wallace backing up Delhomme, the Browns have one of the better combinations – taken collectively – in the league.

For his career, Wallace has completed almost 60 percent of his passes, thrown for more touchdowns than interceptions and has a QB rating of 83.1 – a mark that no Browns quarterback has been able to match since their return in ’99. Mix in his potential as a runner in the Flash package, and the Browns find themselves in a very good position.

Consider the rest of the division:

  • A broken-down Marc Bulger, along with the over-rated Troy Smith, are Joe Flacco’s back ups in Baltimore
  • J.T. O’Sullivan and Jordan Palmer are backing up Carson Palmer in Cincy
  • The Steelers will find out quickly how much Byron Leftwich has left as he and Charlie Batch will be running things while Ben Roethlisberger serves his four-game suspension.*

The Browns, led by Mike Holmgren, a “football person” if there ever was one, are suddenly looking pretty good.

No one expects Delhomme to play the way he did in 2003, when he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl, but he doesn’t have to. It appears that after adding Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis to a running game that already features Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers and Josh Cribbs, as well as a solid left side of the offensive line, the Browns are committed to run, run and run some more.

A solid running game takes pressure off Delhomme to make plays; eats clock; keeps a suspect defense off the field; and is the perfect offense for the cold-weather games sure to come in November and December.

And if Delhomme struggles or is hurt, the Browns just may be able to buck the league-wide trend with a capable backup waiting in the wings.

That would certainly be a welcome change of pace for Browns fans.

*I know Rothlisberger’s suspension is for six games; but it can be reduced to four and with the Steelers having a bye after Week 4 and then facing the Browns in Week 6, you just know his suspension will be cut to four games.

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