manziel

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen the jersey.  Hell, at this point, we’ve all seen the jersey.  

There are plenty of ways to quantify and catalog Cleveland’s long run of NFL wretchedness, but the one that seems best suited to our internet age, the one that is visual and bite-sized and easily aggregated, is of course, that famous jersey, or, as it was recently dubbed by SBNation, “The Browns QB Jersey of Sadness”.  As noted by James Dator one week ago, when Austin Davis’ name was added to the long list of starting quarterbacks since the franchise was reborn in 1999, the jersey is now something closer to a cape, minus, of course, the super-powers that might normally accompany such things.

This week, the news that Johnny Manziel would be returning to the starting-11 made me wonder about the jersey’s “ground rules”.  And for anyone as curious as I was, no, Manziel’s name will not be added again to the bottom of the train.  Quarterbacks who make multiple, non-consecutive runs for the Browns under center only appear on the jersey once.  And thank goodness for that bit of sanity, or else multiple entries of Couch, and Anderson, and Weeden would have long since taken the scroll to the floor.

But then, the Browns QB jersey is more than just a creative use of white tape.  It is also a conversation piece, and it raises a fascinating “chicken or egg” style football question. Are the best organizations better at evaluating quarterbacks?  Or does falling into the right signal-caller simply make a team appear that much smarter, and savvier, and more competent?  

The Patriots, after all, did not know that this strapping Michigan Man would anchor their team for fifteen seasons and counting.  If they had, they might have taken him in, say, the 5th round, rather than rolling the dice that someone else might snatch him up.  And sure, there is more to New England’s success than simply running #12 out, week after week.  But there is also no denying that having him there, procuring that true superstar quarterback, no matter how it happens, can serve to make an entire franchise appear unimpeachable.

On the other side of the spectrum, sit the Browns, and the back and forth on Johnny Football serves as a perfect representation of the instability that plagues every aspect of their operation.  Two weeks ago, he was demoted to a third string role, after video surfaced of Manziel drinking, partying, and reportedly, breaking a promise to his team to keep a low profile during the team’s bye week.  But after a broken collarbone that ended the season for Josh McCown, and an uninspired start from Austin Davis, Manziel was, once again, returned to a starting role.  “The goal for every game is to go out and win,” Coach Mike Pettine told the press, “and Johnny needs to show that he can put us in position to do so during these last four weeks of the season.”

In a vacuum, these decisions are perfectly defensible.  The Browns, were, of course, entirely within their rights to sit a player down, particularly one who recently triggered a league probe for a domestic violence incident, and who, (reportedly), asked friends to lie to the organization on his behalf.  Conversely, if, in the midst of a lost season, the team is determined to spend the final four games finding out exactly what sort of player, on the field, Johnny Manziel can be, this too, makes a certain degree of sense.

But the problem lies, as ever, with the team’s inconsistency, with the inescapable sense that they are figuring things out as they go, resetting the strategy at every turn.  At various points in the season’s first half, Pettine refused to commit to Manziel in a starting role, despite flashes of promise and potential.  So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Pettine’s latest decision,  his announcement Tuesday that the team belongs to Manziel once more, was followed quickly by rumblings that it was made under pressure, that the beleaguered coach is surrendering to the wishes of his owners, in a last ditch attempt to save his job.

Is this the truth of the situation?  Well, does it matter?  Perception is reality, after all, and the perception of the Cleveland Browns is, as it always has been, that of a hapless bunch of blunderers, desperately seeking success, but having not the faintest idea of how to achieve it.  

That QB Jersey of Sadness?  One could easily construct something similar to cycle through the team’s revolving door of coaches and executives.  Joe Banner, Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert, Michael Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine.  The names occasionally change, but the systematic dysfunction keeps trucking right along.  (Oh… sorry… maybe not the best choice of words.)

For now, all that’s left for the Browns this season is another month of playing out the string, followed by, in all likelihood, another off-season reboot.  And who knows, maybe this time the Browns will break from their own vicious cycle, and stumble into success.  Perhaps the right quarterback, the right coach, the right leader, at the right time, could finally chart a new course, and prove that the team is not forever doomed to repeat its own tortured history.  After all, just a mile or so away, LeBron James hands out frequent reminders of just how much of a difference one man can make on the fate of a franchise.  Perhaps that figure, that savior, that beacon of hope for the Browns is really out there this time.

But until they finally prove otherwise, it’s hard to believe that this team wouldn’t make him just another line item on the saddest NFL jersey in the world.
Ok, fine, second saddest.  Sorry Browns, you’ve been beaten again.  

About Alexander Goot

Alexander Goot is a sports television producer, and a writer whose work has appeared at The Cauldron, Vice Sports, Fansided, Sports On Earth, and the Classical. He is a passionate fan of jambands, NASCAR racing, and New York sports, and believed in Kristaps Porzingis from the very beginning. He can be reached at alexander.goot@gmail.com if you'd like to discuss the Mets rotation, or the music of Phish.

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