During strength and conditioning for another grueling year as a Cleveland Browns fan, I have to admit it: I was semi-excited about Robert Griffin III. I do realize that there wasn’t necessarily any great REASON to be excited. But I was anyway. It might have been because I more or less stopped paying attention to him and Washington football back in 2012, when RGIII was a rookie sensation, when he was doing Subway commercials and Gatorade commercials and Nissan commercials and EA Sports commercials and … back when Andrew Luck v. RGIII was still an open question.
It was sort of eye-opening when, a few months ago, I was talking with huge Washington football fan Dale Earnhardt Jr., and I asked him what he thought of RGIII, and he made one of those comical faces kids made when you embarrass them in public by trying to say something hip or by dancing or something.
Well, hey, I was only vaguely aware of his various injuries and perilous fall in Washington. Sorry. I suppose it’s like waking up from a coma and finding out that Robert De Niro doesn’t just do movies like “Dirty Grandpa” … he ONLY does movies like “Dirty Grandpa.”
Whatever. Robert Griffin III would be the 25th different starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999 — for comparison, the old Cleveland Browns existed for almost 50 years and had just 27 starting quarterbacks — and I chose to believe in him. Hey, it’s a new season. What’s the point of rooting for an NFL team — even the Cleveland Browns — if you can’t get excited about something? Yes, the Browns are on their eighth new GM and their eighth new head coach (not counting interim coach Terry Robiskie) and their ninth defensive coordinator (Ray Horton, like Grover Cleveland did, is serving his second non-consecutive term). And they don’t even HAVE an offensive coordinator. Hue Jackson will call the plays.
That didn’t work so well when Chris Palmer tried it.
So, yes, let’s get excited about RGIII. He’s still young. He’s got an accurate arm. He can run. When he’s decisive — throws the ball in 2.5 seconds or less — he’s terrific, with a 99.9 quarterback rating according to Pro Football Focus. True, if he holds on to to the ball for longer than 2.5 seconds he’s pretty miserable, but let’s focus on the positives.
A new year! RGIII! Let’s play some football.
You already know how this thing is going to end.
A blissful 74 seconds passed in the Cleveland Browns-Philadelphia Eagles game before the Browns committed their first stupid penalty of the 2016 season. It was an offsides penalty by defensive tackle Xavier Cooper on third down and 3. He apparently fell for a hard count.
The announcers — including my old pal from Kansas City Trent Green — relentlessly praised Philadelphia rookie quarterback Carson Wentz for that hard count, for jolting a defensive tackle into a blunder on only the third play of his NFL career. Yes, the kid does look pretty good, but let’s not kid anybody: Every time a butterfly flaps its wings in China, a Cleveland Browns defensive player jumps offside to give an opponent the first down.
The Eagles followed the blunder by scoring a touchdown — this on Wentz’s first career drive, of course. It was easy. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that after the drive Wentz thought to himself, “Hey, the NFL really isn’t any different than North Dakota State.”
On offense: The Browns’ Gary Barnidge — often called “Sure-handed Gary Barnidge” by those of us who know and love him — dropped the first pass of the new season.
A relatively untroubled 15 minutes, 10 seconds passed before the Cleveland Browns tried and failed on their first nonsensical fake punt of the season. I was thrilled when the Browns hired Hue Jackson to be head coach. He did a great job in Cincinnati, and I like his style. I like the way he talks about trick plays and opening things up and playing bold football. In this way, he reminds me of my childhood hero Sam Rutigliano, who told everybody that his Browns were going to throw the ball downfield because anything else would be boring.
Look: The Browns are going to be terrible this year and for the foreseeable future, so absolutely they should go for it — fake punts, double-reverses, hooks-and-ladders, hidden-ball tricks, behind-the-back passes, Statue of Liberty plays, pull down the referee’s pants … try everything Hue.
That said, Jackson’s first fake punt was such a misguided play that our intrepid announcers did not seem to understand what was going on while it was happening. It wasn’t a fake punt in the normal sense where the team actually fakes a punt. Instead, the Browns just lined up in punt formation — but without a punter. Maybe Hue and Company were hoping that the Eagles would be so thrown by the idea of a ghost punter that they would run screaming like in the horror movies.
Instead, when the ball was snapped to Duke Johnson, the entire Eagles team including past players such as Herm Edwards and Bill Bergey and Chuck Bednarik, jumped on him for a million-yard loss.
And this year began to feel a whole lot like every other year with the Browns.
There was something special about this game. As mentioned, the Browns have had 25 different starting quarterbacks since beginning anew in 1999. I keep a list in my computer so that any time someone wonders, “Hmm, who has started the fourth-most games in new-Browns history?” I can say, “Why, it’s Brandon Weeden of course with 20. He’s just behind Colt McCoy’s 21 and just ahead of Charlie Frye’s 19!” This is great for parties.
But Sunday’s game was the first time that one of the illustrious 25 Browns quarterbacks was the head coach of the opposing team. That was Eagles coach Doug Pederson who started eight glorious games for Cleveland in 2000. He went 1-7 in those starts and threw just two touchdowns against eight interceptions, but he did lead the Browns to a huge 19-11 win over Bill Belichick’s Patriots. Yeah, that was before that guy Brady came along but as a Clevelander you take the football wins where you can get them.
In any case, I am rooting for Doug Pederson in the hope that hiring old Browns quarterbacks as head coaches becomes a trend. Ken Dorsey is quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers. Kelly Holcomb is offensive coordinator at Riverside High in Tennessee. Spergon Wynn is an energy broker in Houston. Let’s find these people and give them NFL teams to run.
CBS showed a marvelous graphic during the game. It was meant to highlight the sports renaissance happening in Cleveland but instead gave us a clear look at this Cleveland Browns season coming up.
It looked a bit like this:
Cavaliers: Won championship
Indians: First place
I’m thinking there will be no need to update that graphic this year.
All right — did the Browns hit all their marks this week?
— Obligatory snap over quarterbacks head for safety? Check.
— General inability to stop either the run or the pass? Check.
— Overmatched offensive line leading to quarterback injury? Check.
— Inexplicable decision regarding quarterback injury? Check.
Yes, well, late in the game, RGIII crashed into a defender and hurt his left shoulder. It seemed pretty bad at the start. And of course, this being the Cleveland Browns, it turned out VERY bad. He’s now on injured reserve and is out at least eight games. As my pal Michael Schur texts:
“It doesn’t get much more ‘Browns’ than signing RGIII, playing one game, losing badly and placing him on IR.”
Well, you have to add one more thing: After the injury the Browns had one meaningless possession just to run off the final few seconds. They were losing 29-10 so realistically the game was already over and they knew it.
So what did they do? They put Robert Griffin III (with a broken left shoulder) BACK IN THE GAME to hand off the football. What possible reason could they have had to do that?
How many times has a Browns fan had THAT thought?