COMMENTARY | Cleveland Browns fans are once again hearing that this will be a "rebuilding year." That's a bitter pill to swallow. A month ago I was excited about how the change in ownership, new faces in the front office, fresh coaching staff, and an influx of new players might finally give Cleveland a season to look forward to.
Now I'm not so hopeful.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam's family business, Pilot Flying J, was raided on Monday, April 15th by the FBI. According to a 120 page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, the FBI and IRS are investigating charges of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud related to the withholding of fuel rebates from "unsophisticated" customers.
Once the investigation is in full swing, it's going to be a circus for Haslam and Pilot Flying J, and the Browns are unlikely to get the focus they need from him. If this really goes south for Haslam the worst case scenario, aside from some sort of jail sentence, would be that the NFL could ask him to sell the team.
You can feel it and hear it all over Cleveland - the optimism fans were feeling about Haslam has faded, and that could affect everything from player performance to ticket sales.
I hope I'm wrong because the Browns could really use a boost. Let's take a moment to reflect on what Cleveland fans have endured for the last 17 years.
Browns by the numbers since 1996:
One: Since 1999 that's how many starting quarterbacks have finished an entire season. Are you sitting down for this? It was Tim Couch.
Two: That's the number of winning seasons the Browns have had since their return to the league in 1999, and each was followed by a last place finish the next year.
Three: That's how many seasons of football Cleveland lost when the Browns moved to Baltimore
Four: Only four times in the last fourteen years have the Browns been able to finish somewhere other than last place in the division.
Five: Five is the average number of games the Browns have won each season since their return.
Six: The number of head coaches since 1999. By comparison there were only 10 during the first 49 years of the Browns.
Seven: Rob Chudzinski will be the seventh head coach in fourteen years. There have also been seven quarterbacks drafted by the Browns in that same period of time.
Eight: Of the eight road games this season six of them are against teams with winning records last year (including the Pittsburgh Steelers who went 8-8). Five of those teams went to the playoffs.
Nine: Since their return there have only been 9 players selected for Pro Bowl appearances. The Bengals, Steelers and Ravens sent 15, 23 and 26 players respectively.
Ten: The number of years it's been since Cleveland made the playoffs. Also, ten times in the last fourteen years the Browns have finished last in the division, one of which was a tie with the Baltimore Ravens.
Eleven: Since the '99 season the Browns have had the worst record in the division eleven times. Even the last place Cincinnati Bengals had better stats within the division in the 2010 season.
Eighteen: That's how many quarterbacks have started a game in the past 14 years. In the Browns first 49 years there were 24 starters.
When Cleveland lost the Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season football fans in northeast Ohio refused to accept defeat. They rallied and fought for three long years before football came back in 1999, and since then we've had fourteen seasons of inconsistency at every level. Even the two winning seasons were separated by four years of losing. Here we are, seventeen years later, and an entire generation of Browns fans only know what it's like to be let down.
Knowing what we know now, would this city and its fans have worked so hard to get an expansion team in 1999? Absolutely. Opportunities for an NFL franchise are few and far between.
I'm not picking on the Browns; I'm a fan of all things Cleveland. I would love to see the sports teams in this city do well but it's easy to understand why people wear gear from rivals - everyone loves a winner. With so many televised games these days it's easy to follow any team in any city. I just wonder how many people in Pittsburgh wear Browns gear. One way for that to start happening is to build a winning tradition. Hopefully the new ownership can get past pending legal troubles and make that happen because I'd like to see this team turn it around before another generation of Browns fans is lost.
John McCarthy is a Yahoo! Contributor covering the Cleveland Browns and Indians as a Cleveland-based sports journalist and editor.
You can folllow John on Twitter @i8paintchips
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Cleveland Browns
- the Browns