Work in Sports
Browns in for long season
Woeful Cleveland has little to work with
This is the 17th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training-camp tour.
Saturday, Aug. 19
TEAM: Cleveland Browns, in a preseason game with the Redskins.
SITE: Cleveland Browns Stadium, the 71,000-seat palace (with valet parking for the players, which I saw, and the Puppy Pound, a rec room with kindercare staffing for the kids of Browns' players) on Lake Erie which replaced the old Cleveland Stadium. Watching what could well be football's worst team, the natives seemed pretty forgiving through an absolutely abysmal 24-0 loss to Washington.
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Defensive end Courtney Brown. Hate to be a cliche artist here, but Brown's going to be the real thing. Playing against a very good right tackle, Washington's Jon Jansen, Brown got good penetration four times, including once when he recovered a Brad Johnson fumble then had it stolen from him in a scrum. He might be the worst interview in the NFL galaxy ("Just trying to work to get better," he said after the game), but since when should affability be a factor in draftability?
OPINION/FACTOID THAT MIGHT BE INTERESTING ONLY TO ME: I am staying in the same downtown Cleveland hotel as the Seattle Mariners, and I witnessed a Beatles-like scene today when Alex Rodriguez walked through the hotel. Kids, adults, boys, girls. Didn't matter. They love this guy.
THE FOOD: Very nice press box fare, and they saved the best for halftime, as you'll see here in my report card:
Dear NFL Junkie: When Tim Couch's night was over, coach Chris Palmer patted the side of his head encouraging, like he was trying to comfort a wayward dog. If Momma didn't tell Couch there'd be preseasons like this, she should have. With first teams on the field in full Saturday night, Couch completed no pass of more than 10 yards, got chased all over the park by a Washington defense taking advantage of a porous Cleveland line, and kept looking for a weapon -- any weapon -- to help him. This was a grim scene. The numbers weren't awful (11-20, 87 yards, no picks or touchdowns), but you had to be there to feel how hopeless this offense looks. "I haven't lost my confidence," a stiff upper-lipped Couch said after the game.
My question: How could you have any confidence with tackles named Zuhursky and Oben, with Errict Rhett and Travis Prentice your backs, with Aaron Shea your tight end, with a gimpy Kevin Johnson and a cast of guys off the street catching the ball? I think this could be a very ugly year for the Browns. Their defense will have to save them.
One highlight of the night: After midnight, I left the press box with the Washington Post crew -- columnist Mike Wilbon, beat people Mark Maske and Liz Clarke -- and we set out on the 20-minute walk to our hotel, the Marriott Key Center. Clarke saw a taxi about a hundred yards away just as we left the stadium, put her thumb and another finger up to her mouth and whistled like a Teamster. "TAXI!!" she ordered. The taxi's break lights came on, and immediately it turned around to fetch us. "From my days living in New York," she said, a bit meekly. Now, you have to know Liz. She is as friendly and quiet and unassuming a reporter -- an excellent one, I should add -- as you'd ever want to meet. The taxi whistle wowed us all.