Why is Noah Davis, a Patriots fan, watching a stream of the Cleveland Browns game from India?
TRIVANDRUM, India — I’m sitting in a hotel room, trying too hard to locate a pirated Internet feed for an NFL game that shouldn’t matter to me.
Ten and a half time zones away, the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) and the Cleveland Browns (4-8) are battling. I’m a Patriots fan, so this game means virtually nothing. I suppose there are some playoff implications, but they are nothing I can’t find in 10 seconds on the Internet tomorrow morning. This is destined to be yet another 60 minutes of bad football in a season marred by awfulness.
I should be sleeping after 36 hours in transit. Or preparing to run the film festival I’m here to present. It starts in 120 minutes, and I know appalling few of the details.
Instead: Where the hell is pixilated Colt McCoy?
This is all my roommate’s fault.
He cares about the Browns in a way that only fans of perpetual losers can. I mean this as a compliment. Supporting New England is easy. They win. A lot. I, we, the fans have no bearing on the outcome, but we pat ourselves on the back and bask in the glory nonetheless. This isn’t obnoxiousness; it’s reality. I refuse to apologize for an excellent franchise. But still, making the playoffs virtually every year, watching Tom Brady to Randy Moss/Wes Welker/Rob Gronkowski, seeing the ageless Kevin Faulk, etc., is simple.
Sure, the defense frequently plays like the Gatorade jugs are filled with Boston Lager, but 10-3. And yes, that loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl was my single worst night in New York City, but crushing defeats in the Super Bowl require actually reaching the Super Bowl. (Plus: 2001 and 2004, and the rest of “The Boston Decade.”) Life could be much worse.
Our eyes drift west toward the Cuyahoga. The game against the Steelers, a regular season one in early December, doubles as the Browns’ Super Bowl (National TV!), so it’s my roommate’s as well. When the playoffs aren’t an option after Week 6, you create new ones.
At first, I watched Browns games for my own personal amusement, to see how they would destroy yet another chance to win. For a while, it was amusing. (This may sound sadistic, but let’s be honest: rooting for the Browns week after week is an exercise in sadism and masochism. I was an innocent observer.)
The 2011 Browns don’t just lose, they lose in epic, comical ways. For three quarters, they reel in the same fanbase that swore them off the previous Sunday in a profanity-laced tirade but returned for kickoff because that’s what you do. The team hangs around, hangs around, hangs around. Phil Dawson drills a few field goals. Maybe Josh Cribbs takes one to the house. The defense makes a few plays. Colt mistakenly, miraculously finds the endzone. Whatever. The point is that the game is close.
But the Browns’ nation knows better. The stadium is prepared. The local population expectant. The Diaspora steeled against the inevitable. The couch armrests ready for the coming abuse.
Suddenly, the defense fails to get in position fast enough. A drop. Another drop. A series of terrible penalties. A bad snap. A missed field goal. The details differ, but almost never the result.
After a few weeks, something changed. I started genuinely rooting the Browns. I would not call myself a fan—that cheapens the year in, year out struggles of the true supporters, and the bandwagon blew every tire and its engine exploded long ago—but I liked the squad in the most unironic, non-condescending way possible.
On Mondays, my roommate would send me articles written by beaten-down beat reporters tasked with creating ever-new angles on the same tragicomedy storyline. (Their talent in doing so should not go without notice.) Then, I found myself searching for stories, scouring Cleveland.com/browns for beautiful little details of charming ineptness. (My favorite: The 2011 team has had one receiver or running back—Chris Ogbonnaya in Week 11—go over 100 yards in a game. Holy shit, guys. Did you not get the OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION memo from Godell?)
And then, there is Cribbs.
If the NFL has a soul, it resides in the undrafted Kent State player. He requested to return to kick coverage because the special teams play was so bad. Rephrase: The man who holds the league record for touchdowns on kickoff returns, a guy who made the NFL’s All-Decade team because of his work bringing back balls asked for the privilege of hurling himself downfield to create violent collisions.
The week he returned to the unit, he led the Browns in special teams tackles.
Perhaps Cribbs simply wanted more to do. Despite being the only big-play receiving threat and team’s leading point scorer not named Phil Dawson, McCoy avoids looking No. 16’s way. The quarterback targeted Cribbs with exactly 0 of his 36 passes in the 24-10 loss to the Ravens. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “Comedy is when the Browns lose on a bad snap. Tragedy is when Josh Cribbs doesn’t get the ball.”
It’s not just on the field. Plain Dealer‘s Mary Kay Cabot offers the following anecdote, which is by no means the only one of its kind:
Before the game, Cribbs visited with a group of tailgaters near the lakefront.
“I just wanted to show some love to the fans,” he said. “I talk to the fans all the time. I told the fans I appreciate them coming out to the game. It was very tough to see the stadium so empty, but I understand.”
I mean, honestly. Try to picture Tommy B heading out to Bob Kraft’s Personal ATM (nee Patriot Place, nee the parking lot). Maybe they’ll put an Uggs billboard out there? Not a shot at our stud QB—the quality of the product on the field excuses him—but Cribbs’ antics are heartbreakingly sweet. Brady just breaks hearts.
I find the game right as McCoy, still shell-shocked from a late (read: dirty) James Harrison tackle, waits too long, and lofts the ball into the corner of the endzone. William Gay has himself the easiest of interceptions. Couch cushions flinch around the globe.
Two downs later, Roethlisberger—the Miami of Ohio product taken 11th in the 2004 draft, five spots after the Browns snatched Miami of Florida’s Kellen Winslow II—throws a seemingly harmless back shoulder pass to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden, the darling of the 2010 Browns, slips. Mike Adams picks the wrong angle, and the Steelers wide receiver easily sidesteps the safety before sprinting the remaining distance for a game-clinching 79-yard score.
The entire drive takes 18 seconds.
Kick off of the Browns-Arizona Cardinals game in University of Phoenix Stadium is roughly 570,000 seconds later. Another chance to get things right.