The difference a year makes. Just days before the start of the 2019 NFL season, the hype train had already rolled through Cleveland with more newly confirmed Browns fans than anyone would have imagined.
Both hope and hype were running through the Browns fandom at a fevered pitch. The 2018 season left fans with good memories of a vastly improved team. Heisman Trophy-winning rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield lived up his first overall draft status for the most part. Fans won’t soon forget that he was the architect of the Browns’ first victory since 2016.
The praise heaped on the Browns from that point on seemed to be somewhat merited. Interim Head Coach, Gregg Williams and freshly anointed Offensive Coordinator Freddie Kitchens were hailed as heroes for producing a 7-8-1 record on the season. Right, it’s not a winning record but is a stellar leap up from the 0-16 debacle that was the 2017 football season.
When the Browns signed the incomparable Odell Beckham Jr. in March of 2019, sportscasters and fans began pointing to the inevitable success the team would enjoy in the upcoming season. Hype videos and reports touting the Browns as “America’s Team” fueled the irrational excitement and irritated some observers.
Ignoring sense and sensibility, as well as overlooking the fact that the team’s head coach had zero head coaching experience, the cries of “a 2019 Browns Super Bowl” echoed up and down the North Coast. The volume of those shouts lowered after the Browns’ 30-point loss in the first game of the season.
As the 2019 season wore on, the truth became apparent. No matter how much individual talent exists, football is a team sport, and this group was losing as a team. Eventually, coach Kitchens lost his job, and the team finished with a 6-10 record.
The weight of crushing expectations along with Mayfield’s sophomore slump, other player injuries and deficits, along with drama courtesy of divisive beat reporters derailed that hype train, tossing those who lacked the strength to stay.
Perhaps last season’s lesson of unrealistic expectations and broken dreams will not be for nothing. Team owner, Jimmy Haslam and new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski are optimistic but avoiding outlandish predictions. The national media are not creating the frenzy of last season, and there is a measured sense of enthusiasm. I love hype as much as the next sports fan, but as the new season opens, I’m hoping the Browns are underestimated. They don’t need to be the big dawgs to become the top dawgs.
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