Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Kardiac Kids are back

In a year that will go down as the year in which Nick Saban of Alabama threw his headset when he was 21 points ahead, there has been quite a sleeper emerging in the old, broken down town of Cleveland.

While the press continued to prop up LeBron James no matter what his record, and continued to beat the drums for the much hated New England Patriots; in a year where a sub-par quarterback embraced the Social Warrior Left and then fizzled into obscurity, a franchise that last year many were thinking might be ready to fold just lost it's last game of the season.

What's so big about this?  It's Cleveland.  The long-suffering Browns.  When its owners moved to Baltimore in the 1990s, Cleveland fans did the unthinkable and fought to keep the  name Browns in Cleveland.  A new team was formed.  But forming new NFL teams from scratch isn't easy.  And it has struggled for years, leading up to the last two years that saw wins going the way of the dodo bird. 

After a season without a single win, Cleveland earned the right for top pick in the draft and decided on dark horse breakout star Baker Mayfield.  Mayfield himself fought his way to the top, being overlooked by colleges and having to be a walk-on and prove himself as he went.  This put a massive chip on his shoulder, one that he demonstrated in full when Oklahoma beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe, and Mayfield gleefully planted a symbolic spear in the middle of OSU's field.

At first, it looked as bleak as ever.  Cleveland's coach, Hue Jackson, declared that Mayfield would not start this year, come hell or high water.  He was going to stick with their quarterback Tyrod Taylor no matter what.   That no matter what saw the usual Cleveland tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every week.   No matter how strong the lead, we knew that by the time it was over, Cleveland would lose.  And lose they did.

Then came an unfortunate turn of events.  Taylor was injured, and there was no capable backup ready, so Jackson begrudgingly put Mayfield out on the field.  He swore it was temporary, and Mayfield would be back on the bench where he belonged.  And at first, it didn't seem as if Mayfield had much of a chance.  Then something strange began to happen.  Yes, they continued to lose, but for the first time in years, we were giving teams a run for their money.  Games were tied, or almost won.  Games were down to the wire or going into Overtime.  And apart from obvious coaching decisions, it looked as if the team was coalescing around Mayfield.

Then the Brown's management did something it hasn't in years: it made a smart decision.  After losing games through obvious bad coaching that Mayfield could have won, Jackson was fired and replaced by assistant coach Greg Williams.   And then, magic.  Cleveland began to win.  And win decisively.  When they lost, they often gave teams a run for their money.  When they won, they did it decisively.  And it was all due to Mayfield.  Not since Joe 'Cool' Montana controlled the field in the 80s at San Francisco has a quarterback seemed so much in control of a game.

In the game tonight, against Baltimore (Cleveland's nemeses deluxe), things looked ugly at first.  Baltimore was ahead by 20, and it didn't look like Cleveland could beat its defense, or stop its unbeatable run.  But then, it did what it's done since Mayfield took over and Williams stepped into the coaching stand.  Cleveland came back.  Mayfield made one impossible pass after another, becoming the all time record holder for Rookie touchdown passes, despite being at a three game handicap. 

Yes, they lost.  Yes, it ended with a Mayfield interception.  Yes, Baltimore still had that terrifying offense.  But Cleveland, with Mayfield and Williams, made it a game to remember.  And they showed, after a year of ups and downs, bad coaching at first, bad decisions at first, and general chaos, that next year they will be the team to watch.  So much so, if you type Kardiac Kids in Google today, the first thing up wasn't Cleveland's famous 1980s season, but the game against Baltimore today.

So in tribute to the possibility that Cleveland is back, the edge of your seat thrills, and the thought that we might be looking at the beginning of one of the great ones in the finest tradition of Montana, or Manning or Drew Brees, I thought I would link to this blast from the past.  The first 'sports novelty song' of that era and one that foresaw the fusion of sports and celebrity culture that would hit its high point with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods (something the sports media has been lusting for all these years):

Also, since it's Christmastime and the timing itself just couldn't be better, I couldn't resist.

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