View from Cleveland: No auld lang syne for Browns

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The snow swirled, the Steelers towels twirled and another Browns season ended in a half-empty stadium with most of the remaining fans coming from Pittsburgh.

While the final score was Steelers 13, Browns 9, the emotional state of Browns fans will feel emptier than this stadium in the middle of February.

What can you say about a team that finished with a 4-12 record, a team that just completed the worst four years in franchise history?

Try this: If these Browns were a one-term president, they would be James Buchanan, who is the only president from Pennsylvania.

Browns fans spoke with their feet, as they decided to bring in New Year's Day anywhere but here. They either simply stayed home or sold their tickets to brokers, who passed them on to Steelers fans.

There were times when this game felt and sounded as if it were being played in Pittsburgh.

That happens when a team has records of 4-12, 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 in the past four years -- a sadistic symmetry designed to make even the hardest-core Browns fan wonder if this will ever end.

Making it even worse, Cincinnati made the playoffs. Every team in the division but one (guess who?) made the playoffs. All of them should send "Thank You" notes to the Browns, who were 0-6 against teams in the AFC North.

To the credit of the players in orange helmets, they tried desperately to make a game of it. The defense was determined, the offense was ... well, the usual Browns offense. It was Phil Dawson kicking three field goals.

It was backup quarterback Seneca Wallace proving that just like fellow quarterback Colt McCoy, he couldn't lead his team into the end zone against the Steelers -- much less beat them.

It was the terrible Steelers towels twirling as the Browns lost for the 16th time in the past 17 games against the team that's supposed to be their bitterest rival.

Just how are the fans supposed to embrace this, other than to hope that somehow general manager Tom Heckert can turn two first-round picks in April's draft into players whose jerseys will some day be worthy of being worn by the fans?

It's more than losing. It's a team where as many players (nine) had concussions this season as scored touchdowns. It's an offense that failed to score a touchdown in four games this season, an offense scoring the fewest points since 2000.

This from a franchise that has 15 players in the Hall of Fame -- 13 of them from the offensive side of the ball.

For today's Browns fans, it's not just bad, it's boring. And discouraging.

Yes, Wallace was throwing into the end zone on the final play, although it was as much a prayer as a pass.

If you're a Browns fan, you know how that one was answered.

It was another season in which Browns fans felt more beat up than Tim Couch, McCoy or any other Browns quarterback. It was a year that began with Peyton Hillis thrilled to be on the cover of the Madden video game. It ended with Hillis believing in the "Madden Curse" that has plagued so many of the other players who have appeared on the cover.

Hillis' season was full of stagger steps, stalls, a case of strep throat and several leg injuries.

The running back is a free agent and no one is sure if he will be back. Or who the quarterback will be next year. Or exactly how the Browns can somehow become a team worthy of its fans' love and loyalty.

So the new year comes in with the Browns going out with another loss to the Steelers. Somehow, some day, some way ... that has to change.


Terry Pluto is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.


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