Picturing the under-sized, inexperienced Colt McCoy emerging from the tunnel onto Heinz Field and into the lair of the Steelers and their vaunted defense this Sunday, just one thing comes to mind:
Dead man walking.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. McCoy was supposed to spend his first NFL season on the sidelines, observing and learning from the team's veteran quarterbacks who were to be holding his place and mentoring him until he was ready to go.
While he's probably pretty fortunate that he can no longer learn anything from Jake Delhomme, that doesn't change the fact that McCoy is being thrown to the lions long before he was projected to be ready for that, and perhaps worse, long before he expected it to happen.
It has to be tough to muster up the courage to go out there fighting when everyone around you is shaking their head and thinking you've essentially been sent on a suicide mission.
Still, there's something about Colt McCoy that makes you wonder if there might not be a little more to this. Something about Colt that makes you think he just might be a good candidate for surprise success. Someone who, not unlike Cleveland teams in general, might choose the very moment where failure seems imminent to orchestrate a shockingly successful endeavor.
Of course, no one is suggesting that McCoy will come out on Sunday and throw for 400 yards and four touchdown passes, go undefeated in his remaining regular season starts and then march the Browns right to the Superbowl.
But maybe, just maybe, whether the Browns win or lose, Colt McCoy will be surprisingly good.
Being underestimated in sports will rarely hurt you. In fact, usually it will help you.
Opponents facing a team or player who they don't see as a real threat to them or formidable competition in any way have been burned countless times in the past by being cocky and careless and allowing an underdog opponent to sneak up and get the better of them. It's one of those lessons everyone in sports should have learned long ago, but still trips up over-confident, heavily favored players and teams frequently.
And that's where McCoy has the opportunity to take advantage: Nobody expects a thing from this kid. The Steelers defense sees him as a free lunch. Even those of us on his side, the Browns faithful, mostly feel slightly afraid and guilty, like we've just sent our eight-year-old into the Coliseum to fight a tiger to the death in a gladiatorial match.
The Steelers fourth-ranked defense can't think much of McCoy. And that leaves McCoy with one of the best weapons in the business: the element of surprise.
If McCoy can manage a caliber of play beyond what the opponent, or even his own fans, expect from him, then he might be able to achieve some success in the face of an over-confident Steelers defense that has already dismissed him.
One huge advantage to starting a rookie quarterback in an NFL game for the first time ever? Nobody, including the opponent, has any idea what you plan to do with him.
That's right, there's no film.
The Steelers can certainly study film of McCoy from his days as a Texas Longhorn, but other than allowing them to study his throwing motion and general mechanics, this won't give them much information on how the Browns will use him. He's now on a different team in a different league, surrounded by completely different players.
Sure, as long as Bill Belichick is around, you have to consider he may have been illegally taping him at training camp and offering the tapes to the highest bidder. Even so, that won't likely be of much use in McCoy's case, as he spent most of camp playing with other rookies and players low on the depth chart. No one has really seen him lined up with the first team offense.
Obviously, McCoy will have to execute well to make this potential asset worth much of anything, but if he plays well, the lack of opportunities the Steelers will have had to see him in action may be an enormous advantage to the Browns.
Five games into the 1985 season, Browns quarterback Gary Danielson went down with an unexpected injury early on in a contest with the Houston Oilers.
The Browns were then forced to play their rookie quarterback, a guy with zero NFL experience at the time and who they had no intention of using at all that season. That guy was Bernie Kosar.
It wasn't pretty, but Kosar eked out the win that day against Houston, and well, we all know where Bernie's career went after that.
So there you have it: proof right from our own home town that it can be done, and already has been done in a very similar situation to the one the Browns and McCoy are facing now. If McCoy can come even close to following in Kosar's footsteps, I doubt there's anyone in town who would complain.
Want another example? Take a look at the guy starting opposite McCoy at quarterback for the Steelers this Sunday. We won't acknowledge this creature's vile presence by addressing him by name, but this fellow (let's call him "Pig Pen"), also succeeded amid similar circumstances during his rookie season in 2004 when the Steelers were forced to use him after injuries took out both Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch.
So there are two pretty good examples linked to the teams in this very game that indicate that a successful debut for McCoy is completely possible.
With 45 victories in 53 starts, former Texas Longhorn Colt McCoy is the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.
The thing about established winners is, they tend to keep finding ways to win, wherever they go.
McCoy is a sharp guy. He's competitive and he doesn't rattle under pressure easily. Watching him in college made it clear that this is a guy who makes very few mistakes with his timing and accuracy, and even fewer mental mistakes. He made players around him look better than they were in many instances.
We don't know how he'll really stack up in the NFL yet, and if he's over-matched, he's over-matched, no matter how much effort he puts into winning. But if he has the opportunity to make something happen, he's an excellent bet to get it done.
McCoy's illustrious college career was followed up by an inauspicious start to his pro career. So far, things for McCoy haven't gone the way he likely would have preferred.
A late third-round pick, McCoy stayed on the board much longer and was drafted in a far lower spot than was expected. He was bypassed for Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, and Tim Tebow, and even when the Browns traded up, they did so to take other players before they got around to him. That had to hurt.
Then pile on the fact that most of his performances in camp and in pre-season games were panned by most writers, scouts and fans, and you have to assume that a disappointed, frustrated, and wounded McCoy probably developed a pretty significant chip on the shoulder while nursing a skewered ego and fretting about his future.
That sort of wounded pride has sunk many a player, but for a level-headed, competitive guy like McCoy, it will more likely manifest as an excellent tool of motivation to propel him to get better. McCoy absolutely has something to prove on Sunday. I wouldn't bet against the possibility of him succeeding at that.
Regardless of how unprepared McCoy may be to the reins this Sunday, it would be very difficult to argue that a better option exists.
Seneca Wallace's ankle injury is far too serious for him to play. Delhomme is also still too injured to be on the field, which is actually fortunate considering he's also too inept to be on the field.
It would be nice if Brett Ratliff had what it took to make the start and spare McCoy of being prematurely tossed into the fire, but let's face it: if Ratliff had any prayer of succeeding in the NFL, he wouldn't have spent his entire career on someone's practice squad.
And then there was one.
That would be none other than Colt McCoy, who turns out to be the best guy the Browns have available to make the start on Sunday and the guy who will give them the best chance they've got at coming away with a victory.
Given his circumstances, McCoy is obviously not an ideal option. But he is without a doubt the best option the Browns have.
In many ways, throwing McCoy out there to face the Steelers without adequate preparation or seasoning seems like the cruelest possible fate.
The Pittsburgh defense is insanely good. Their fans will be rooting for that defense to tear McCoy's inexperienced head from his inexperienced body. Plus, they just hate us.
But the thing is, we hate them too. And perhaps, the intense spark that only a Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry can ignite will fire up McCoy as well, and provide the motivation he needs to step up and be the guy we need him to be.
At the end of the day on Sunday, McCoy will either be branded a folk hero or a sacrificial lamb.
It's going to be a tough, tough battle for McCoy this Sunday when he faces down the rival Steelers on their home turf.
But you just never know...sometimes the good guys win.