Pinch yourselves, Browns fans—this is not a dream or fantasy.
Sunday’s performance will be celebrated during the coming week and beyond because Browns fans are not used to this. I have been acting as if the Browns won the Super Bowl because these types of wins have been so few and far between since the team returned 12 seasons ago.
While the win didn’t do anything official besides moving the Browns to 3-5 on the season, it went a long way toward building the foundation of the franchise going forward. Eric Mangini’s job is likely safe, Colt McCoy solidified himself as the starting quarterback and Peyton Hillis proved once again that he is the real deal and now a Pro Bowl candidate.
Maybe most importantly, it gave all Cleveland sports fans something that has been missing here for four months: hope.
Ever since “The Decision” took LeBron James out of town, there hasn’t been a reason to believe that any of Cleveland’s major pro sports teams were anywhere close to snapping the town’s 46-year championship drought.
The Cavs have been a competitive team, but they are far from the championship contenders they were for the past four years and will need at least a few seasons and some key additions to reach that status again.
The Indians have been spiraling downward since their loss in the 2007 ALCS, and while there are some promising prospects in the pipeline, the rebuilding process will probably need at least two more seasons before they can become a contender.
The Browns remain an obsession, but since 1999 the fans’ love of the team has rarely been rewarded.
The arrival of team president Mike Holmgren created a belief that the franchise would turn things around, but the first three games of the season looked more like a replay of past seasons. While the team was competitive, they failed to close out fourth-quarter leads against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Baltimore, creating more of the same heartbreak that fans feel every season.
While many thought the team was playing better, the results were not there to prove it, and playoff contention seemed light years away. Questions lingered about Mangini’s job security and who the starting quarterback of the future would be.
The blessing in disguise of injuries to Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme along with the shocking upsets in each of the last two games have rejuvenated the fan base and created hope that things are headed in the direction. The hope is that instead of being another rebuilding season that leads to another and so on, there might actually be a base to build on.
Hope especially sprung from four places on Sunday:
1. The Browns defense limited the No. 1 offense in the NFL to 14 points.
2. Hillis ran the ball down the Patriots’ throats even though they knew it was coming.
3. McCoy threw accurately, scrambled well and threw on the run, and had no turnovers.
4. Mangini schooled his mentor Bill Belichick and appears to have won over his team.
Suddenly, this Browns team might have a head coach, quarterback and running back that stick around for multiple seasons and become cornerstones of the franchise.
This isn’t just a normal 3-5 team; it’s a team that coulda-woulda-shoulda won at least two more of those games. It’s a team that faces clubs at or below .500 in five of their next six games. It's a team that has shown they can play with anybody in the NFL.
That’s something that hasn't been said for most of the Browns teams over the past 12 years.
Maybe the Browns caught the Saints and Patriots on bad days and we are all overreacting, but let’s hope not. For now, Browns fans should hop on Peyton Hillis’ back, enjoy the ride and let ourselves dream about a winner in Cleveland. This team has given us plenty of reason to do so in the past two games.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That’s what Browns fans have done by cheering for this franchise year in and year out, even when there has been no hope in sight. Days like Sunday and the joy that it brought remind Browns fans why we put up with all of the misery.