It's tougher than ever before to be a fan of professional sports in Cleveland, OH.
Why? Well, Clevelanders, whose teams haven't won a major world championship of any sort since 1964, when Jim Brown was running between the tackles for the Browns, at least used to have Philadelphia to share the misery.
After the Phillies' World Series run last month, the City of Brotherly Love can once again call itself a world champion for the first time since 1983.
LeBron James is, by far, the best thing to happen to Cleveland in a long, long time—possibly ever. But Clevelanders can't escape rampant rumors about him leaving (even though he's a free agent two full years from now) every time they turn on the TV, browse the Internet, or pick up a magazine.
Sometimes you wonder if all this gets to Cleveland fans. This week's incident involving an email exchange between a Cleveland Browns "fan" and Browns General Manager and Senior Vice President Phil Savage is proof that it does.
The fan got Savage so amped up that the GM of one of the oldest franchises in the NFL responded by telling the emailer to "Go root for Buffalo" and "[expletive] himself" in a brief and to-the-point answer.
Although the focus this week has been on Savage for acting unprofessionally despite holding such a high post for an esteemed NFL organization, the attention should be paid to the lackluster and misinformed emailer who obviously wants to see his teams keep on losing:
"You are easily the worst GM in the NFL. [Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski], [head coach Romeo] Crennel, and [defensive coordinator Mel] Tucker should NOT have jobs. How the hell do you play prevent defense the entire game? How do you NOT use [backup running back] Jerome Harrison more? Why the hell would you throw the ball with 6 minutes left? This is officially a regime that is worse than Butch Davis’. By the way, just like last week - this email was written while the Browns still had the lead."
If you see where this wayward fan is coming from, compared to where Savage has brought the Browns organization in the four years he's been on the job, it's easy to justify how such a juvenile and delusional fan deserves the F-bomb—if not from Savage, than at least from somebody. Anybody. Many, many times, at that.
To call Savage's reign over the Browns as being "worse than Butch Davis'" is the best place to start. When Savage took over the Browns in January of 2005, it was one of the least-talented squads the NFL had seen in years. Years.
The team had not had a Pro Bowler in three seasons, they had gone through a laundry list of quarterbacks, and there had been no 1,000-yard rusher since 1985.
Davis, on the other hand, bailed out on the team in the middle of the 2004 season when he knew that he didn't have what it took to turn the Browns around. Cleveland ended that campaign 4-12, a beating post for the rest of the league down the stretch, and a roster filled with misfits, castoffs, and undrafted free agents.
In Savage's third year on the job in 2007, the Browns sent six—count 'em, six—Pro Bowlers to Hawaii.
Savage found a 1,000-yard back in Reuben Droughns in his first year of 2005. After that, Jamal Lewis became the first rusher to go for over 1,300 on the ground for the Browns since Jim Brown himself.
And most importantly, an offensive line that notoriously used to be a turnstile for defensive lines across the league under Davis' rule blossomed into one of the very best units under Savage, anchored by a guy that Savage himself drafted: Joe Thomas.
Thomas went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season and may be a staple in Hawaii for the rest of his career.
Savage found undrafted free agent Joshua Cribbs in 2005, a guy who went to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in '07 and has been labeled as the AFC's Devin Hester.
As the right-hand man for Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome leading up to his stint in Cleveland, Savage played a major role in helping Newsome draft first-rounders Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Chris McAllister, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. That's a parade of superstars who have all been to the Pro Bowl multiple times.
Since Savage left Baltimore, the Ravens have used first-round picks on wide receiver Mark Clayton, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, offensive lineman Ben Grubbs, and quarterback Joe Flacco. Only Flacco appears to be a good pick, but the jury's still out on him. The rest haven't smelled a Pro Bowl while Savage, during the same time, has drafted two Pro Bowlers (Braylon Edwards and Joe Thomas) in Cleveland.
Under Davis, the quarterback position was a joke, filled with guys who either didn't fit or simply didn't have the talent to be starters in the NFL. But Savage picked up Derek Anderson off the waivers when the Baltimore Ravens cut the former Oregon State Beaver, and Anderson responded by having one of the most prolific seasons by a quarterback in Browns history on his way to the Pro Bowl, as well.
In fact, only one player—tight end Kellen Winslow—who went to the Pro Bowl for the Browns last year was not a Phil Savage pick. And one guy who should have gone (as he won the fans' vote), guard Eric Steinbach, was a Savage free-agent signing.
Overlapping the Savage regime with the Butch Davis era in Cleveland is a joke. You'd be lucky to get a simple "[expletive] you" out of most GMs around the league, let alone a guy who assembled a roster like the one Savage has, if you dare compare them to Butch Davis.
On top of all that, the emailer directs a lot of blame on Savage for things that happen on the field and in the game. As a GM, Savage's job is not to decide when the Browns run a "prevent" defense, when and how often they use certain skill players, and what plays are called on offense. That simply is not something that a GM does.
Should the guys who do have control over those things—the coaching staff—still be employed? Well, that's something that is Savage's call, but it's still out of line to label him as "the worst GM in the NFL" when that same coaching staff just went 10-6 last season.
To expect Savage to start axing coaches in the middle of the season is beyond laughable. It's the mark of an ignorant fan who is better served doing his nine-to-five job instead of advising a man being paid millions to do his own job—and do it well.
If the drama and controversy surrounding this strange season is too taxing for Savage, then the fallout from this could be devastating for the Browns and the city of Cleveland.
First, the Kellen Winslow situation where the Pro Bowl tight end accused Savage and the team of covering up his staph infection stole headlines for all the wrong reasons. Second, the team decided on a short week to switch Anderson for Brady Quinn at quarterback.
Third, running back Lewis accused the team, particularly the defense, of quitting in the middle of a nationally-televised fourth-quarter meltdown against Denver—the second straight game where the Browns blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead.
Now Savage has this hoopla to deal with regarding his email exchange with a clueless fan.
Many Browns fans—maybe the majority—have been remarkable in backing Savage as the team's GM. It's support that Savage certainly deserves, and it helped him win a power-struggle with former team president John Collins back in '05 when it looked like Savage might have been fired by the organization.
Cleveland fans should thank their lucky stars that it didn't end up that way, or else the newfound hope and faith that they have had in their team over the last couple of years may have never come to fruition.
Now the same fans have to question whether or not Savage would want to come back next year with an organization that has become one of the league's—if not all of professional sports'—biggest soap operas.
The Browns have had what seems like 100 night games on national TV this season, but the team can't stop making most of its headlines off the field.
Hopefully Savage, who earned a multi-year extension with the team last offseason, doesn't quit on the organization. Hopefully the challenges that lie ahead for the Browns as they lie on a pivotal crossroad motivates him enough to return and get this team back to where it belongs: Amongst the league's elite.
If it doesn't? Well, although you can't blame all Cleveland fans for getting Savage to his wit's end, you can certainly blame one. And all it takes is one frustrated, disgruntled, and in this case, delusional fan to keep Cleveland far away from a major sports world championship.
For another year.
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