Friday, September 23

The Downtown Report as Summer Ends

During the NFL lockout this summer, I went on record as saying that I'd be OK with a lost NFL season, and that I'd be perfectly fine with finding other recreational options during the time I'd ordinarily spend watching the Browns on Sundays. This turns out to be only partially true.

With the rather sudden collapse of the overachieving band of 2011 Indians, it turns out that a lack of pro football would have left a serious hole in my sports fandom. I have indeed divested myself somewhat from the NFL, having not seen much other than the first two Browns games and sitting out the picks competition this season, but having the Pumpkinheads and the Buckeyes around really helps fall feel like fall. Or possibly like autumn. But first things first...

On August 18, the 2011 Cleveland Indians were 1.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. No, they didn't make the playoffs, and yes, the end was highly disappointing (within a month, the gap between them and the suddenly-unbeatable Tigers ballooned to 12.5 games), but didn't they keep your summer interesting? Wasn't it fun, for a lot longer than anyone thought? Remember, almost literally no one picked the Wahoos for any better than a fourth-place finish in the AL Central, and instead they spent 96 days in the top spot and have a fair chance to land in second place. I'm going to dive into the numbers and recap some of the best memories of the 2011 campaign here in a few weeks once the season wraps up, and I think you'll be surprised at just how many great moments there were.

Eventually the talent gap caught up to the young Indians, and an absurd number of injuries made it simply too much for our plucky heroes to overcome the far more loaded Tigers. It's beyond cliche to mindlessly intone that "every team has injuries," but there are degrees to how much a team suffers from them and what sort of financial and organizational resources a club has to overcome them. Consider the 2005 Tribe - did anyone, ever, get hurt on that club? Seriously, look at their numbers. They had all of six starting pitchers all season, one of whom made just four starts while the other five had 30 or more. This club has had 10 starters, two of whom will top 30 starts, one of whom is Fausto Carmona. Only 12 Erie Warriors from the '05 squad had more than 100 plate appearances; 18 of this year's bunch have.

Normal is probably somewhere in the middle of the two, and the 2011 Indians lost significant time from Hafner, Kipnis, Choo, Sizemore, Brantley, Carrasco, LaPorta, and Talbot, and sadly missed no time from Orlando Cabrera. With the exception of Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson, every key contributor to the club went down at some point in the year, and for a small-market club like Cleveland, there were just too many leaks for skipper Manny Acta to plug.

I've lucked into a couple of chances to catch the Tribe for free at Progressive Field before 2011 goes into the history books. Tuesday I headed to the ballyard on a lovely evening with a couple of seats Kim landed for free, and Saturday Nick and I are representing FCF ( @forestcityfans ) in the Tribe Social Suite, hoping to match JHH and my effort from a year ago, back when it was just a deck. I was also overjoyed to discover that the Saturday game is Star Wars Night, which has to be some sort of cosmic make-up call from all the Faith Nights I've been subjected to in recent seasons. Nothing...can stop that now.

As I Twittered a week ago, I still want the Tribe to finish strong, and I still want Chicago's blood. I'll write a couple of season-ending pieces on the Wahoos taking a look inside their season statistics and reliving some of their finest moments of the 2011 campaign. Until then, Go Tribe!

I did not have fun at that season opener. Nope, I sure didn't, for reasons both related to the Browns' sloppy on-field performance and some shenanigans going on in the stands. They could have beaten the Bengals for sure, were it not for that preposterous quick-snap TD pass. The Browns looked every bit as inept and more as one would expect from a young team with an entirely new coaching staff given very little time to prepare because of a lockout.

Sunday's game against the Colts was more encouraging. They didn't play that much better, but they played so much smarter. Mistakes were eliminated, tackling was more solid, and penalties were way down. Only Montario Hardesty's fumble marred an otherwise complete game. Yes, the Colts are a weak club, but every NFL team is capable of defeating the Browns if Cleveland shoots themselves in the foot, and they avoided that in Week 2.

Admittedly, I'm not high on the 2011 Browns, for a number of reasons. I want them to do well, I just worry about our depth and lack of impact players, especially on defense. I will say that the play of Jabaal Sheard and Joe Haden on defense, and the coolheaded, intelligent play of Colt McCoy on offense, has calmed that a little bit. I still worry about our depth, but I think we can touch 7 wins if the club actually sticks to Coach Shurmur's cliched notion to get better every week. Go Browns!

Ohio State has not looked good either of the past two weeks, narrowly escaping a potentially-devastating home loss to Toledo and getting beaten soundly in the Orange Bowl 24-6 last Saturday. Clearly, the situation at QB is not resolved, and will be a major issue psychologically and in terms of performance for the 2011 Buckeyes until it is resolved. At present, that issue overshadows the rest of the concerns with the team, as the offense has been the weak link thus far.

Frankly, I don't know what the answer is. I think I've seen Joe Bauserman play enough that he can be dismissed as an ideal solution. Braxton Miller certainly has the pedigree and talent, but freshman QB's are bound to struggle in major college games. I know basically nothing about Kenny Guiton. In this case, I'm just going to have to hope that the OSU coaching staff knows their personnel well enough to make the right decisions going forward. I do know, however, that interchanging them as frequently as they did during the Miami game, even within a set of downs, is not the right approach. Hopefully they hit on what is.

Either way, the games of Kan Jam that some of the members of FCF participated in after Saturday's game were fantastic. I couldn't have enjoyed that game any more than I did. I can't believe it hasn't completely replaced cornhole as the beer-drinking recreational game of choice everywhere where players have enough room to tolerate the occasional errant flying disc.

Remember what I wrote in the open about having gone on record as not caring whether there would be an NFL season? I'm saying the same thing about the NBA lockout, but this time it's absolutely true. I will be just fine and dandy without the 2011-12 Cavaliers and the rest of the Association.

Have you discussed the upcoming NBA season with anyone recently? In those discussions, have you met one person who seems concerned at all about the very likely possibility of a lockout? No, you haven't. The NBA doesn't have the sway over the sporting public that the NFL does, and them squabbling themselves out of a season will be just fine with almost all of the world of sports fandom.

I was in the Cavs' executive offices last week to discuss a group night with one of their sales representatives, and it seems like a cool place. As you can see, I ran into a few friends while I was there. Olivier Sedra was there too, but he was in fact not a Fathead and looked sort of busy. My favorite part of the offices was the conference room, which had a big plastic basketball crashing through the faux ceiling. I want a giant block of fake graphite poking through the ceiling of my conference rooms at work, and I want it now.

From the top down, no one there seems to want to think the lockout is happening. After the conversation, Coach Byron Scott and GM Chris Grant addressed the various groups touring the Q and answered some questions from the field, being ultra-cautious not to say even the slightest thing about any NBA player or the lockout situation whatsoever. It was kind of awkward. The best moment was when this old guy asked Scott some rambling, incoherent question about LeBron and who knows what else, and Scott slayed the crowd with "I don't care what they're doing in Miami - this is Cleveland and I care about what the Cavaliers are doing." Huge applause. I joked that he should have gone with, "Fuck Miami."

I wondered if at any time Grant (and especially Scott) resented having to work events for small-timers like me and the rest of the crowd. Somehow I have a feeling Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak aren't doing Q&A's with local members of the middle class to drum up excitement and ticket sales. Who knows, maybe they're genuine and enjoy the work and the opportunity, but it's gotta be at least a little irksome.

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