There is all this talk now that Mitch Trubisky, the North Carolina quarterback, is not only going to be a star in the National Football League, but that the Cleveland Browns, who have the first pick because they lost to everybody last season except the Pop Warner team in your town, should take him with the very first pick in the upcoming draft.
I will trust the draft experts on this, and hope they are right about Trubisky, because it is about time something good happened with the Browns, who since pro football returned to Cleveland -- sort of -- in 1999, have turned into the New York Knicks of professional football. It is a terrible thing to say about any sports franchise, especially one with an iconic name like the Knicks have. But it happens to be true. Sad, but true.
Everybody knows what happened to Cleveland and its football fans in the 1990s. Art Modell, the Browns' owner, took the team to Baltimore, which had the Colts stolen from them when Robert Irsay, the team's owner, took them to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. Not only did he take the Browns, he took pro football history that stretched back to the great Paul Brown and Otto Graham and the old All-American Football Conference.
They won four straight titles in the AAFC, and then moved over to the NFL, and immediately won a title there in 1950 against the Los Angeles Rams (who'd left Cleveland five years before that, a sign of things to come in that city) when Lou "The Toe" Groza kicked a field goal to win the championship game, 30-28.
This was one of the storied sports teams of its time, in any sport, with Brown as coach and Graham at quarterback, with Marion Motley and Dante Lavelli. The Browns would win another title in 1954 and another in '55, and later another in 1964, by which time Jim Brown had become the best pro football player in the world, and the best running back who ever lived. Then they stopped winning and so did all the other teams in Cleveland, until LeBron James had something to say about that last June. This was years after he'd left Cleveland the way the Rams once had, and the way they sure did when Modell owned the team.
The league at least gave the city an expansion team, one that started play in 1999. Only now you see what has become of the Browns in nearly two decades since: They have had just two winning seasons, in 2002 and 2007. They have had 26 different starting quarterbacks, the latest of which, I think, is Cody Kessler. Or Kessler Cody. Or the Keebler elf. And the reason that they do have the No. 1 pick again is because they only won one game, in a season where we were all pretty sure that they were going to lose them all.
Why do I hope Trubisky is the guy who might come in and change everything for them? Because Browns fans deserve a guy like that. Because not only did Modell take their team from them, and take their history from them, Browns fans had to watch as the Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls in the time since pro football returned to Cleveland.
Again: At least the league did right by Cleveland. Pro football will never return to St. Louis now that the Rams have gone back to Los Angeles. Pro football will never return to Oakland, which now means that the only pro football that will be played in the Bay Area in a couple of years will be in Santa Clara, about 50 miles from downtown San Francisco, a world's record, at least in distance, for teams moving to the suburbs.
But look at what the pro football gods have done to Cleveland. Look at what the Browns have become. This is a franchise that actually talked itself into believing that Johnny Football was going to be their savior, before the kid got to Cleveland and apparently thought he'd arrived on The Strip in Vegas. These Browns are already working on their second owner since the name "Browns" was put back into play.
As for head coaches? They have had nine over the past 18 seasons. Here is the list:
Two owners then in 18 seasons. Two winning seasons. Twenty-six quarterbacks and counting. Nine head coaches. And in the latter stages of this hideous era, Browns fans have watched a renaissance in pro sports in their city. First the Cavaliers drafted LeBron, when the Cavs had the first pick in the NBA Draft. Before long, he had them in the NBA Finals against the Spurs, after a game in the Eastern Conference finals when the kid scored 29 of his team's last 30 points.
Then he left Cleveland. Took his talents to South Beach. Proceeded to the Finals four straight times and won twice. But here's the best part: LeBron came back! He came home. Took the Cavs to the Finals in his first year back, took the Warriors to six games, even though his team lost Kyrie Irving early in the Finals and never had Kevin Love at all.
Then, last June, when the Cavs were down 1-3 to the Warriors and it seemed that it would be 53 years in Cleveland since the Browns had won in '64, LeBron and Kyrie came all the way back. Finally, Cleveland was back on top. A little over four months later, it was the Indians who were the ones ahead of the Cubs 3-1 in the World Series, and seemed on the verge of giving Cleveland a second title in one year, and first World Series title since 1948.
They blew the lead. The Cubs came back to win Game 5 at Wrigley and Game 6 at Progressive Field. Got a big lead in Game 7. Then Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer to tie Game 7 before the Indians finally gave it up for good in the 10th. It was a heartbreak loss. But this time it didn't happen in a heartbreak sports city, because of what LeBron and Kyrie had done. For those handful of months last year, Cleveland felt like the sports capital of the world.
After all that, with the Cavaliers doing what they'd done and the Indians nearly ruining everything for the Cubs, with all this good feeling in that city, what did the Browns do? The Browns went 1-15. Once again, they are only No. 1 in the draft.
I don't know if Mitch Trubisky can be the next Otto Graham. Or Milt Plum. Or Frank Ryan. Or even Bernie Kosar. I just hope he can be. I hope that the guys who analyze these drafts more obsessively than political pundits analyze Donald Trump's tweets are right about him. Because what's happened to the football fans of Cleveland, Ohio, for a long time, is just plain wrong.