Monday, September 11, 2006

Browns Diaspora Implodes

Rust Belt sibling, Cleveland, is experiencing a difficult time. The Browns dropped a turd at home in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. So far, owner Randy Lerner's efforts to exorcise the bad taste head coach Butch Davis left in the fanbase's mouth have failed. But we are only in the beginning of Year Two of that experiment. The thrust of Lerner's team makeover is returning to the traditions of the franchise:

The previous regime of Butch Davis riddled the Browns' roster with Florida natives and former University of Miami recruits. Those were the Florida Browns. Before that, Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark relied on their history with the San Francisco 49ers to stock the team in its formative years after expansion. They were the Cleveland 49ers.

Now the Browns have a distinctive northeast Ohio flavor. The new additions join quarterback Charlie Frye (University of Akron and Willard, Ohio), kick returner and receiver Joshua Cribbs (Kent State) and defensive lineman Simon Fraser (Ohio State) to form a core group of players who understand that games against the Pittsburgh Steelers are not "just another game."

"The previous group [headed by Davis] didn't acknowledge Ohio football's pretty good," Savage said.

If the team fails this year, the essence of Cleveland fails. Lerner is pandering to the romantic musings of the fans. Fair enough, if you want to transform the Cleveland region into a museum piece. Disparaging Davis' Florida football connections stinks of xenophobia. We should put up signs at the Ohio border, "Fresh Ideas Go Home."

The identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers provides a similar case. There is a mythic "Steeler Way" and the team's success depends on the respect of these tenets. A quiet revolution is under way and I gather that most Steelers fans don't like it. I call it the "All in on Ben" paradigm.

Pittsburghers don't appreciate quarterbacks, ironic since some of the greatest QBs in the history of the game hail from the region. Current head coach Bill Cowher has internalized this antipathy, his defensive scheme designed to demonstrate the weaknesses of putting your team's fate in the hands of your quarterback. Eating up clock and controlling the ball, the offense supported the defense. When the Steelers drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, the Rooneys signaled a change in philosophy.

When the RB Jerome Bettis retired, the smashmouth football era came to a close. The Steelers Diaspora demanded an heir. Instead they got Fast Willie Parker and a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, Ohio State's Santonio Holmes. Pittsburgh is slow to recognize the shift, but smashmouth football didn't deliver the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Cowher.

Pittsburgh is busy rebranding itself. I'm not convinced that the region is willing to embrace reinvention to the extent that is needed. The most recent bold new vision doesn't jive with the Same Old Steelers. I don't think that any Pittsburgh marketing campaign can get out from under the shadow of the football team. At the very least, the Steelers Diaspora hopes the song remains the same.

1 comment:

John Morris said...

That's so true. Any marketing campaign has to ring true and fit the cities identity. For better or worse the people here are afraid of the long pass.