Although I am sure this statement will be hard to believe for so many individuals of a certain age reading this article, but I assure you it doesn't make it any less of a true statement.
Back in the day, before yours truly was even born, the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise was viewed in the same regards as the modern day Cleveland Browns. Granted, that was fifty years and six Lombardi Trophies ago, but it happened.
So what happened? What was the defining moment that completely changed the fortunes of a seemingly snake-bit franchise? The all important head coaching decision, coupled with the best scouting department in the business directly leading to unmatched drafting success set the stage for a dynasty, but it took a truly magical moment to turn the loser mentality into a winning mindset.
The Immaculate Reception was the defining moment which gave credence to the notion that the Steelers could actually complete the journey from league laughingstock to NFL champions. Every great journey starts with a single step, and no step was more important in fostering the belief the Steelers could create a championship culture in the Steel City. The rest, as they say, is history.
Without a doubt, the Cleveland Browns franchise needs an immaculate moment desperately to change their mindsets and fortunes. The Browns are definitely a snake-bit franchise. Anything that can go wrong always does go wrong it seems for some unknown reason.
Take the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox of MLB for example. One franchise was believed to have been cursed for over a century by a goat, and the other had the Curse of the Bambino because they unbelievably traded away Babe Ruth. Both franchises eventually broke the supposed curses and won the ever-elusive championship for their incredibly loyal fan bases. Both also had magical playoff moments happen along the way which helped them believe that winning a championship was actually possible.
The Browns don't have a specific name for their curse as far as I am aware, but it definitely exists. It has showed up at the worst possible moments for Browns fans, moments with uninspiring names like 'The Drive' and 'The Fumble'. This has led to a belief within the organization and fan base that defeat is inevitable, and often by the most heartbreaking means possible.
This is unfortunate, because the Browns have some of the best fans in the NFL. They are loyal to a fault, coming back year after year filled with hope and wide-eyed optimism. The Dawg Pound remains as wild as ever, a dangerous place for any fan who isn't up to date on his rabies vaccine. If suffering earns you any brownie points with the powers that be, Cleveland Browns fans are long overdue for some good fortune.
Like the Steelers squads from the early 70's, the Browns have accumulated an impressive array of talented players scattered throughout the roster. Impressive enough to drive their fan base into a frenzy, and cause many in the national sports media to anoint them as possible contenders to win the AFC North, if not more. The problem is, we have heard this song and dance before—prior to last season actually.
Last season the Cleveland Browns were crushed under the weight of unrealistic expectations. You have to learn how to crawl before you can ever even dream about running. It's impossible to build a winning culture in an losing environment.
Before any championship considerations can be taken seriously, there are certain steps that must come to pass. First, there has to be stability throughout the organization, from the front office on through the ever-evolving coaching staff. Then the roster has to develop a ‘team first’ mindset, willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become a winning franchise.
Leadership is definitely needed in the Browns locker room, provided preferably in a perfect world by starting quarterback Baker Mayfield.
It's no secret I wrote an article stating I hoped Mayfield's name wasn't even on the Steelers draft board prior to his draft day. I openly questioned his character, leadership ability, and maturity. Now I honestly feel I am a bigger fan of the young man than many in the Browns fan base.
Mayfield gets judged unfairly far too often by many fans who don't understand the monumental mountain of negativity that he has been entrusted to help his team overcome. He has to lead a franchise out of the darkness and into the light, kicking and screaming all the way. He has to pickup the leadership mantel, all while he is still learning on the job himself.
Based solely on what I have seen thus far, I believe Mayfield has the unwavering faith in his own abilities necessary to lead a team to a title. He is too cocky to believe otherwise. This is actually meant to be a compliment, and totally necessary when trying to reverse the fortunes of a perennial losing franchise. But Mayfield is going to need more than a little help in leading the Browns out of their doldrums. Stability within the Browns hierarchy would be a good place to start.
Now all the Browns need is a unbelievable miraculous moment to get them over the hump. It could happen, but hopefully not anytime in the near future.