Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking: “Dave you haven’t written anything in forever. Are you just writing about the Browns vs. Steelere playoff game because you came up with the headline and can’t let it go to waste?” And you are 100% correct.
The last sports column I wrote, I warned about how stupid the Red Sox would be to fire Mookie Betts, and John Henry, it turns out is not a constant reader of mine. Not long after that, all the leagues (and much of ordinary life) shut down due to COVID-19. Intead of in this space, I generated content by live Tweeting old games on YouTube as if I was watching them live (Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the National Championship Game between Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, and Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, to name three), but i got tired of that gimmick after about a week and a half. I was working from home and there just wasn’t as much inspiration in the commute from the temporary work station in my kitchen to the writing desk in my bedroom.
When sports did come back, I was expecting the outcomes to be bizarre and chaotic. No crowds, no home field/court/ice advantage, and the players were going through the same depressing reality as the rest of us. Would the playoffs be full of upsets? Nah. The Lakers were the favorite before the pandemic and the Lakers won it all. The Lightning were on paper better than the Bruins, and the pandemic allowed them to get healthy and get over the Stanley Cup hump. Rays vs. Dodgers would’ve been my World Series pick in February, and that was the World Series. Along the way, the Boston teams disappointed, though that should have been expected to varying to degrees. It made sense sports wouldn’t be fun for me while the world is literally and figuratively burning.
That changed with the NFL playoffs. The Cleveland Browns were in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and were scheduled to face off against their forever-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Because they are the Browns, several coaches and players (including first yeah head coach Kevin Stefanski) were unable to participate due to COVID, and the team was unable to practice ahead of their biggest game in a generation.
Truth be told I was not even planning on watching the game until checking Twitter and seeing Cleveland was already up 14-0 early in the game. I turned on the game, listened to the commentary (I’ve gotten into the habit of muting the games and listening to an audiobook, but Al and Cris are the best on TV, as the song goes) and got nervous every time Collinsworth pointed out how much time there was for the Steelers to get back into the game. For the first time since the Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl (less than a year ago, but mentally about seven years ago), I felt alive while watching sports.
The Cleveland Browns held on to win in a crowd-less Heinz Field, winning their first playoff game since Bill Belichick’s squad bested a young Drew Bledsoe’s New England Patriots team in 1995, two seasons before I started following football, and did it in a practice week that would be hard to explain to the 2019 Browns (seriously, who in the NFL knew what Zoom was a year ago?). This is the kind of chaos I was expecting from my sports for all of 2020, but didn’t get until 2021.
The last year has been rough, and the first week of the new year did not exactly leave me with a sense of hope or optimism. Nothing is normal anymore, and I’m not just talking about Tom Brady on the Buccaneers or Mookie Betts on the Dodgers. But sometimes an unexpectedly fun football game will remind me about the stupid conspiracy nonsense spewed out by the White House, and your buddy Dave has no choice but to write about it for the sake of the headline. Welcome to 2021: it’s like 2020 but after it.