Over the past decade or so, my favorite Jaguars fan, at least once during each season will say, “We’re the Browns, aren’t we? We’re the Browns, the Browns of the South.”
I usually scoffed at the comment. “Of course we’re not,” I’d say. “The Browns are always bad.”
But as of late, I’m not sure I’m right. In fact, I am sure there are some Jaguars fans currently who wish we were the Browns.
Since 2000, the Jaguars have had four winning seasons, but only one since 2008. The Browns didn’t play in 1996, ’97 and ’98 as owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season to become the Ravens. The NFL put an expansion team back in Cleveland in 1999, but the Browns continued their losing ways going back to 1990.
Fans in Cleveland have had two winning seasons since 2000 and only one playoff appearance. They also endured a 1-31 record starting in 2016, the worst in NFL history over a two-year span, including a winless season the following year.
That’s right. O-fer.
They haven’t had a winning season since 2007. They’ve finished last in the AFC North nine of the last twelve years.
At least the Jaguars have sprinkled in an 8-8 year (2010) and a division championship (2017) in that span. In the last ten years, these two teams have had one winning season. Combined.
And there are more similarities between the clubs. The Jaguars have fifty-one wins in the last ten years: The Browns forty-four, including seven this season. Under their current ownership, Cleveland has won just over 30% of their games. The Jaguars in the Shad Khan era win 29% of the time.
This year is a different story.
Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the Jaguars seem destined for a top-five draft pick. The Browns, on the other hand, are a respectable 7-3 and appear a team on the rise. They seem to have drafted well recently. Quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to be their long-term solution at that position. Myles Garrett is considered the premier player at defensive end across the league. Their receiving corps looks solid.
They’ve had famous misses in the draft as well, most notably Johnny Manziel in 2014. I keep looking at the Jaguars high draft picks since 2014 and keep seeing names like, Fournette, Ramsey, Ngakoue, Fowler, Yeldon, Robinson, Lee and Bortles, none of which are still on the roster.
The Browns have had a colorful history at head coach and at quarterback. They’ve had twelve head coaches in the last twenty years and no less than thirty-two starting quarterbacks since 2000. And we thought six, including Mike Glennon for this game, was a lot for the Jaguars in the last four years.
I happened to be the sideline radio reporter in Cleveland in 2001for the Jaguars network during the infamous game when the Jaguars had to return to the field for two plays to ensure a victory.
Things got ugly at the end of the game as the Jaguars were winning in the “Dawg Pound” end of the stadium. Officials had reviewed a Browns 4th down play in that end, calling it an incomplete pass, turning the ball over to the Jaguars and enraging the fans. They started showering things onto the field from all sections and the officials took both teams to the locker rooms. A full beer bottle whistled by my head on the sidelines, tossed from the upper deck. It didn’t take long to deduce that it was the fourth quarter, and that bottle wasn’t full of beer. After that, the NFL instituted the rule that bottles are served with the tops removed.
In the middle of his post-game press conference, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was told that the Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had ordered the game finished with two final plays. I remember players grabbing their jerseys and helmets and whatever pants they could find and scrambling to the opposite field tunnel with the officials. They, and the Browns, along the with officials, sprinted to the other end of the stadium in Cleveland, had two quarterback kneel downs and hightailed it back to the locker rooms.
And the two cities have a few connections in general as well. Both are on large bodies of water. Cleveland sits on the south shore of Lake Erie; Jacksonville has the St. Johns River flowing through it. There’s a great trivia connection between the two. If you go directly north from Jacksonville, what city do you hit before you get to Canada? The answer is Cleveland.
They two cities even somehow combined for a mistake together, although in name only. When the North Deck of the newly renovated stadium was first opened, it was sponsored by the Clevelander Hotel. Yes, I know it’s operated in South Beach, but an ill-advised connection, nonetheless.
In 1986, former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien moved his Continental Basketball Association team, the Jets, here from Pensacola. Stepien didn’t really tell anybody the Jets were coming here and did no marketing. He threw open the doors of the old Coliseum and expected people to show up.
One local columnist listed all ninety-eight people in attendance at one game by their first and last name as a column once in these pages. Needless to say, the Jets and Stepien moved on after a few months.
Looking over the two rosters, there are some connections. Joe Schobert left the Browns for the Jaguars as a free-agent last year. Olivier Vernon was considered a prized-free-agent leaving the Dolphins in 2016. The Jaguars made a major play for him, offering him more money than anybody, but he signed with the New York Giants.
“You can’t sign a guy if he says he doesn’t want to play here,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said at the time. Vernon signed with the Browns in 2019.
Ronnie Harrison, a former third-round pick of the Jaguars, was traded to Cleveland before this season. When he remarked how glad he was to be out of Jacksonville, Twitter followers hammered him, one saying, “Dude. You were traded to Cleveland!”
Which, at least right now, doesn’t look like a bad thing.