It may be a bit out of the ordinary for this site, but I thought I would devote today’s post exclusively to one player.
I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that this Sunday could be the last home game for Browns’ veteran Josh Cribbs. Cribbs’ unsettled contract situation, combined with the league’s de-emphasis on kickoff returns, joined with the current coaching staff’s unwillingness or inability to utilize Cribbs in a more effective manner could all contribute to the newest Browns’ front office management deciding to cut ties with the team’s second-longest tenured player.
While it’s become difficult to be a genuine fan – especially given how exposed today’s NFL players are – Cribbs is an extraordinarily easy choice. It’s ridiculously easy for me to suspend reality and root for Cribbs as if I were a kid and he were a part of the 1985 Browns. As a sometimes too cynical adult, I’ve found that there is still something magic about Cribbs barreling down the sideline on a return or covering a kickoff like he was trying to make a scout team. Perhaps the manner in which Cribbs both entered the league and has conducted himself throughout his career helps most Browns’ fans identify with him. If you only strip away the enormous physical talents and incredible toughness, Cribbs really isn’t that much different from most of the fans who have supported him for years.
Much like a Browns’ fan who continues to weather constant front office, coaching, personnel changes and perpetual losing, Cribbs is a rarity in that he is an actual Browns’ veteran. To stick around for eight seasons in Cleveland among all the constant turnover is perhaps the most impressive stat one can find. Of course, the 13,000 all-purpose yards and 8 kickoff return touchdowns are technically more meaningful. However, Cribbs has always been the hardest working and most exciting Browns’ player of the past decade – along with being a player whose value has been increasingly difficult to define.
On the surface, one could say that Cribbs is basically “just” a Special Teams player. With the exception of a slight impact in 2011 as a wide receiver, Cribbs has made his living returning and covering kickoffs. In fact, without Brian Daboll, Cribbs likely would not have been used on offense at all during his Browns’ tenure. To this point, thousands of words can be devoted to how the Browns have badly underutilized Cribbs. Beyond the gimmicky prowess of the Wildcat formation, it’s easy to think that Cribbs could have been used the way other teams utilize Aaron Hernandez or Percy Harvin.
Of course, the preceding was probably a more valid argument a couple years ago. As the Browns have slowly developed more offensive talent, it seems that Cribbs has quietly disappeared into the background. While the Browns’ offense is pretty far from being anything proficient, it is far advanced from the days when Cribbs was pretty much the ONLY offensive threat on the roster. Add in the league’s de-emphasis on kickoff returns and it seems like Cribbs’ epic quest for a new contract happened decades ago.
In an ideal sense, the current Browns are improving both on and off the field – to the point where the malaise of the past decade plus will be covered by some fresh and more significant memories. As such, any new memories will likely make us forget Cribbs’ contributions over the past 8 years – which is a shame.
I’m never one to tell someone how to feel, but it would be tragic to forget that Cribbs was the ONLY exciting player in Cleveland during a long period of terrible Browns’ football. Perhaps no better example can be found than during the infamous “Staged Walkout” game on a Monday Night in 2009. Part of the concern of participating in the ill-fated walkout was that fans would miss the only chance for real excitement – which was Cribbs returning the opening kickoff.
Who knows what will ultimately happen? Cribbs could easily re-sign with the Browns and finish his career where it started. However, given the swirl of uncertainty that faces the Browns under new management, it’s at least worth savoring what could be a final home Sunday of Cribbs’ memories.
For as long as we are Browns’ fans – and as all know, we’re in this for life – the chances of the Browns ever featuring a player like Cribbs are impossibly slim. While Cribbs may have found the Browns at a most unfortunate time, and may not be remembered as he should, it’s worth stating that Cribbs made Browns’ football worth watching during a really difficult time.
And given how we as Browns fans exclusively cling to and excessively celebrate our past, we probably don’t even realize what we had with Cribbs. Maybe in 20 years when the Browns hold a reunion day, we’ll see a highlight and figure out that Cribbs was an extraordinary player.
For now, let’s just enjoy.