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Scott Raab Q+A: Cleveland Drowns

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Saying Scott Raab loves Cleveland is like saying that a parent loves a child. It may be the word we use to describe the relationship, but it also is one that doesn’t do that emotional connection justice.

What makes Raab’s love for his city, and its sports teams unique, though, is the fact that, as a writer for Esquire and as a bestselling author, he has the ability to give Cleveland something that it’s not used to having: a public voice.

Unless you count Drew Carey, and really, no one should be counting Drew Carey for anything, Cleveland has spent the better part of the past decade having no one stick up for it. Think about it. How many other cities could have their football team taken away from them, and then seemingly have everyone forget about that hijacking?

The week leading up to the Super Bowl is one of the most overblown, over-analyzed sports media weeks of the year. And yet, somehow, no one seems to have any interest in reminding the public how exactly the current AFC Champions ended up in Baltimore in the first place. But since here at TDdaily we care about every city, we decided to give one of Cleveland’s most outspoken fans an opportunity to share his thoughts on the franchise that, less than 20 years ago, used to be his. Here is what Raab had to say about the Ravens, Art Modell, Ray Lewis and, of course, the Browns.

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TDdaily: So I imagine that for a die-hard Browns fan like you, seeing the Ravens in the Super Bowl is not something you’re too happy about.

Scott Raab: No it is not. And I’m not too happy about seeing Ray Lewis there, either.

TD: Why is that?

SR: Well, I understand that, you know, people have to produce an endless stream of stuff on the radio, online and in print. But the hagiographic aspects of Ray Lewis’ biography are rarely mentioned. It’s a little bit better right now, but there’s still not enough talk about those aspects of his life, which includes two dead people, a blood-stained white suit that was never found, a plea bargain to obstruction of justice and a lingering suspicion that, if not he, certainly the people he was with—and I believe he testified (against them), did something wrong.

It’s not that I want to be judged by the worst day in my life, or that I want to judge Ray Lewis by the worst night in his. But his worst night was really, really bad. And I think all this stuff needs to be spoken about. You know, my joke on the radio has been that he’s now the spawn of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesus. That now, somehow, our notion of Ray Lewis is supposed to be this fierce warrior who’s also a very spiritual man and a great leader of men. I understand again that we idealize these things the way we idealize romantic love, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entirely bullshit, and this is entirely bullshit. A great linebacker? Yeah. Hall of Fame? Yeah, I’m a guy who believes in a big Hall of Fame. But on questions of character and rectitude, the very things of which he’s now being vaunted, I mean, he’s never managed to come clean, and I don’t mean by confessing to murder, but by even admitting that this happened. And the vast majority of the sports media is all too happy to play along with that. If this stuff is mentioned at all, it’s in passing, or it’s in a sentence. And of course he plays for the Rat Birds, so that just makes it worse. I’m not denying that my animus towards his team has a lot to do with my feelings. It obviously does.

TD: Given your feelings towards the “Rat Birds,” as you say, I imagine hearing Terrell Suggs dedicate the Ravens’ AFC Championship Game win to Art Modell was something that had to just set you off.

SR: Well he’s going to be inducted (into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) this time, there’s no doubt in my mind. But remember, Art Modell is a guy who went bankrupt in two cities full of passionate football fans, and the second city in Baltimore, that was while having as sweet a deal as any NFL owner has ever had. So in a very short period of time, Art Modell managed to put himself in a position where he had to sell one NFL team—in the Ravens—and—and this is his claim—move another in the Cleveland Browns. And as you know, think about the economic structure of the NFL and the guaranteed income involved, I mean when it comes to Modell, we’re talking about one of the worst businessmen and one of the most inept owners ever. And now the things that Modell is given credit for, it’s somewhat absurd. People credit him for helping Pete Rozelle create the television NFL and that symbiotic and unbelievably profitable relationship, but it’s like the Great Man Theory of History. Can Art Modell really be given the credit? Was Pete Rozelle some idiot who needed Art Modell in order to forge that relationship?

It’s not enough, in my view (for him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame). One Super Bowl in four or five decades, in my opinion, is not enough. He was a relentless self promoter. He was, from all accounts, a really likeable guy, though I never met the guy. I tried, especially after he moved the Browns, I tried to get them to agree to a profile, but they were always smart enough to never agree to let me do it. I always felt I would throttle him if I did it, which was one of the reasons I wanted the chance.

But the idea that he’s going to have a bust or a plaque—I’m not sure which it is in Canton, Ohio—is absurd. But I will do my best to deface or destroy that plaque or bust, though I think it’s going to be like a good bakery on a Sunday morning: you’re going to have to take a number. Its funny that Art Modell, who was always too afraid to ever set foot in Northeastern, Ohio, is going to be in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I have little doubt that people who are going to be voting for the Hall of Fame are going to see in Modell’s case as a legendary owner who’s been unfairly pilloried by a bitter group of fans and a few media people.

TD: How are you feeling about the Browns right now?

SR: I wish that the new ownership with Jimmy Haslam and his president, Joe Banner, had not begun their coaching search with such luster, as if dangling this plum job would be enough to get anyone from Chip Kelly to George Halas, and they did this at a time when there were lots of job openings and at a time when Cleveland is generally perceived as irrelevant, if not an NFL sewer. They acted as if all they had to do was snap their fingers. That said, I think that Rob Chudzinski is a very, very solid hire.

I’m not high on Brandon Weeden; in fact, I’m the opposite on Brandon Weeden, but I believe that’s not even all his fault. The now-departed Tom Heckert, the GM who younger Cleveland fans tend to absolve now for the things he got right, he’s the one I blame. I think Weeden was put in a horrible position as a 28-year-old rookie.

TD: That’s the problem there. Because by the time you get good and become comfortable in the NFL, your career is almost over.

SR: That’s right. Taking a guy like that doesn’t make any sense, and it didn’t at the time. And after studying him for the past season—and I did—and watching the arc of that season, well, he wasn’t very good. And part of the responsibility for that falls on Pat Shurmur, who’s a very, very, very fearful and cautions and conservative guy and was a horrible hire. But you also don’t know if they didn’t open up the playbook more because Weeden’s not the sharpest guy. Because he isn’t. He’s slow. He’s clumsy. And whatever his reads were, they clearly limited the amount of options. I mean he had a good offensive line; he wasn’t sacked a lot. He had a decent running game. And he still looked increasingly inept as the season went on. If he needs or deserves another year as a starter to prove himself, then I think you’ve got to like the idea that he’s got a good head coach now who has successfully worked with a range of quarterbacks, and an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, who has always been a good coordinator and is a quarterback guy.

So on that level, and on the basis of Trent Richardson‘s health, and I like the hire of Ray Horton as a defensive coordinator, I’d like to think that they can win eight or nine games next year. And that may sound wildly optimistic for any Cleveland fan, let alone a Browns fan, but if they don’t, then clearly they haven’t achieved close to the critical mass of talent an NFL team needs on both sides of the ball, and then we’re back to another rebuilding phase and I just hope that’s not the case. Because really, I think, in terms of how they all embody Cleveland’s psyche, the Browns are more important to the city than any other team.

TD: Is it the constant rebuilding that bothers Browns fans the most?

SR: Absolutely. You have a team right now that I believe is about 30 or 40 million dollars under the cap. Now I’m not saying that the way to build an NFL team is through free agency, but you’ve got to spend that money. You’ve got to take a shot. If it turns out to be wrong, it’s better than doing what the team had done and pretending that it’s a five-year rebuilding plan and sat on that money. So to me, spending that money is the next step because I think the new ownership hired well and I do think the future is a little brighter now.

Yaron Weitzman is an Associate Editor for TDdaily.com Follow him on Twitter at @YaronWeitzman.