Thursday, 4 a.m.
You can picture them now, gathered in the end zone, talking about the flat champagne that awaits them.
They are the winless ones, the failures. Once, they lost them all.
In this corner, there are the 1976 Bucs, the hopeless ones. Together, they were shut out five times their first season. They are Steve Spurrier and Pat Toomay and Mirror Roder and Dave Pear and Essex Johnson and J.K. McKay, and they have scars that will never quite heel.
They lost 14 games that first season, a bunch of journeymen and castoffs, still trying to hang on to a football career. Except like this was being cut. The team's rallying cry? Ouch.
Across the way, there is a similar group of disappointments. They are the 2008 Detroit Lions, and they whiffed on an entire season, too. Of course, they whiffed in the era of free agency, when teams can go out and buy a few victories.
They are Dan Orlovsky and Roy Williams and Drew Henson and Gosder Cherilus. The team's fight song? The Crying Game.
Now, here's the question: Are the Cleveland Browns down to the challenge of the Bucs and Lions?
Really, could they lose them all?
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Say this for the Browns: They're the last team in the NFL who has a chance. The Browns are off to an 0-6 start, and when you look at the schedule ahead, well, they have a chance. Sure, Cleveland has the Jets coming up, but they also have two shots at the Bengals, the Cowboys, the Giants, the Bills, the Steelers and the Chargers. They figure to be underdog in all of them.
So if Cleveland was to lose them all, who would be the worst team of all time?
Why, the Bucs, of course.
Back in 2008, I had a conversation with former Bucs' g.m. Rich McKay about the Lions, and whether they would beat the '76 Bucs. "They would kill us," he laughed. And he's right. In '76, there was no free agency, and the rules of the expansion draft where that the Bucs got whatever player another team wanted to give him, including several corpses.
Still, the Browns could always fumble enough to make a game of it. It's just the that Bucs would try to fall on the ball and miss.
Every now and then, a team comes along in the NFL that has the look of one that could lose every game. Usually, it doesn't. Somehow or other, simply dreadful teams — the 2007 Dolphins, the 1990 Patriots, the '73 Oilers, the '86 Bucs, the '80 Saints – found a way to be there when the other team is even more intent on losing. It takes a special commitment to lose them all.
When it comes to losing, however, the Browns seem to know a short cut. This is the team that drafted Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert and Josh Gordon and Brandon Weeden and the boys.
Going winless takes a lack of skill, all right. The '82 Colts were 0-8-1. The '60 Cowboys were 0-11-1. But to find another winless team besides the Bucs and Lions, you have to go all the way back to 1944. That year, the Brooklyn Tigers and the Pitt Cardinals both went 0-10.
Okay, let's be honest. Unless you count the glorified mess that the Browns keep making of their quarterback position, the Browns actually have been decent so far. Not great, just decent. They lost by two to Tennessee. They lost by five to the Ravens and by six to the Dolphins.
Hey, teams came close. The first Bucs team lost by five to Buffalo and by three to Seattle. Detroit lost by two and four in games to Minnesota. They lost by four to Chicago and seven to Houston.
If it means anything, the Browns have a better offense than the Bucs (19th to 28th). They have a better defense than the Lions (29th to 32nd). Don't laugh, but the Browns are capable of winning.
Against the '76 Bucs.
Maybe against the '08 Lions.
All they have to do is keep the team slogan in mind: Just Don't Do It.