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So Much For The Feel-Good Browns

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Two days ago, the Cleveland Browns were one of the tidy stories of this misbegotten football season, jousting with the evil virus and still cheating history by making their first postseason in 18 years.

But that was two days ago, and you know how much COVID-19 cares about time, or schedules, or the human condition in general. The Browns are back to losing to the virus with the news today that head coach Kevin Stefanski, two other coaches, guard Joel Bitonio, and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge have it now, that “it” is three different strains of the virus, and that despite the assertion that this was introduced from outside the Browns’ facility, Stefanski was handing out game balls with owner Jimmy Haslam, which makes the source of this latest outbreak rather moot, because the facility has been closed yet again.

As an added bonus, the interim head coach until Stefanski is all-cleared is former Vikings assistant Mike Priefer, who was suspended for two weeks in 2014 for making a homophobic remark in a team meeting in 2012 that was exposed by punter Chris Kluwe, in a lawsuit he filed against the team, and a website you once knew and loved. Priefer was reinstated after sensitivity training sessions and has not had a similar incident since, the sincerity of which you may determine for yourselves.

But Priefer is a sidelight here unless, and just as likely until, he gets it himself. The Browns are almost certainly the hottest hot box in professional sports, so today’s victory is just tomorrow’s groin shot. The Browns are now at what even an unreasonable Steelers fan would agree is a serious disadvantage for Sunday night’s playoff game in Pittsburgh, but the NFL has made it absurdly clear that COVID-19 is considered just a collective hamstring pull, and a postponement is considered damned unlikely—probably because nobody wants to test fate and put Browns-Steelers against The Bachelor.

In addition, the Steelers, who have been jerked around schedule-wise more than any other team this year, get one more turn in the barrel. We can expect Mike Tomlin to say it’s no big deal while “sources say” belch up a metric ton about it, because that is one of the known after-effects of other people getting the virus. Now they get one more team with COVID-19 as its co-pilot, and they have to take this not only into that game, but any future games they play should they win.

As for the Browns themselves, the struggle to make workarounds has been more of a point than the fact that they can’t figure out how to stop the spread to begin with. Either the new strains of the virus, which are known to be more contagious and fast-developing than regular old COVID-19 (COVID-19 1.0, I guess), are well ahead of the Browns’ attempts to control it, they’re still not taking it seriously enough (community spread unchained?), or they’ve been cheating the odds and the obvious science too long and are finally getting paid back at retail prices. In any event, the time for them to cling to the charming underdog narrative is mutating into a plague-ship narrative that isn’t nearly as delightful.

Stay alert to new developments, and at all cost, avoid any Browns. I presume our puerile commentariat knows what to do with that last reference.