At first, it may seem difficult to connect the dots between how the Browns ended their season, out of the playoffs again for the fourteenth straight year since that 2002 Butch Davis-coached Browns loss to the Steelers, 36-33, despite over 400 yards passing by Kelly Holcomb, in their final regular-season thirteenth loss versus just three wins against, again, the Steelers, and how the Bengals ended their season, a last-second playoff loss to, yet again, the Steelers, to finish their season at 12-5.
But, despite the difference in talent level on Ohio’s two professional football teams and their dramatically dissimilar records, perhaps there is somewhat of a common denominator.
And, the link just may have to do with something that has less to do with the physical tools needed to play football at the sport’s highest level and more to do with what’s inside an athlete, something the truly great ones always seem to have.
While there is no doubt that both of Ohio’s teams have characters, perhaps the missing ingredient is the fact that there is an absence of character in those characters.
As for the Browns, of course, the player who comes to mind when it comes to that, is troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel. With the move he pulled by pulling a no-show at the final game or, at least, being at the team facility for treatment for a concussion sustained in the second-to-last game against the Chiefs, it appears he may have punched his ticket out of town and perhaps even out of the league.
Manziel is someone who has professed a desire to lead a team, a band of brothers, into gridiron battle, and instead of being at the team facility for treatment if he was not well enough to be on the sidelines, or better yet, being on the sidelines encouraging his teammates, advising third-string quarterback Connor Shaw or, at the very least, helping to fill water bottles, he was elsewhere.
Some reports had him wearing a disguise while partying in ‘Vegas while others had him somewhere in Ohio at a Dave and Buster’s playing pool and having a few belts with his buds, but, regardless of where he was, AWOL, as those often are who make the wrong judgment call.
Perhaps, of course, with far less tragic consequences than the case of another Texas young man currently held in Mexico who once escaped vehicular homicide charges when his lawyers built a defense that he was raised in such a permissive and wealthy environment that he was the victim of affluenza, where he couldn’t distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, Manziel, who also comes from money, lawyers would say, is similarly afflicted.
As for the Bengals, winless in the playoffs for a quarter century despite seven postseason trips under Marvin Lewis since 2005, their late-game meltdown against Pittsburgh was epic.
Playing in the waning seconds with a lead against a team with a wounded quarterback, one with an injured shoulder that prevented him from throwing the ball downfield more than ten or so yards, two of their players with a history of self-control issues — linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones — drew 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties to move the Steelers into range for a last-second field goal to snatch a near-certain Bengals victory from the jaws of a Steeler defeat.
Burfict was signed by the Bengals in 2012 after every other NFL team passed on him following numerous unsportsmanlike penalties during his time at Arizona State. Jones, he of “making-it-rain” fame, also has a long resume of impulsively imprudent behavior both on and off the football field.
As for the Bengals, a team with a history of signing numerous players who are judgmentally challenged, many feel you get what you sign up for. In other words, when you go down that road of inviting such players onto your roster, you’re bound to be disappointed when it matters the most.
Although Founding Father Ben Franklin lived during a time when there were no Browns and no Bengals and no Manziels, Burficts or Joneses, he coined an aphorism that may best sum up those whose physical abilities far outweighs their mental makeup:
“It’s hard for an empty sack to stand up straight.”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.