This column begins, as so many sports columns do, in the Old Testament book of Hosea.
For those unfamiliar with the prophet's story, Hosea (on orders from God) marries an adulterous woman named Gomer. In spite of this, Hosea loves her. He stays devoted to her. He forgives her, even when she's done wrong and continues loving her, even though he knows it's unlikely that his love will be rewarded.
In short, Hosea has a lot in common with Browns fans.
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, Browns fans have annually suffered the Five Stages of Grief, often with religious dimensions:
Denial. (Good Lord, they cannot possibly be this bad.)
Anger. (Why us, Lord? Why do we always have to be this bad?)
Bargaining. (Just give us one Super Bowl, Lord. Heck, they don't even have to win it, although that would be great. Just give us one Super Bowl and I'll never ask for anything ever again. I'll be able to die happy.)
Depression. (I can't go through another season like this, Lord. Please take me now. Please.)
And, finally, Acceptance. (Well, at least my wife will get to spend time with me during the playoffs. Besides, this year's draft class is supposed to be pretty good, right?)
Many questions,few answers
Which brings us to this year's Browns team, which has a shaky starting quarterback, an injured multi-million dollar center, two top-five picks recovering from ACL surgeries, a terrible offensive line and a history of bad luck.
As I was sitting in the press box for the final preseason game, talking with other reporters about this team's chances, I said to myself, "Don't be cynical. August is way too early to be cynical."
(Is September too early?)
Of course, it's tempting, but foolish, to draw too many conclusions from Thursday's bad preseason game. After all, the Steelers didn't even win a preseason game this year and they're the (man, it's hard to write this) defending champs.
(Side note: If I read one more story about Ben Roethlisberger's heroic recovery from his motorcycle accident, I'm going to puke. He had jaw surgery. Big deal. It's not like he lost his legs.)
(Side note II: Other stories I'm sick of reading about are: The Manning vs. Manning opener, Carson Palmer's knee, anything to with T.O. Who cares about his hamstring?)
"I'm ready for the games to start counting," said Browns quarterback Charlie Frye after the 20-7 loss to the Bears on Thursday. "The preseason is over now and I'm ready to start and open up with the Saints at home.
"The crowd is going to be pumped up, we are going to be pumped up and we are going to be ready to play."
Will the fansmake new plans?
It's interesting that Frye mentioned the crowd. For the first time since the Browns returned in 1999, you can buy Browns tickets this late in the summer without going through a scalper. (Could this be because the Browns have been the NFL's losingest team since 1999? Could it?)
There are no players on the cover of this year's media guide, the team instead choosing to focus on its 60-year history.
And there is no talk of this team being a championship contender. That talk probably ended when LeCharles Bentley went down with a knee injury on the first day of camp without getting touched.
In short, there are low expectations.
Some of this is due to coach Romeo Crennel, who, unlike his predecessor, prefers to tell the truth. And the truth is, the Browns are a team that will win, at best, seven or eight games.
(Five or six is more likely.)
And if Frye gets hurt (which seems likely, considering the line), five or six might be stretching it. And come December, no matter how well Browns fans have prepared for it, the five stages of grief will start all over again.
The only thing that will change over the next few months is the Biblical analogy. Because when the final game is played and Cleveland goes playoff-less once again, the fans will shuffle outside where, to quote the book of Matthew, "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Joe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.