Fans dealt worst blow in preseason madness

CLEVELAND — The NFL has no shame.

Or perhaps those who follow sports have no shame, because fiascos like Thursday night are accepted with shrugs, as if being gouged is a mere eventuality.

In preseason, the NFL has perfected the art of the gouge.

For the league and its “partners,” including the Browns, to put out a group of scrubs and charge people full-price for the tickets borders on quadruple grand larceny.

Consider this option next week at work: Tell the boss that because a big report is due the following week you’re taking three days off. Wouldn’t want to risk getting hurt before the big report is due, would you? Then make your boss pay you overtime for the three days you won’t work.

And you have generated a revenue stream like the NFL.

How the Browns and any NFL team can justify the full-priced preseason becomes more galling every year.

The league knows this too.

But its solution is laughable.

Said solution was to extend the regular season to 18 games and play two preseason games. It’s nearly comical. A league that professes to care about player safety extends the season two games, further raising the risk of injury.

This solution was not really a solution – it was merely a way to protect what is all-important to the league, and that’s revenues.

At some point in the past, some marketing genius in the NFL realized that fans were too smart to buy individual preseason tickets. So they made it a requirement that season ticket holders also had to buy the two preseason games.

Never mind that it was largely schlock, and it has gotten worse every year since.
So all the poor people who actually, you know, support a team got stuck with the bill for full-priced preseason games.

Over the years, coaches have gotten more and more paranoid that a player might get hurt playing a game in which players get hurt. So they hold out their starters in the last practice game.

The result is what was seen last night: The Browns parading the vast majority of their starters up and down the sidelines wearing golf caps as if they’ve done all there is to do this preseason. A rookie lineman preparing for one of the fiercest pass rushes in the league didn’t need to play. Nor did a rookie 28-year-old quarterback who has yet to throw a touchdown pass in five preseason quarters.

But the poor schleps trying to eke out a living in difficult economic times have to pay full-price for what isn’t even a scrimmage.

The league does not do what it should do, and that’s cut the ticket prices for practice games. Imagine what could be done if ticket prices were affordable. Kids who could never get to a regular season game could actually attend. It might be preseason, but it’d mean something to them.

But the NFL and its teams have to protect its revenues. It simply can’t sacrifice revenues — never mind that this last game is pure garbage — so it proposes 18 regular-season games.

This is a time when average folks sacrifice all the time. Wages are cut, insurance premiums raised and making ends meet is more and more difficult. So folks sacrifice … at the grocery store, at holidays, on vacations. Because times are tough.

But the NFL simply can’t sacrifice a penny. It has to gouge every last dollar it can get.

It has figured out this way to scam the paying public, and the paying public lets them get away with it.

Then the league touts these games as if they matter.

Shame on them.

All of them.

As for the game, for the money it was schlock. Pure schlock. Third- and fourth-stringers getting their chance and the Browns slopping around in another home loss.

Among the notables:

• Colt McCoy had to muffle those demanding he start. He played poorly, completing 2-of-5 for 16 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. His rating of 9.2 probably had folks in Green Bay thanking their lucky stars for Graham Harrell. His interception was an overthrow. His first incompletion almost led to a safety blowing up Greg Little, and McCoy’s first completion was for four yards on third-and-seven.

• Seneca Wallace had the best game of the quarterbacks, though coach Pat Shurmur said they all “played like backups.”

• Brandon Jackson ran well, averaging 6.9 yards on his seven carries. If Trent Richardson is healthy, Jackson may — emphasis on “may” — make Montario Hardesty expendable.

• Reggie Hodges is 2-for-2. Two games, two blocked punts. This one the Bears turned into a touchdown.

• Linebacker James-Michael Johnson left the game in the second half with an oblique injury that could be problematic. The Browns are hurting at linebacker.

• Josh Gordon continues to look lost. The Browns will force him on the field because they expended next year’s second-round pick on him but Gordon looked lost in the second half when he was on the field with third- and fourth-team Bears players.

Oh … the Bears won 28-20, giving the Browns losses in both their home practice games. They finish the preseason 2-2.

As the handful of fans who were left filed out, the Browns posted a thanks to their season ticket holders on the scoreboard.

The fans read the message, checked the price on the ticket and no doubt wondered: Thanks for what, exactly?