Renaming the Cleveland Browns quarterback position
By Kyle Welch
What’s in a name, anyway?1 As an aspiring wordsmith, much of my existence is spent deciding when to emphasize that question and when to suppress it; when to answer it and when to ignore it. Words are the elements through which I express myself — my fingers nimbly tapping words across the keys of my board is the less macho equivalent of the hammer striking metal on anvil.
Without knowing it, much of our lives are largely shaped by subconsciously, reflexively deciding “what’s in a name.” Settling on widely accepted definitions is essential to an orderly society — recognizing those definitions is necessary to function within that society. Finally, manipulating those definitions is to exercise a measure of control over certain sects of our culture.
Every time you obey a stop sign, jump in the express aisle, or order a cheeseburger, you’re expressing your recognition of a definition in which society has agreed. We’ve all come to understand that a cheeseburger involves a patty (usually beef) nestled between two halves of a bun, adorned with a (preferably gooey and melted) slice of cheese (typically American unless notified otherwise), and maybe a collection of vegetables and condiments. So imagine your anger and confusion at ordering a cheeseburger, only to receive a slice of lettuce and mayo on a slice of toasted rye.
But that’s exactly what’s happened to Browns fans for the last 16 seasons when they ask for a quarterback to no avail. They order a cheeseburger, what they get is an open-faced lettuce sandwich.
We can’t possibly call what Peyton Manning does same thing as what Johnny Manziel does. Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback. Drew Brees is a quarterback. Tom Brady is, while maybe a Ball-Fondler, nevertheless a quarterback. Charlie Frye was not a quarterback.
Many have come before the Browns current streak of players dating back to 1999 that have stretched the definition of “quarterback” past its limit, and many more will come after,2 but never has the definition of quarterback been so strained as it has by whoever the Browns have had receiving the ball from the center over the last 16 years. Last week, WFNY’s Corey put on a lab coat and made a Frankenstein quarterback of the bits and pieces from Browns quarterbacks past — and questions remain whether such a monster would even manage to win nine games.
The quarterback for the Cleveland Browns has become bigger than the position itself: an emblem of ineptitude, a symbol of failure, and a totem for steadfast impotence. It’s time to change things up a bit; not only lower expectations, but give the Browns quarterback position its proper designation, and a title befitting the role these individuals have played for Cleveland’s perpetually floundering football franchise. There are certain to be many great alternative names I missed, so please let us know in the comments and on Twitter. Let’s rename the Cleveland Browns quarterback position.
This is the most obvious alternative name for the Browns quarterback position: it’s a moniker describing one of the chief functions of a quarterback in the most literal fashion — but without the implication that the throwing of the ball is done with any appreciable skill or exercise in judgment. The problem? A lot of the forward ball movement generated by Browns quarterbacks can’t be considered so much a “throw,” as well … something else. See, e.g., Brandon Weeden’s hideous forward ball-flail against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Weeden’s throw-like spasm against the Detroit Lions. Call it whatever you want — just don’t call it throwing and don’t call it quarterbacking. Similar suggestions: Snap-Receiver, Ball-Fumbler, Interception-Thrower, Leg-Pisser.
At some point during the brainstorming session for football position names, someone began attaching relative quantities to the suffix “-back.”3 Fullback, halfback, the lesser known half-baked-back. Then came quarterback, which doesn’t have anything to do with currency per se. Then came nickelback and dimeback, and everything ceased to make any sense whatsoever.
So, while we’re attaching pieces of non-paper currency to “-back” positions, then the Browns quarterback position should be associated with the most worthless piece of U.S. currency available: the penny. The name “pennyback” also denotes that a Browns quarterback is about 1/25 as effective as a franchise quarterback. Also consider: Pesoback. Denotes the same kind of “mostly useless currency”+back idea,4 but sounds vaguely racist for reasons I can’t quite explain. On second thought, this is one of the lousier names on this list and should probably be abandoned — but if I start to reflect on the merit of any of these ideas, the whole conceit of this post will rapidly unravel. Let’s quickly move on … .
This is a sort of honorary designation. Instead of naming the Browns quarterback position using arbitrary, nonsensical jargon or some connotation of what the job responsibilities include, we could name the Browns quarterback position to honor someone who occupied the position in the past — who degraded it to its current dignity and prestige. Though he was hardly the first nor the last person to so thoroughly disrespect the quarterback position while wearing orange and brown, I don’t think anyone had quite the flair for failure that Brandon Weeden did. Weeden is the gold standard for sucking at quarterback for the Browns. And for that we name the position in his honor. It passes the conversation test. “Hey, who’s starting Weeden for the Browns this year.” “Josh McCown, for now anyway.” “Sounds about right. He’ll be a great Weeden for them.” Similarly, the backup in Cleveland doesn’t sit on the bench, but the Couch. Runner-up: Delhomme.
This may initially strike some as a silly replacement name for the Browns quarterback position. But look at it like this, how much more compelling do Browns games become if you view their quarterback not as a professional failure, but rather a devious saboteur!? The drama is heightened tenfold, and Browns games assume the intrigue and suspense of international espionage. Think of the tightrope act Browns Double Agents have to perform: they need to be just effective enough so their efforts seem sincere, but they also need to undermine the Browns enough so the other team wins.
Picture it: A trenchcoat-ed Kelly Holcomb wanders into a dim, steam-filled alley in January 2002. The sound of a train rumbling on its tracks disrupts the eery silence, accompanied by a haunting, howling choo-choo whistle. Kelly peers cautiously behind both shoulders.
“Were you followed?” a hooded figure asks.
“Of course not. I spent the whole season setting up this wild card matchup with the Steelers — playing the whole NFL and the city of Cleveland for fools. You don’t orchestrate an operation like that without knowing how to shake a tail.” [Pauses.] “So, do you have the money, Cowher?”
The hooded figure, enveloped in darkness but for an ugly yellow towel protruding from his pocket, takes a long pull from a cigarette, the burning ashes of which illuminate a sinister mustache. “Of course.” Bill Cowher drops the cigarette and stomps on it dramatically. “Here.” A briefcase materializes from the darkness as he outstretches his arms. Brilliant golden clasps catching what little light from the street lamps penetrate the alley flip upward with a satisfying click!. Cowher opens the briefcase, revealing hundreds of neatly stacked and bound $20 bills. “As we agreed.”
Holcomb picks up one bundle of bills and feigns counting it rather ridiculously. “Okay. I’ll help the Browns put a 17-point lead early, then ‘lose my stuff’ in the fourth quarter. The rest is up to you.” Holcomb grabs the briefcase and closes it. He turns to leave. “See you Sunday.”
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? The quarterback play isn’t unwittingly bad — it’s part of the ruse, man! We’ve all been played for fools! It’s time to change that. Now tell me following the Browns didn’t just become five times as interesting.
Browns quarterbacks have the honor of wearing red jerseys in practice. It signals to the other players not to hit them. The red jersey is probably twice as exciting as getting to start on Sundays. Accompanying suggestion: Let Browns quarterbacks wear red jerseys on Sundays. Also, don’t hit them. Otherwise, ditch this idea.
Instead of renaming the position, give it a number that indicates where the individual stands in a long line of disappointments. It gives each imitation quarterback historical significance, as there can only be one individual to serve as that number. It also serves as a constant reminder of how many times the organization has failed … in a row! However, it gets too confusing if we don’t change the player’s jersey number to reflect his position name. Plus, there’s the matter of players working back into the rotation after they’ve already failed once. For instance, Johnny Manziel, who’s already No. 21 but wears number 2, could follow No. 23 who wears number 13, and of course No. 9 who was already No. 22 could be worked in there as well once he recovers from surgery. It’s too confusing.
The Guy Squandering Joe Thomas’ Career
Joe Thomas has never missed a game (or snap) in the NFL. Joe Thomas is the best tackle in the NFL. Joe Thomas has been a Pro-Bowler every season in the NFL. Joe Thomas seems like an incredibly awesome guy who is somehow underrated despite all his accolades. Joe Thomas will probably never win a Super Bowl, but maybe we can use Joe Thomas’ name to attach a level of shame to the guy who’s making sure Thomas never plays in a meaningful game in his professional career.
As an homage to small towns and our nation’s colonial heritage, the Browns quarterback could be called the Village Idiot. Browns quarterbacks occupy an important unelected quasi-office for the city of Cleveland, and should be recognized for such. But unlike those who are widely respected in their communities, Browns quarterbacks since 1999 have largely been the targets of scorn and derision from the townsfolk. The name “Village Idiot” conjures images of some poor schmuck or local drunk having a bell tied around his neck and being paraded around the village square, as the townspeople boo him and throw produce at him. This would be an activity that too many self-serious Browns fans would take part in enthusiastically every time a quarterback has a lousy game; hence why it deserves consideration on this list. Other suggestions: Town Schmuck, Local Scapegoat, Radio Talk Show Fodder.
This alternative name for Browns quarterbacks could also be filed in the “literal name” category (see Ball-Thrower above. One of the definitions of custodian on Dictionary.com begins, “a person entrusted with guarding or maintaining a property.” However, unlike ball-thrower, offensive custodian does a few things, depending on how you look at it. First, it gives the Browns quarterback position the same type of nondescript jargon-speak characteristic of most do-nothing corporate jobs. Being named the starting quarterback could be accompanied by the amendment of other empty, meaningless corporate-B.S. speak. Imagine it: “Josh McCown promoted to Associate Vice President Offensive Custodian.”
Unlike most NFL quarterbacks — who occupy a coveted position in America’s holier-than-thou sports league/institution, making them more recognizable than most of the nation’s important political figures — the starting quarterback of the Browns occupies a largely anonymous supervisory role on the league’s most mockable franchise; it’s really not all that different than being an assistant manager at Staples.
Also, one of the chief synonyms of custodian is “janitor.” I’ll let your imagination take that where it needs to go for that to be kind of comical — it’s not a difficult inferential leap to make given the ordinary state of the Browns offense. Hint: it involves Johnny Manziel wearing a blue jumpsuit and pushing a mop bucket into an elementary school bathroom as The Ramones blare from his Walkman headphones. (Johnny doesn’t have an iPod in this fantasy.)
This is one of the more noble potential designations for Browns quarterbacks of the future. Ingrained in our society is a measure of respect for shepherds — the Bible, for instance, regards the shepherd as an admirable egalitarian career with intrinsic, desirable values. The Christmas story involves some shepherds being told of the birth of Christ by a talking bush or bird or something (my recollection of the details is fuzzy). It’s an easy image to sympathize with: some guys watching over a helpless, docile flock of sheep, protecting them, keeping them safe. Just imagine the Browns quarterback as a benevolent figure doing his best to lead a team of weak, infantile piles of wool to safety as the forces of evil (and the Steelers) try to feast on them at every opportunity.
Looking at it another way, the quarterback of the Browns is like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, leading the Browns through the nine circles of football hell.5 New tagline idea: “The Cleveland Browns — the Dante’s Inferno of football.” After all, the offense since 1999 is a “divine comedy” if I’ve ever seen one.
The offensive shepherd of the Browns is tragically ill-equipped to guarantee the safety of the flock. So what if 50 percent of a shepherd’s job was replaced by a spool of barbed wire — barbed wire never inspired Samuel L. Jackson to give a badass monologue in Pulp Fiction.6 “The truth is, you’re the Browns, and I’m a lousy quarterback. But I’m trying, Browns, I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”
Similar Suggestion: Offensive Ringleader, if you really want to push a “the Browns as a circus of football” metaphor. “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and watch a man conjure spectacular defeat out of thin air! Be amazed to watch a professional quarterback check down to a running back on all four downs.” [“Oooh! Ahhh!”]
Quarterback Lite/Diet Quarterback
These two terms are interchangeable. It’s like a real quarterback, but with fewer calories and more artificial sweeteners. It’s less filling. You don’t want to gorge yourself on Aaron Rodgers every Sunday — it’ll go right to your hips. I don’t even think I’d be upset when the Browns quarterback throws for 150 yards in an NFL game when I know ahead of time I’m getting Quarterback Lite. Just roll with it! This year, instead of hoping for a legitimate quarterback and again being crushed with disappointment when you don’t get one, have a Diet Quarterback and hit the gym — there’s still time to turn this life around.
This is a good one. Browns fans are always foolishly hoping for a polished, finished product at the quarterback position. No, no, nooooo. Don’t do that. Browns quarterbacks are always in development. What you’re seeing is a project. They’re working on it. You can’t judge a Browns quarterback on his on-field performance, because it’s not done yet.
Think of it as a download bar that’s only 60 percent complete. There’s always the promise that it’ll be finished downloading some day. But don’t worry about that — right now it’s at 60 percent. So take that for what it’s worth. Browns quarterbacks are like the Detox of offensive leaders, but if Dr. Dre had (instead of shelving the album due to an alleged lack of quality) released disappointing tracks of the album every single agonizing year.
Think of what you see on Sundays as Quarterback Beta. Alternative: Quarterback-in-Decline — for the Jake Delhommes, Trent Dilfers, and (probably) Josh McCowns of the franchise.
The Main Reason You Drink
This one might be a little too true. I’m not condoning the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. That’s an unhealthy impulse. You should drink to make yourself more interesting or to make other people more interesting. But sometimes … sometimes it can dull the pain ever so slightly. You know, the occasional glass of wine to take away that sick feeling you get when the Browns quarterback checks down to the flat on third-and-15 … again.
You’ve all had the silent Sunday viewing experience with a few of your friends. “Charlie Frye drops back … can’t seem to find an open receiver. He starts to scramble … and he’s sacked for a seven-yard loss on the play.” [Everyone takes a silent sip in unison.] “Charlie Frye looking to pass again. Tries to thread a pass over the middle to Steve Heiden … and Heiden can’t get to the pass over his head.” [Sip.] Third down: off the running back’s hands. [Sip.] Fourth down: another sack. [Heavy sigh and sip.]
The situation isn’t likely improve for more than a four-week spell any time soon. So have another sip! It beats breaking the bridge of your nose putting your hand to your face and going “Ugggggh” after another errant pass.
So, those are the candidates humbly submitted for your consideration. Please share what I’m sure are much better ideas with us in the comments and on Twitter. And remember: Stop holding Browns quarterbacks to an impossible standard of real quarterbacks. In order to do relinquish that dream, we need to change the name. Lower your expectations, have a Diet Quarterback, and discover eternal bliss.
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