Tuesday, May 03, 2005

THE CURSE OF 80

Can someone enlighten me about the origin of the supposed Curse of #80? Please fill me in if you have inside information, listen to sports radio, or have a friend with good hearing who changes bedpans at the Cleveland Clinic.

It’s the uniform worn by Browns greats Len Ford and Bill Glass. A few other standouts also wore that number for a brief time: Warren Lahr, Dick Schafrath, and Jim Marshall (who started his long and great career with one season in Cleveland).

But ever since Glass retired after the 1968 season (which ended in their first shutout loss since another playoff game 10 years earlier), the Browns have seemed stricken with a succession of, well, mediocrity might be too kind. Those wearing #80 have been a disappointing assortment of busts, breakdowns, and bit players.

No fewer than 16 Browns have sported #80 since Glass left the NFL for his higher calling. I can’t imagine that the good minister was the source of this ungodly string of stench. Maybe it’s the ghost of Len Ford, who died at age 46 in 1972.

Who were the victims (or perpetrators, depending on your perspective) of the Curse of #80?

Turkey Joe Jones, the big defensive end who was actually drafted ahead of Jerry Sherk. He missed the entire 1972 season and generally did not live up to his huge potential. He wore 80 for three years, then played a year and a half in Philly before coming back and sporting #64.

Willis Adams, the wideout we chose with the first round pick we got in a trade-down with San Diego, which drafted a certain tight end of note. Reggie Rucker spoke out publicly against the pick. His self-interest was undeniable, but he turned out to be prescient. Adams started just 10 games in seven years and scored only twice in his career.

Andre Rison, the big-name, big-money, big-mouth who turned out to be the second-biggest disaster of 1995. (His signing is often cited as a contributing factor to the first.) His only season as a Brown was his worst up until that time.

Aaron Shea, who ended three straight seasons on IR. Upon changing jersey numbers, he stayed healthy and had his best year.

And those are the best of the bunch. Remember Willie Miller, Lawrence Williams, Terry Greer, Chris Kelley, Chris Dressel, Vernon Joines, Lynn James, Danny Peebles, Shawn Collins, Tom McLemore, and Ronnie Powell? You’re either a savant or the Browns’ equipment manager.

That leads us, of course, to the latest 80 incarnation, Wheelie Winslow. I fear that the longer we go without any update on his condition, the worse the news will eventually be. Perhaps Bill Glass will say a prayer for him before we need to write a eulogy for his entire career. It’s a blunder so colossal and vivid, that the only sure outcome will be an ESPN special: "The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Kellen Winslow For the Motorcycle Crash."

Topping that list, most likely, will be the mysterious Curse of #80.

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