Today was ESPN.com's day to feature the Browns Training Camp and 2004 season outlook. Len Pasquarelli and I agree on the early returns on Kellen Winslow Jr.:
Ah, yes, Winslow The Younger. The "Warrior." The "Promised One." The callow rookie who, on Tuesday between practices, suggested that his teammates need to match his intensity level. The guy with the physical skills of a future Hall of Fame inductee and a player who might just redefine the position, but a young man whose tongue keeps flapping while his brain is apparently in neutral.
I realize that the team needs players with spirit and intensity. I was prepared months ago to set aside my own prior observations that Winslow might just be a complete jerk as nothing but an intense pro-Buckeye bias. I allowed that he was, after all, only 20 years old and would doubtless mature once he donned the orange helmet.
So with the ink not yet dry on a check for $16 million in signing bonus, Winslow takes the field for the Browns first exhibition game. It's his first chance to make an impression on the Cleveland fans. He catches one pass, but a few plays later he tangles with an opponent after a play, grabs and twists the player's facemask, and throws a roundhouse punch at his head. He is deservedly penalized for 15 yards, costing the team their only real shot at a touchdown in the game, and is sent to the sidelines.
Incredibly, in the aftermath of this stupid and embarrassing behavior, the incident is now being spun by some teammates and writers as simply "intensity".
"That's just the way I play," Winslow said Tuesday. "I know only speed." The guy brings his "A" game to work every day. In his case, "A" means attitude. He wants his teammates to follow his lead.
So hungry is this football market for "Ozzie Newsome II", or anything that might help us win, that we have redefined unsportsmanlike conduct as "bringing one's 'A' Game". I observe lots of college and NFL players who play an all-out-all-the-time, "one speed" brand of aggressive football without committing personal fouls and verbally taunting opposing players. It's hustle. It's emotion channelled into intense physical play. It's a demonstration of one's love for the game, which is after all just a game, not a war.
The spin by team officials and players is understandable, if regrettable. They need a love affair between the fans and, well...anybody on this team. With Winslow off to a start that makes him appear, shall we say, less than likeable, the strategy is to portray his behavior as something that more, not fewer Browns players should engage in. When it was suggested that his aggressiveness had rubbed off on some of his teammates, the thought seemed to please the rookie:
"I just think we want a name for ourselves," he said. "We just need change around here. Just going 100 percent every play. Making an identity for ourselves."
Nope. Not the kind of identity I'm looking for as a lifelong Browns fan. Show this guy some game film of Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Ozzie Newsome, Leroy Kelly, or Clay Matthews. Were those guys intense enough for you, Kellen? They
represent our team's identity
A caller to a radio talk show on Monday shrugged off the incident, and I guess maybe I should too. He reminded the listening audience that when we take the field in the opener with Baltimore, we'll be lining up against one guy who is accused of conspiring to distribute large amounts of cocaine, and another who was involved in the knife-murders of two young men. Should the Browns strive to be more like those guys? They won the Division last year.
I'm not giving up on Winslow. All rookies make dumb mistakes. But let's stop making excuses for inexcusable behavior. You're a Cleveland Brown now, Mr. Winslow. From Paul Brown to Otto Graham to Frank Ryan to Bernie Kosar, being a Brown has meant being a class act. Get with the program, rook.