Browns hope early trip west proves therapeutic Team looks for respite from Cleveland turmoil

November 28, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns are about to trade the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Flats and the snow for a world-famous zoo, Sea World and plenty of sunshine.

The Browns (4-8) are expected to leave for San Diego tomorrow night after practice, two days earlier than usual for a road game. They will meet the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Owner Art Modell said the Browns are leaving Cleveland to get away from some of the hostility and distractions resulting from the Nov. 6 announcement that the team will move to Baltimore next season.

There are other reasons, as well, but mainly, it is said, Team Turmoil needs some team togetherness.

"We need to get out of this atmosphere and into a new environment for a few days," said Browns safety Dana Hall. "Hopefully, we can draw off each other and turn this thing around. I wished we had taken this break a couple of weeks ago."

Browns coach Bill Belichick finalized the trip with Modell on Sunday night, hours after the team's 20-17 loss to the Steelers in what may have been the last game in the 46-year-old Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry.

Cleveland has lost seven of its past eight games, including four straight and five consecutive at home.

With the loss Sunday and only four games remaining, the Browns have no shot at the AFC Central title or a winning regular season. In the preseason, they were one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

"My goal was to have home-field advantage in the playoffs, win them and then go to the Super Bowl," said Tony Jones, an eighth-year offensive tackle. "Now it's kind of sad how things have fallen apart.

"It's not like we're running away," Jones said of the trip to San Diego. "I see it as an effort to get our team back together. It gets us away from the finger-pointing and the fans. Every once in a while, we all need a break."

The move is not entirely unprecedented. Belichick took the Browns to Arizona early when they played the Cardinals during the preseason.

"When we practiced in Arizona before our game against the Cardinals last summer, we talked about the possibility of going out to San Diego early," said Belichick.

"We had a good week of practice in Arizona and played well in the game. The early departure helped us to adjust to the different climate and time zone.

"We talked again last week about San Diego and now we're going," he said. "The idea is to have good practices on Thursday and Friday and then play well against the Chargers. The team will get extra time together and that could help right now."

But the team may face some of the same problems on the road. Since the Browns Backers have a large contingent in California, there could be a new round of protests, which undoubtedly would result in more media coverage in California.

The players know this is not a pleasure tour. Belichick already has imposed a curfew.

"We'll get a little sun, but I don't think we're going to be hanging out at the beaches or the bars," said Hall. "Maybe a walk through the zoo or to the mall. Bill is not the type to let things get out of control. He'll have his schedule and regular routines. Bill is just trying to give us a better chance to win."

The Browns put up a gallant fight against the Steelers, overcoming an early 14-point deficit, but couldn't stop Pittsburgh in its 14-play drive that used up the final 8:52 of the game.

The drive preserved a lead the Steelers gained on Norm Johnson's 27-yard field goal with 14:53 left in the game.

Besides being unable to stop Pittsburgh in the final drive, Cleveland had two turnovers on its first two offensive plays of the game that led to 10 Steelers points in the first nine minutes.

The Browns rebounded well, tying the game at 17 when quarterback Vinny Testaverde scored on a 1-yard roll around right end with 7:01 left in the third quarter, but they could find no rhythm after that touchdown.

Their two remaining drives ended, respectively, with an interception with 12:43 left and at the Cleveland 30.

"I heard somebody mention that when you have a team that's moving, guys tend to look over their shoulder and wonder if they're going to be making the move, and they get on their own agenda," said Testaverde, who will start against the Chargers if his right shoulder is healthy.

"You've heard guys mention in the last few weeks that some guys aren't giving it their best," he said. "I can't say if that's true or not. But when you hear guys say that, it makes you wonder if all that's happening with the move, if that's not the reason behind this."

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