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So congratulations, Eric Mangini. You know you deserve it.
After beating the Patriots in a massively important week nine game, Mangini’s Cleveland Browns move to 3-5, just a shade above the NFL’s third-biggest disappointment, the Cincinnati Bengals, and far away from the Steelers and Ravens. And even though everyone on the Cleveland sideline acted as if they just eliminated the Patriots during the playoffs, New England still remained in a statistical tie for first place in the AFC East. Mangini’s third career win against his former colleague/boss is strictly a moral victory for the city of Cleveland, which has seen the Indians look like the same team at the beginning of Major League, as well as watched LeBron James publicly dispel them as just the town that wasn’t good enough for him.
But it couldn’t have come at a better time for Mangini. He seemed more like he was celebrating a personal victory. The smirk that seemed to uncontrollably spread across his tobacco-filled mouth was fed by the satisfaction of bringing down the New England Patriots just when they were starting to look their best. One year ago, Mangini scraped by without getting fired, eeking out four wins to close out the season and give his bosses just enough reason to allow him to try again for at least one more season. Currently, the Browns are known as one of the youngest developing teams in the league, perpetually written off in games against the NFL’s top talent. Meanwhile, the Patriots just appeared at the top of ESPN’s power rankings after a series of tough wins.
With just minutes remaining, Mangini even got a Gatorade shower on the sideline, and acted like it was just another breeze off Lake Eerie. The Browns’ players treated their coach like he carried them through a playoff win, strictly because of the blow-out style in which they won the game, and the storied history between Mangini and Belichick.
Two weeks ago, when the Browns stunned the then-still-impressive New Orleans Saints with a 13-point win, Mangini’s jacket stayed dry. His coordinators didn’t jump around on the field, gesticulating like they were the ones who just scored the touchdown. The cameras didn’t focus on Mangini then, watching as he slowly strutted to the 50-yard line, dip-spitting on his own field and drinking in the moment when he can shake hands with the opposing coach. Instead, it was just another regular season win, in which Mangini did his job.
While the recent ordeal is completely unprofessional, it can still be easily understood. Since the so-called “spygate” issue (I hate calling it that), and Belichick’s cold-blooded post-game embrace after the Patriots/Jets game, tensions have been high between the two. And to hand the Patriots a loss in that kind of fashion, at this point of the season, should be enough to produce this kind of excitement.
Even Belichick seemed to change his manner in response to the win: forcing Mangini to hear him say a few words about the game, chasing down Peyton Hillis to congratulate him (or, hopefully, recruit him), and admitting in the post-game press conference that the Browns were “clearly the better team.”
As a colleague pointed out, the Browns’ players’ regression to junior varsity football by showering their coach with Gatorade for beating a rival during the regular season could be the result of Cleveland’s recent woes in professional sports. It could also be the Browns’ young corps of players showing support for their coach. But, just maybe, it could have been the celebration of Mangini winning this round in his long-running boxing match with Bill Belichick.