By BARRY GOODRICH
From worst to first is the fervent hope of Browns fans from Mentor to Maui. Once the punch-line of the NFL, Cleveland is now the darling of the national media before the team has played a single game.
This month’s training camp in Berea will be overflowing with both traditional and social media coverage – from ESPN to Fox Sports to the NFL Network. Every move the team makes from here on in will be scrutinized by the same writers and broadcasters who have fueled the hype machine since the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants.
It is a welcome change of pace for longtime Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot, who chronicles the team for the “Plain Dealer” and Cleveland.com in addition to appearing with Jim Donovan on WKYC-TV each Monday during the season.
“When you add all these talented players in the off-season coupled with the season Baker Mayfield had as a rookie, I actually think they’re worthy of the hype,” said Cabot. “I’m sure there are people who are cautiously optimistic but I think it’s time for people to let go of the fears they have had in the past.”
Cabot gives much of the credit for the team’s resurgence to Browns general manager John Dorsey, who has been the architect of the team’s current roster, particularly with the number one draft pick of Mayfield.
“In the past 17 months, John Dorsey has done an extreme makeover of this roster,” said Cabot. “He has made this team a strong contender to win the division…but I don’t think Pittsburgh or Baltimore are going to go down without a fight.”
While Cabot was born and raised a Browns fan, she maintains the old adage of no cheering in the press box. “I am objective…I’m not heartbroken when the Browns lose a game,” she said. “For me, it’s all about those fans having what they deserve. This year, when I look out of that press box in December, I won’t be feeling sorry for those fans sitting out there in the sleet and snow.”
Cabot also hopes the team can put together a big season for Donovan, the long-suffering voice of the Browns. “I listen to Jim and Doug (Dieken) during every game,” she said. “Jim is absolutely one of the best in the business. He’s been so invested in this team for so long.”
The Browns are also making news in Las Vegas, where the team has an early following among the betting public at sports books such as the Westgate SuperBook. As of July 1, Cleveland was +125 ($100 to win $125) to win the AFC North, 8-1 to win the AFC title and 16-1 to win the Super Bowl.
“By far the most tickets we have on the Super Bowl winner are on the Browns,” said SuperBook director Jay Kornegay, a veteran of over 30 years in the business. “They have always been a popular bet but now they are getting a lot more support.”
Each year, Kornegay sees a lot of fans wearing Browns jerseys and he expects that to increase for the 2019 season. “Browns fans are always so true to their team and always support them no matter what,” he said. “This year, they have the tools to win.”
Last month, the SuperBook released odds on the NFL MVP with Mayfield listed as an 18-1 shot to win the award but those odds have not deterred bettors from wagering on the former Heisman Trophy winner. “We have more tickets on him than any other player,” said Kornegay.