While he didn't come right out and say it, the thought has crossed Hank Fraley's mind. But how could it not?
Here's Fraley, the former Eagles center and currently a Browns captain, surrounded by some of those dastardly Patriots he went up against in Super Bowl XXXIX. You remember that game. Eagles tied at the half and feeling good about themselves, only to watch the Patriots score on three of their first four second-half drives and rally for 24-21 win. Spygate, anyone?
Crennel moved to the Browns 2 days after the Super Bowl, and Fraley joined them the following season, just before former Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest went to Cleveland. So, Hank, ever ask your coach what really went on at halftime that night in Jacksonville?
"Not really coach, but I will mess with Willie Mac," Fraley said. "I'll get on him and ask him for the game plan back, or for our ring back, joking around with him. Who knows? You still have to go out there and play the game. They did well. They beat us. Hats off to them."
Fraley was mostly kidding, but for a city such as Philadelphia that hasn't seen an NFL championship in 48 years, the laughs have been hard to come by.
Fraley, the Eagles' starting center from 2001 to '05, said that even if the Patriots had taped the Birds coach's signals that night, as was alleged, it wouldn't have mattered that much.
"There are a lot of times when defenses know where you're going to run the ball. They'll be yelling it out," said Fraley, who occupies a perch right on the line of scrimmage. "They still have to stop you and you still gain 10 yards. You still have to go out there and play and execute."
The Browns' lack of execution this season probably will lead to the exorcising of Crennel. Cleveland came into the season riding the high hopes of a 10-win campaign in 2007. Football in Cleveland is similar to baseball in Boston or hockey in downtown New York.
When the Browns (Bruins or Rangers) are good, there's generally more interest nationally, which is why Cleveland is making its fifth prime-time appearance this season. But at 4-9, it's not exactly what the networks had in mind.
"Our record doesn't show how good of a team we have," Fraley said. "It's a game of consistency, and there's times we haven't been as consistent as we need to be. Overall, it's been [a pretty good season], but we just haven't been able to get those wins, and that's what you look at at the end of the day."
Injuries to quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn forced Crennel to peel Ken Dorsey off the bench. Dorsey was a star at Miami - the University of Miami, that is - and is making the 12th start of his 4-year career. Look for wide receiver/returner Josh Cribbs to see some time behind center when Cleveland uses its "Flash" package.
"It is rough when you lose your first and second guy and have to go down the line," Crennel said. "One of the good things about Dorsey is he has a good understanding of the offense. He can manage the team and run the offense the way it needs to be run."
"We know he doesn't have the skill level that our first and second quarterbacks have, because if he had that skill level, he probably would have been first or second."
The chances are good that these are the final three games of Crennel's tenure in Cleveland. While Browns owner Randy Savage has said that both Crennel and general manager Phil Savage will be reviewed after the season, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher should keep his phone handy.
The Browns have lost three in a row, are 1-6 at home, and only the Bengals have scored fewer points among AFC teams. The dousing then-defensive coordinator Crennel got from his New England players that far away night in Jacksonville might as well have been a lifetime ago.
"It feels like a loooong time," Crennel said. "I think this year makes it seem like such a longer time, because of the way our season has gone, particularly coming off the expectations of last year.
"Everybody, including we ourselves, felt that we would be much better than our record indicates. We've played some close games, and just haven't been able to make the plays that would allow us to win." *