Browns, Sportsman of the Year

My Cleveland Sportsman of 2013: Josh Gordon


A year of making doubters and defensive backs look incredibly foolish
(Associated Press)

Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Given that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover. In turn, WFNY will soon announce its choice for 2013′s Cleveland Sportsman of the Year. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an WFNY writer.

WFNY’s Sportsman of the Year

MITCH: Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
RICK: Browns cornerback Joe Haden
JON: Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway
ANDREW: Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving
CRAIG: Browns receiver Josh Gordon
SCOTT: Coming Soon
TD: Coming Soon
KIRK: Coming Soon
JACOB: Coming Soon

This is America, so what’s better than a redemption story? With that in mind, there is no bigger redemption story in Cleveland this year than Josh Gordon’s. That’s why I’m making the case that he’s the 2013 Cleveland Sportsman of the Year.

Coming into the NFL, Josh Gordon was an abysmal risk for many reasons. It’s not good to be a journeyman in college. When your college career has a punchline like being caught asleep at a Taco Bell before the police find corresponding marijuana in your buddy’s car, it’s not a good sign. Then responding to that inevitable suspension by failing drug tests is when the warning flags turn into rocket-like flares blasted into the sky. Despite that, Tom Heckert and the Browns did their homework on Gordon and felt good about using a second-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft.

As Heckert and company were in the organizational rearview mirror, their gamble couldn’t have looked any dumber. Yes, Gordon was entering his second season as a pro after catching 50 balls for over 800 yards and five touchdowns in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Yes, he was going to have a chance to shine under Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner’s more vertical attack. Again, the on-field abilities were secondary to other problems for Josh Gordon.

Come to find out that the kid who’d had many chances needed one more as he was suspended for failing a drug test allegedly involving codeine. Gordon blamed it on cough medicine, but almost nobody seemed to buy it. Most fans and media members seemed to think that the 21-year-old was about to become the latest Cleveland Browns tale of woe like Kellen Winslow’s motorcycle-induced knee injuries or the staph epidemic that plagued the team in prior years. How else could this story possibly go?

Let’s just say it’s gone well.

After serving his two-game suspension, Gordon exploded against Minnesota catching ten balls for 146 yards and a touchdown. He also ran once for 22 yards as the Browns notched their first win of the season. It was the first of seven games that Josh Gordon would notch more than 100 yards receiving, but that’s underselling the receiver. He went for over 200 yards twice in back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. He set the record for receiving yards in a game twice in a span of two games going for 237 against Pittsburgh before beating that with 261 against Jacksonville.

More than the cumulative stats, Josh Gordon has shown more big play ability in one season than most Browns fans have seen in the last decade. Gordon has long receptions of 47 yards, 74 yards, 80 yards and 95 yards on the season. Calvin Johnson’s been doing it for seven seasons and is the undoubted class of the NFL in terms of receiving, but Josh Gordon’s 1646 yards in just 14 games as a second-year pro puts him in that class, at least statistically.

There’s no guarantee going forward that Gordon will remain on the straight and narrow while also exceeding all expectations on the football field, but for this year, there’s no doubt he has. That’s why I think I can easily make the case that Josh Gordon is the sportsman of the year. He started in a negative place, fraught with trouble and distraction — from his suspension, to his night life and driving record — and kept it completely in the rear view mirror during 2013.

  • mgbode

    I truly hope that it was Blackmon’s yearlong suspension that woke up Gordon because it could mean that he has truly changed. Regardless, he is still 1 strike away from the same fate.

    And, as I detailed with Andrew yesterday, your definition of sportsman is also vastly different than mine.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I’m enjoying the ability of everyone to define “Sportsman of the Year” in different ways; it really does let you qualify and disqualify anyone depending on how you view it.

    If this were an MVP completely, no question Gordon should win. He had a pretty historic season by any standards for an NFL WR, not just CLE standards. (118 yards a game on *average*!)

    But since the title implies at least some other factors, while a nice redemption story in the last 3-1/2 months of the year, it’s hard to ignore what else happened in 2013: A 2-game suspension, a bunch of speeding tickets (including 98 and 45 in a 25 with other cars around, both of which are not in the range even most of us who may drive a bit [ok very] fast typically do)… those were also this year. If he replicated these numbers next year while avoiding all of this then it’s a true redemption for 2014 that started this past year; but it’s hard to give it to him for 2013.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Obviously the nominations are based on “on-field” accomplishments. When Haden was nominated I was going to chime in on Gordon but I didn’t figure a guy who was suspended two games for drugs was all that sportsman. Kinda like Haden being suspended for “Adderall”.

    Just keep Devone Bess away from Gordon and prohibit Josh from ever stepping foot in the state of Colorado.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Craig, I agree completely with your choice. Well done.

    Quick question: With everyone blasting the perception of the Browns and players calling the franchise a joke, etc….and with many saying that no one will want to play here, how important do you think Brian Hoyer is for 2014, and more importantly the future of the franchise? My point being, the only thing that will change perception is winning, and winning consistently. And if the team is making players and coaches not want to come to Cleveland, then you are left with coaches and players that like the city and the team. Hoyer is one of those people, being from Cleveland, and liking the team. If he can play next year, and continue to win like he showed us, then he almost single handedly could change the perception of this team and bring them back on the national level, right?

    Is this completely wrong and I am making too big of an issue of the perception problem, or does this have legs, and Hoyer if successful at doing this would be everyone’s pick for Cleveland Sportsman of the Year 2014?

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    This is Cleveland, if Hoyer gets us to the playoffs we don’t name him Sportsman of the Year, we build him a statue.

  • Denny

    But he drives fast

  • To me, the thought that one season of playoffs–heck, even one season of 8-8 mediocrity–would be anywhere near adequate to redeem the Browns franchise in the national discussion or in the eyes of many fans is to wildly underestimate just how low they have sunk in both. Short of a totally unexpected Super Bowl appearance, only positive consistency is going to truly make the team relevant again outside of its diehard supporters.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Good point….but isn’t all a cycle?

    When I became a Browns fan at age 7 back in 1985, I learned quickly about the perennial bottom feeders of the league being Tampa Bay, Green Bay, New Orleans, St. Louis/Arizona, and Atlanta.

    Since then those teams have earned better reputations, and some of them (Green Bay and New Orleans) are considered some of the best sustained franchises in the league.

    Right now, and since 1999 the Browns have been one of the bottom feeders, but they haven’t climbed back up yet. But history of the NFL shows us time and time again that teams follow ups and downs…’s just that minimizing your downs and maximizing your ups are what separates you from good and great.

    Point is, I don’t think it will take a whole lot to bring us back, and by back I mean for players to want to play here, and coaches wanting to coach here….in other words the complete opposite of what it is now.

  • I think Sportsman is something different than sportsmanship.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Stop confusing me!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The truth is it’s more then being a bottom feeder it’s the way they have done it which will haunt this horror show of a franchise. It’s why it will take more of a turnaround then say one “good” season. There isn’t a single other franchise except maybe the Raiders who has had a complete failure from the top to the bottom and this only applies since 1999. If you want to include the move and everything associated with it from a former part owner being sold the “new” version of the franchise then it makes it even worse. Just my opinion.