Cribbs Needs to Prove That he Didn't Take the Money and (not) Run.

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Joshua Cribbs (we even named our first-born Joshua!).  For his first five seasons in the NFL he was the epitome of what Clevelanders love in a player.  He was a guy that went undrafted, and then did whatever it took to crack the lineup and, eventually, become a star.

Cribbs didn’t do it on god given talent alone.  Of course he is incredibly athletic, but it was his incredible drivel that came through on every head- down kick return or whirlwind run from the wildcat formation.  He was absolutely electric whenever he touches the ball, and was one of those players that were a threat to score every time.  He wasn’t flashy or self-promoting.  He simply went to work and gave it his all on every single play.

His highlights were always stunning, but even on the plays that didn’t go the distance you felt like he gave you the effort of a guy playing in the Super Bowl, even if it was late November and the Browns were long out of contention.  He was one of those rare players that forced a defender to make a solid tackle, and would never go down easy or run out of bounds.

In 2009 he became the NFL’s all-time leader in Kickoff TD’s with his 2 TD performance against the Chiefs.   The offense was so anemic that season that his 4 return TD’s actually accounted for 10% of the teams total points for the season.  He was the lone bright spot in a season of so much futility.  He practically willed the team to victory over the Steelers on a frigid night in December.

But then came the off-season of ‘pay the man’.  Cribbs (fairly) argued that he deserved a new contract, and he even took to airwaves to voice his displeasure.  For most players in Cleveland this would have been an absolute death sentence from the fans.   The hard-working city doesn’t take kindly to players who demand more money before proving themselves. 

But Cribbs was different we thought.  He wouldn’t be a guy to get a big paycheck, and then coast until it was time for another contract.  Everything about him said that money wouldn’t change his approach, his effort, or his incredible drive.   

But 2010 was indeed a much different season for Cribbs.  It was apparent from the get-go that this wasn’t the same game that tore through defenders that were only half interested.  Now he looked like the distracted player.  Instead of the full speed, straight ahead returns that we were used to, we got a hesitant sideways runner who took to the sidelines more than he had in his entire career. 

It wasn’t the numbers that told the story (0 return TD’s, career low in return average); it was the look and feel of his game.  Gone were the returns that culminated in a 4 or 5 person gang-tackle, or the collisions that looked like they only belonged in Hollywood.  Too many confident first-steps were replaced by dancing stutter steps that we had never seen from him before. 

I’m not saying that Cribbs gave less effort in 2010; I’m just saying that it appeared that way.  He was injured for the latter part of the season after a collision that reminded you of the Cribbs of old.  He was also trying to become a bigger part of the offense by being a WR, and a wildcat QB.  But it still appeared that something wasn’t the same.

Only 2011 (if there is one) will tell if last season was an anomaly, or if Cribbs really is a changed man.   For the sake of wanting to believe that NFL players really care about winning, I want him to have another killer year.  But if he doesn’t, it will be another reason why sports in general aren’t as fun anymore, and why it’s difficult to root for individual players.  

Josh Cribbs was a guy most of us thought was the rare player who put it all on the line every single time, and who really wanted to win.  He had to fight for every dollar he earned in league, and you actually felt good for him when his efforts were rewarded.  If he can be changed by money, what does it say for the rest of the players in the league who act like as if getting paid millions still isn’t enough to care about winning or losing?

Josh Cribbs was once a player that represented everything that was right with sports.  In 2010, he looked like every other pro athlete who pretends to care about the team he plays for.   The little kid in me wants to believe that he will return to his Superman days and do whatever it takes to win—regardless of how many zeroes are on his paycheck at the end of the week.

Back to the Cleveland Browns Newsfeed