Monday, December 20
In the clubhouse it's all for one, no matter what
By Ray Ratto
Special to

  So Orlando Brown, who loves ya, baby?

Turns out all his good friends on the Cleveland Browns, at least by judging the straw poll taken in the Cleveland locker room following Brown's eye-opening outburst Sunday.

Jeff Triplette and Orlando Brown
Members of the Browns try to separate Orlando Brown and referee Jeff Triplette.

It seems Brown, a heretofore happily anonymous right tackle with the 2-13 Browns, dropped a condenser screw right on the grounds when referee Jeff Triplette hit him square in the face with a penalty flag during the Browns' 24-14 loss to Jacksonville.

Brown left the field, then walked over to Triplett to compliment him on his aim, and followed that by showing him how compliments are expressed at Dexter's Midnight Lounge out near the docks -- a hard, two-handed shove that sent Triplette rolling like one of those hedgehogs during the croquet match in "Alice In Wonderland."

The immediate reaction from the CBS broadcast crew was dumbfounded babbling; after all, only Bobby (The Brain) Heenan has extensive experience describing abuse of officials. Following that, they declared that the NFL's sure swift sword would take Brown off at the ankles. He'd lose the rest of this season, they predicted, and probably a fair hunk of the next as well.

The reaction in the locker room, though, was interesting for its dissent from the conventional wisdom. Fellow Browns, like tackle Steve Zahursky and linebacker John Thierry not only understood the impulse, but defended Brown because, well, because he's one of their mates, and that's what you do.

In fact, that is exactly what Zahursky and Thierry and all their contemporaries have been taught since forever: "My guy, right or wrong." All things are forgiven when the miscreant is one of the family, and especially when the victim is one of those striped hyenas that ruin everyone's fun by enforcing the rules.

It is a fascinating dynamic, one which few people outside the huddle, the film session or the shower understand. In the outside world, you don't shove the cop unless you need an immediate beat-down. You look at the guy who shoves the cop and you say, "Now there goes a grade-one idiot."

You would, of course, be right. Brown will be laughed at and vilified for the next few days, and for good reason. Even if you want to make the case (as ESPN's Tom Jackson did Sunday afternoon) that officials don't need to bust the heater right at the penalized player, Brown still had time to gather himself and consider his actions, and his best thinking took him to what most people figure will be a multiple-game suspension.

  This is the dynamic that makes armies, cults and Internal Revenue work as well as they do. In their worlds, there are only two kinds of people 'Us,' and 'Them.' That's what they mean when they say, 'You just don't get it.' And they're right. We don't.  ”

This, in short, is not good thinking.

Thinking, though, is not the principal issue inside the team. Being inside is defense enough, unless (a) you can't play; (b) you take money out of your teammates' mouths.

Put in more immediate terms, Orlando Brown has more friends on the Browns today than Jon Kitna has on the Seahawks.

If this seems a backward way to approach ethical dilemmas like premeditated battery, well, you can chew it over while you lunch with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Punxsutawney Phil and the cast of Powerpuff Girls.

This is the dynamic that makes armies, cults and Internal Revenue work as well as they do. In their worlds, there are only two kinds of people "Us," and "Them." That's what they mean when they say, "You just don't get it."

And they're right. We don't.

Then again, we don't have to understand. Their culture may be private, but that doesn't make it better. Orlando Brown may have a knot around his eye, but that doesn't forgive the one inside his head.

If one believes that a team is weakened when one of its starting players takes himself out of a game without good reason, then the Browns were weakened by this, although any change in this regard would be at best incremental. Orlando Brown put his agenda (knocking Triplett feet over face) ahead of his teammates' (trying to achieve that elusive third win).

This, too, is not good thinking, and one suspects Brown -- who is in a Cleveland-area hospital with impaired vision on Monday -- will be told this sometime by head coach Chris Palmer, or a trusted veteran, and finally by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who will enrich the league's office Xmas party by lots of thousands of Brown's money.

But as far as we will be told, Brown has nothing but friends in his locker room. It's the rest of the world that's wrong. You know, us. We are "Them." We're the ones who just don't get it.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Examiner is a regular contributor to

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