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Anderson on the Web: Cheering Couch's injury was new low even for Cleveland

Friday, October 11, 2002

They're rushing to soothe Tim Couch's feelings in Cleveland. Or maybe it's their own guilt they're worried about.

Either way, the fans' behavior Sunday when Couch was knocked into the Twilight Zone and out of the nationally televised game was reprehensible. Even for Browns fans. And yes, I realize that's saying a lot.

In the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 26-21 loss, Couch got hit by four Ravens players while attempting to recover a fumble and apparently took a hard helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Peter Boulware.

Couch developed spaghetti legs trying to get to the sideline and went down on one knee, obviously dazed and in need of medical attention. That's when Cleveland fans began cheering, apparently pleased that Couch was injured and backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb would be coming in.

Even in his foggy state, Couch got the message loud and clear. In the locker room, he choked back tears and spewed forth expletives in addressing the callous fans. Clips from that interview were played repeatedly on TV.

Monday, still upset about by the incident and how it made him and his family feel, he vowed to treat home games the same as road games.

By Wednesday, when support for him started to roll in, Couch conceded that his initial response might have been overly emotional because of the concussion he sustained.

He shouldn't have to make excuses. The fans did something despicable and Couch simply reacted in a human way after being deeply hurt. Major-league athletes these days might be rich and spoiled and disconnected from the common fan, but none of them deserve that kind of disrespect, particularly from the home crowd.

This was even worse than a Steelers fan dousing Kordell Stewart with beer.

It used to be that fans would applaud as a polite gesture when a player -- home or visiting -- who had been hurt came off of the field, sort of like a figurative slap on the butt. What happened to Couch, celebrating his injury, was a slap in the face.

Besides, Couch has held his own in what have been the first three-plus seasons of the expansion franchise.

Remember, this is Tim Couch, not Eric Crouch.

Couch was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in the 1999 draft for a reason. He is 6 feet 4, 227 pounds. Although he has been a little heavy on the interceptions, he has completed 60 percent of his passes in the NFL and this season has the highest efficiency rating of his career, 74.3.

There's no question he was having a shaky outing Sunday. He was 16 of 26 passing for 216 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions, and Cleveland had fallen behind, 23-0, at one point.

Couch said the pickoffs came when he was pressing and -- imagine this -- trying to placate the crowd.

Cleveland Coach Butch Davis and Couch's teammates have stood up for him.

Some of the public may have softened. Whether it was because some of those disgraceful fans sobered up or shrunk into the woodwork while others came forward, the sentiment the past couple of days has changed.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer offered its online readers a link to post messages to Couch. Dozens of them came in, mostly offering apologies and encouragement.

Except for the guy from Canton asking Couch to jump to the Steelers because "we need a quarterback" and the one from Cincinnati begging Couch to rescue the Bengals.

Couch displayed a lot of grace Wednesday when he talked to reporters. He said he regretted using profanity about the situation because of the young Browns fans who might have seen the interview, and he basically apologized for his reaction.

"My relationship with the fans is very important to me, and I plan on playing here a long time," he said. "Hopefully, they know I have no hard feelings toward them and, hopefully, they can forgive me. It's an emotional game and sometimes you get caught up in it, especially right after you come off the field."

So Couch let the fans off the hook and extended his hand. HE apologized to THEM. It will be interesting to see if the fans return the favor the next time the Browns play at home, Oct. 20 against Houston.

They might have no choice but to make nice with Couch.

Part of the fans' displeasure undoubtedly stemmed from that inexplicable football phenomenon where backup quarterbacks are golden.

Whenever there is the slightest whiff of trouble with the starting quarterback, fans reflexively clamor for the backup, and the Browns legions wanted Holcomb.

Well, Holcomb sustained a hairline fracture in his leg against Baltimore. He might be out for a while.

They get Couch, and they should be relieved his concussion was not severe.

I guess that leaves just one other question.

What is Drew Carey's take on all this?

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