Is Haslam the "game changer" of 2012?
No, I am not writing about the popular and effective Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam as a possible understudy on the GOP ticket with Mitt Romney. Sure, Haslam checks off most of the boxes of a good VP choice, but Tennessee is already in the bag for the GOP.
No, the Haslam "game changer" in 2012 is his brother Jimmy Haslam, and the game he is expected to change is football as he is the just-announced and soon-to-be owner of the Cleveland Browns, which he bought for $1 billion.
Football thus just became the key to most of Ohio's emotional well-being, and if he can turn the Browns around, voters throughout the Buckeye State -- even the Bengals fans to the south and the misplaced Steelers fans in the east -- will conclude that no problem is beyond Haslam's abilities, so awful has the team's recent past been. If Haslam leads the Browns to a Super Bowl win, he can follow his brother into politics and John Kasich into Ohio's Statehouse if he wants.
That won't be easy. Many will conclude it isn't possible.
Since the Browns franchise reopened its doors in 1999 it has produced a record of futility greater even than the standard awful first years of expansion franchises.
The Browns were ripped out of Cleveland by a lousy owner in need of a quick payoff in 1995. Outrage ensued, and the storied history of the club and the passion of its fans fairly forced the NFL's hand. The league brought the team back in 1999, when it won two games. Since then, its followers have endured a nearly unbroken run of misery; the past four years have seen records of 4-12, 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12. The Browns have had five coaches in the dozen seasons since reincarnation, and 16 different quarterbacks have taken the first snap of a game in those 13 seasons.
Former Oklahoma State star Brandon Weeden is expected by most to be QB 17 when the new campaign gets under way next month. When he guides the Browns to a playoff win, it will be their first since 1984. The Browns haven't been to a Super Bowl, much less won one; their last NFL championship came in 1964 before there was a Super Bowl.
(The Cleveland Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, and when a son of northeast Ohio took his talents to South Beach it put a cap on nearly 50 years of sports misery for the region.)
I grew up going to Browns games and have been a season ticket holder since they returned to play in '99, one of millions of fans whose loyalty proves the triumph of hope over experience. (Google "factory of sadness" to see Mike Polk's eloquent exposition of what this means.)
Now comes Jimmy Haslam, CEO of the Pilot Flying J Travel Centers, whose purchase of the Browns was announced last week. The 58-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch Haslam attended a Browns practice in an orange and brown T-shirt, then showered and suited up in an bright orange tie to meet the press. (It is convenient for Halsam that the University of Tennessee, which he and his family support with enthusiasm, share a color scheme with his new franchise.)
Confidence is everything in everything, and Haslam fairly radiated confidence in Cleveland last week. He runs a chain of more than 550 truck stops and travel stores that his family has built over the past 55 years after his father started the company with the purchase of a gas station in Gate City, Va.
Full disclosure: My nephew works for Pilot Flying J and he loves the company and its management. The primary value is customer service, customer service, customer service, and every level of the company supports the mission. Success and growth have followed that commitment.
Cleveland should be so lucky. Haslam represents energy and a new start, innovation and a drive to excellence that football franchises -- like universities, states and countries -- need. Watch that space. If the Browns can turn around, anything can.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.