D.F. Pellegrino explored the possibility in his brilliant book, "The Dawg Pound Dynasty."
This article is a followup to our previous piece about the book. You can read that article here.
(A reminder: You can purchase the book on Amazon -- just $2.99 for your Kindle, or $12.98 for a paperback copy. If you want to take a deeper look at the book, you can read the first few chapters here.)
To take a deeper look at the book, we had a question and answer session with Pellegrino via email. The complete transcript is below.
Dawgs By Nature: First off, talk a little about your background. Do you write for a living? Do you live near Northeast Ohio?
D.F. Pellegrino: I’ve been a freelance writer for several years and wrote one other alternate history book prior to writing the "Dawg Pound Dynasty." For me, writing about football was a nice change of pace. Most alternate history books tend to be somewhat dark and dystopian, and my previous book was no exception. I wanted to write something a little more upbeat and something totally different. And although I currently live in New Mexico, I went to college in Michigan and spent my summers working at Cedar Point. I really developed a strong affection for the city of Cleveland during my summers in Sandusky and for Browns fans, who are really some of the best football fans in the country.
DBN: What inspired you to write the book?
DFP: Well, as I mentioned I had just finished writing a very dark and dystopian book called "Zhirinovsky’s Russian Empire" about a Soviet Union that survived the 1991 coup attempt only to morph into a radical quasi-fascist state. After finishing that book I wanted to write something a little more uplifting and upbeat. And as a writer of alternate history I felt this was an untapped area of fiction. When all is said and done, every football fan in the world is an alternate historian. How many times have fans asked "what if we drafted so-and-so instead of that quarterback who was a bust?" This book was a chance to sort of tap into that, and to create an uplifting story of a team that overcomes all odds to become the greatest team in football. But what is fun about alternate history is how you set that up. You can’t just take the same team and the same set up and say "well, they just played better and won twelve games instead of five." I had to look at the path the Browns took and decide what decisions they would make differently to get there.
DBN: How long did it take you to write the book? Did you have an editor?
DFP: It took me about five months to write and then a few months for my editor to finish with the edits. My editor was a Brit named Jon Davies. He did a tremendous job but he wasn’t a football fan when he started the book. Nonetheless, by the time he finished I was pretty sure he was a Browns fan so I knew I did something right.
DBN: On alternatehistory.com, you said that you are a Lions fan. How did that impact your writing?
DFP: Well, I originally considered doing a book on the Lions emerging as a dynasty, but I worried about being too emotionally attached to the subject matter. I joked that if I wrote about the Lions it would have ended up being a book about how much I still hate Matt Millen. But I really was a big fan of the Browns as well. I know a lot of people say you can only have one team, but I always pulled for the Browns after spending several summers in Ohio. I was working in Cedar Point during the Art Modell-Baltimore fiasco and I remember thinking "damn, for as bad as William Clay Ford is, he at least didn’t stab us in the back like that." I really warmed to the Browns that summer, and I was ecstatic to see them come back to Cleveland. I really felt that the Browns have the best fans in football. They put up with so much but they always kept the faith and remained true to their team. If anyone deserved a dynasty, it was Browns fans.
DBN: You chose former Lions head coach Wayne Fontes and former UM head coach Gary Moeller to run the Browns. How did you select this pair?
DFP: Well, in part because I was familiar with them both and they fit the image of the Browns as sort of the bad boys of football. With Fontes and Moller’s history I thought it really worked with the story. Also, without giving away too much, I wanted a situation where Fontes and Moeller were in charge since they would have probably picked certain players up off waivers and in the draft that…shall we say really would have worked out for the Browns. I am not saying they were perfect and didn’t make mistakes in football; Fontes has a less than stellar history with the Lions for one. But Fontes was not one who was keen on drafting quarterbacks and Moeller was a guy who was still had his ear to the ground with Michigan football. Had they been in charge of the Browns in 1999 and 2000 they would have been more likely to have passed on Tim Couch and drafted some of the players who ended up with the Browns in the book.
DBN: You opted to write the book in a documentary-style format, solely using passages from interviews, books, and broadcasts that would have been used in a real documentary. Why did you employ this technique, and do you think it worked?
DFP: I think it did since it allows the reader to "read between the lines" on some of the chapters. When you are reading an excerpt from Gary Moeller’s autobiography you realize that he is telling his side of the story, and then when Jon Gruden or someone else then says something a little different it gives the reader a chance to sort of guess where the truth really is. I used the approach before in my other book and I really think it worked since it allowed very different points of views and tones and also allowed readers to see some cultural references which highlight the impact of how this Browns dynasty changed pop culture in areas outside of football. Be it South Park or Saturday Night Live, the Browns dynasty impacts the entire country in small ways…even outside of football.
DBN: Attention to detail is a major focus of the piece, as the Browns roster is meticulously crafted, occasionally with a real-life Brown or two making an appearance. What was your thought process in putting together each year's roster?
DFP: I’ll be honest: I am a fan, but I wouldn’t consider myself a football guru. I do OK in fantasy football but I’m not going to give Jon Gruden or Mel Kiper a run for their money. But I do think that if you build up a great offensive line, your offensive players will shine. And if you have a great defense your team will do really well. I think that was one of the Browns' problems in real life, they would start by trying to find the QB and then build the team around that player. Well, Trent Dilfer showed us that an OK quarterback can win a Super Bowl. He showed us that the QB doesn't need to be the first piece of the puzzle. I knew that for the book to be realistic I had to put together a great team, not just brush over it by saying that the Browns made a few better draft picks. The Browns needed a great defense and so I had to picture a team which had a great defense first and where the offensive players were secondary. That is the great thing about writing a book about football: I can be the ultimate Monday morning quarterback. I looked at each year's draft and I looked for the diamonds in the rough and then imagine a scenario where the Browns end up with that player. Then I try to envision how this player would fit into the team I already wrote into place. It’s like a literary game of Madden, it really was a lot of fun.
DBN: As in real life, the quarterback position plays a huge role in the Browns' fortunes. Talk about how you used the quarterback to set the tone for the team.
DFP: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think the Browns tended to look for the perfect QB and then try and then try to build the team around him, which hasn’t really worked for them. I wanted to get a situation where the Browns almost didn’t have to think about the QB position at first since they end up with really solid QB early on. But in later chapters, when a real life quarterback crisis emerges, I thought it was fun to see how this Browns team adapts. The Browns have a quarterback dilemma, but they deal with it in a very different way.
DBN: Who was your favorite character (player, coach, etc.) to write about, and why?
DFP: I really enjoyed writing about Wayne Fontes. He wasn’t a very good head coach in real life but he had a great eye for talent and I think he would have done well as a general manager. Giving him a second chance in my book was a lot of fun since I envisioned him as sort of the hard luck journeyman who finally gets his Rocky like shot at the title.
DBN: Some Cleveland fans might have a hard time believing that the Browns could achieve this type of sustained success in real life. Do you think you might have pushed the envelope too far, or just far enough?
DFP: (Laughing) I do ask myself the same question. How many wins does it take to make a dynasty? I wanted to push the envelope as far as it would go. But I also set it up where the Browns reach the top of the mountain and then eventually are knocked down. I think the story of the Browns at the bottom looking back up are some of the best chapters of the book because you see the Browns determined to claw their way back against all odds.
DBN: Finally, for the ultimate question: Do you think the Browns will ever win a Super Bowl on the field?
DFP: Yes. The Browns are closer now then they have been in quite some time. I think they had a stellar draft this year, one of the best in franchise history. And they have a great coach. And what I really see different now is that the Browns are now trying to build the team first and not looking for the next big thing at quarterback. I think not trading up to draft Marcus Mariota is going to be a pivotal moment in Browns history, where the team finally stopped spinning its wheels and finally took off. I am not saying they will win this year. But I really think they are a lot closer than people realize.
Let's hope that Pellegrino is right. Either way, be sure to like Pellegrino on Facebook and purchase "The Dawg Pound Dynasty" on Amazon. Thanks again to D.F. for taking time to speak with us about his book.