"Sorry, Dwight," says Billick. "I've got to keep my word to Mr. Modell."
JAN. 21: BEREA, OHIO
Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is hired as the Browns' new coach. It was his first interview that helped him win the job. "I've dreamed my whole life of getting a chance like this," Palmer told Policy. "If I'm offered any other job, I'm calling to see if I have a prayer for this one."
After getting endorsements from former Palmer bosses Bill Parcells and Bob Kraft, Policy was smitten. "Everyone here is a zealot," Policy says. "We needed our coach to ooze that, and Chris did."
FEB. 9: CANTON, OHIO
Dave and Denise Reichelt are Mr. and Mrs. Browns Fan. He's a communication technology consultant; she's a receptionist. Dressed in white Browns T-shirts, matching orange shoes and brown pants, the Reichelts sit in the Canton Civic Center an hour before the first real football event in the franchise's new history: the 1999 expansion draft. The Reichelts paid $740 for their pair of season tickets in 1995. They will pay $2,500 to watch the Browns this year—$1,400 for two personal seat licenses in the new stadium and $1,100 for season tickets.
"Knowing what we know now," Dave says, "I have no qualms about having lost those three years of football. When it happened, we were bitter. We'd given the best years of our lives to Art Modell, and he stole our team. But now we've got a great owner in Al Lerner, a good front office led by Carmen Policy, a beautiful new stadium. We wouldn't have any of that if Modell was still here."
When Lerner and Policy stroll across the floor of the civic center just before the draft begins, 4,400 crazies give them a standing ovation. "My god!" Lerner says over the din. "This is incredible."
Matt Underwood, a sports anchor for WEWS-TV in Cleveland, corrals the team's first expansion pick, Detroit Lions offensive lineman Jim Pyne, and introduces him to Cleveland by saying, "Here he is, in the flesh, Jim Pyne!" Tonight, WOIO will devote 40 minutes and 45 seconds of its 60-minute newscast to the Browns. And WEWS's Michael Settonni will liken Policy to a "fine wine...part college professor, part evangelist, part CEO, part savvy Youngstown lawyer, part public relations genius."
They'll have to lose a lot of games for this junior high crush to wear off.