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How the Browns Were Built
Peter King
September 13, 1999
A behind-the-scenes look at the way a billionaire owner, a seasoned NFL architect and their crew assembled a new franchise in Cleveland
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September 13, 1999

How The Browns Were Built

A behind-the-scenes look at the way a billionaire owner, a seasoned NFL architect and their crew assembled a new franchise in Cleveland

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JUNE 17: CLEVELAND
The Browns' former and future franchise quarterbacks sit alone in a 10-person box at Jacobs Field, keeping tabs on a game between the Indians and the A's. Bernie Kosar, a first-round pick of the Browns in the 1985 supplemental draft and now a club consultant, has these words for Couch: "You'll be hit with so many demands on your time this year, when all you want to do is focus on football. You'll change your phone number 10 times. I'll be one of the few people you meet who won't want a thing from you. So if there's anything that comes up, I want you to call me." Kosar hands Couch his home, office and cell numbers. Even the rookie quarterback has his own QB counselor on call. Is there anything this organization hasn't thought of?

JULY 25: BEREA

Palmer's private phone rings. It's 3 p.m. "Got any time?" Couch says.

"I will," Palmer says, "in about 15 minutes. What's on your mind?"

"I'd like to watch some tape," says Couch. "Blitz pickup. That O.K.?"

"Sure," Palmer says. "Fifteen minutes."

Training camp will open in four hours. Couch knows he has a complex offense to learn; when he can grab an hour with Palmer, Couch jumps at the opportunity. "Because he has an attitude like this," Palmer says, "he's further ahead than I thought he'd be, but he's still not where I want him to be."

JULY 26: BEREA
At 9:15 on a Sunday morning, at the first practice of Browns training camp, the linemen are in hand-to-hand combat. The morning session is a ragged one. After his fourth offside penalty in an hour, defensive end Hurvin McCormack hears this from Palmer at about 93 decibels: "Get me another defensive end! What's that, four offsides? That's four gassers, McCormack! Keep this up and you're going to think you went out for cross-country!"

AUG. 1: BEREA

The browns don't offer contracts with no-trade clauses, but free-agent corner-back Ryan McNeil, the NFL interception leader in 1997, is adamant about making an exception. He won't sign his one-year deal unless the Browns guarantee he won't be traded to the Cincinnati Bengals. Like many players, McNeil considers Cincinnati the NFL's Siberia. The Bengals are dangling holdout wide receiver Carl Pickens in a trade offer, and McNeil doesn't want to risk being part of a package for Pickens.

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