The Cleveland Browns are 3-0 with Bernie Kosar at quarterback and 3-3 without him. That's part of the story of their 23-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but not the whole story.
Oh sure, Kosar is the catalyst of these Browns. You couldn't go anywhere in the Cleveland area last week without seeing the BERNIE'S BACK signs. He hurt his right elbow, his throwing elbow, in the opener against the K.C. Chiefs, and the six games he missed were a nightmare for the Browns, who saw another two quarterbacks wind up on the injured reserve list. Gary Danielson, Kosar's backup, broke his ankle in Game 2. Mike Pagel, the third-stringer, lasted three games, until he separated his shoulder in Game 6. Cleveland was down to 37-year-old Don Strock, who had been cut by the Miami Dolphins in the preseason and was leading a nice, peaceful life as a "golf host" at the Doral Country Club in Miami when he got a call from the Browns.
"First Bernie gets hurt, and we're saying, O.K., that's going to happen; let's pick it up, let's keep moving," says offensive tackle Paul Farren. "Then Gary goes down, then Mike, and pretty soon we're scratching our heads. I mean, are we jinxed, or what?"
Strock won the only complete game he worked—19-3 against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7, the week before Kosar returned to face the Phoenix Cardinals. Strock had 55 plays taped to his wrist when he played against Philly. At least he was in better shape than he had been the week before, when he came in cold to relieve Pagel.
"He tried to call the 36 Tag play, but he didn't know the footwork," says wideout Reggie Langhorne. "So he said, 'Just run it to the right.' "
"It's a good thing Don has the kind of personality he does," says center Gregg Rakoczy. "You know, the loose old pro. I said to him, 'Hey, you've been in the league 15 years, you've seen everything.' He said, 'Well, I've never seen three quarterbacks go down.'
"In that first game, when he came in for Pagel, he tried some kind of Miami Dolphin deal I'd never seen. He got behind me and slapped me on the side of the butt. I guess in Miami that must have meant snap the ball, so I did and I guessed right. Later I asked some of the offensive linemen, 'Did you hear a snap count?' They didn't hear one, either. I thought maybe I'd missed something."
According to wideout Brian Brennan, when Kosar returned against the Cardinals in 110° heat in Phoenix, "he had fire in his eyes—you could tell things were going to happen." The Cards blitzed him like crazy in the first half. Well, why not? He was coming off injured reserve: Let's see if he can finish. The problem is that Kosar, with his almost mystical feel for open receivers, is the best quarterback in football at blitz control, one of the best ever.
"He knows the game." says Phoenix guard Joe Bostic. "He knows what's going on. He says, 'Ball, go here.' "
"How good was Bernie in that game?" said Cleveland's coach, Marty Schottenheimer, on Friday. "Look, I'll show you." He put on the offensive reel from the game against the Cardinals. "First half he goes 20 for 28 against a team that's storming the castle and blitzing all out. Here, look at this one," he said, pointing to a fourth-quarter. 25-yard touchdown pass Kosar threw to Langhorne just as he was being hit by tackle Steve Alvord.