Last Friday afternoon Bernie Kosar tested the lush sod of Cleveland Stadium with the toe of his shoe, officially setting foot for the first time where the storied Otto Graham performed. "I can hardly wait to play here," Kosar said. (Bernie had once run onto the field during a rain delay in an Indians baseball game and was promptly chased.) With that, a smile spread across his face. It seemed larger than the Sohio building, grander than Terminal Tower and more spectacular than shimmering Lake Erie on a perfect day. Kosar knew he was right where he belonged, and nothing could have made him happier.
Things are not always so idyllic in Cleveland, as you may know. Indeed, a case can be made that things are never idyllic in Cleveland. We are talking about a town that a Miami reporter says escaped being the most boring city in the NFL only because they let Indianapolis in. But stop it. The Mistake on the Lake. Stop it. A place where the river caught on fire. Stop it. A city that has the Indians. Stop it. Those were the bad old days B.B.—Before Bernie.
It's all upbeat and wonderful now. That's because Kosar, who helped the University of Miami win a national championship in '83 and had another outstanding year in '84, wasn't just willing to play in Cleveland; he had desperately sought the opportunity. There were a lot of shenanigans involving his quest to come to Cleveland, and all-out efforts by Houston and Minnesota to keep it from happening. But please, this is a 21-year-old wunderkind who was willing to dream, hope, yes, pray to get the chance to play in Cleveland. This is not a typo. Never have a player and a team and a city lusted after one another so shamelessly.
Browns owner Art Modell, like the rest of the citizenry, doesn't know quite what to make of it all. "It's not an everyday occurrence that somebody wants to play in Cleveland," he said. "This has lent such an aura to Bernie." His eyes misted at the telling.
It gets even better. For Kosar didn't want to come just for the money ($5 million over five years), and in fact, there likely would have been more dollars elsewhere. He just wanted to come back home and play pro football. He's from Boardman, 60 miles to the southeast; his family is there, and he wants to work in the neighborhood. One of Kosar's best friends on the team, linebacker Tom Cousineau, says it's easy to understand Kosar's attitude: "Success without people to share it with is a pretty empty feeling." It's all right out of the '50s. Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Hi, David. Hi, Ricky.
So it was in this friendly atmosphere that Bernie Kosar, who need only turn around a 5-11 team that couldn't block and couldn't catch and couldn't come close to filling its stadium (the average attendance in '84 was 57,304; capacity is 80,098), made his first pro start last Saturday night in a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. On the turf he had first inspected just a day previous. On Jim Brown's turf. On the turf where Graham quarterbacked the Browns to 10 straight championship games before his retirement in 1955. Since then, Cleveland has won only one NFL title.
On a splendid summer evening, Kosar had flashes of brilliance against the Eagles in the one half he played—most notably when he completed back-to-back passes at the beginning of the second quarter, one for 25 yards, the other for 21. Ecstasy. Three plays later, Kosar tried to scramble and fumbled. Groans. There was more grumbling when, two series later, Kosar threw an interception, but it was not all his fault. A receiver read blitz and adjusted his route, but there was no blitz, thus the misconnection.
Kosar ended his stint with only 6 of 22 for 97 yards, the incompletions including a gaggle of dropped balls that kept bouncing off shoulder pads, heads and hands. But what coach Marty Schottenheimer liked was "his presence. You can tell he's going to be an outstanding player in this league. The game tonight illustrates the difference between collegiate football and the NFL." Kosar knows: "There's obviously a lot of room for improvement," he said. And a lot of talent to use as a base.
When Gary Danielson took over at quarterback in the second half as planned, he shot out the lights. This was a crafty old pro at his flinty best. With style and flair, he threw touchdown passes of 30, five and 25 yards, and handed off for a fourth. No wonder that Kosar walked into a news conference Danielson was holding afterwards and hollered, "Danielson for President." Indeed Danielson—acquired this year in a trade with Detroit—was good beyond scary as he directed the Browns to the 28-14 victory.
Oh, did we get ahead of the story? Kosar may not be the starting quarterback for a while. That's mostly because Schottenheimer is trying not to make some of the same mistakes the Denver Broncos made with John Elway, who arrived in a similar flurry of excitement two years ago. Some thought he was thrust into the fray too soon, and Denver coach Dan Reeves says Elway memorized the offense but didn't understand it. The Browns are trying to be patient; of course, if they honestly wanted to be patient they never would have started Kosar in his second pro game. Modell insists he can wait. He says so just before he asserts, "Football people tell me he's the next Namath." Browns executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi says, "We needed a guy to compete with Montana and Marino. Now we've got him." Not a lot of wait-and-see in those statements.