For Cousineau the signing last April was the welcome culmination of what was essentially a three-year holdout to wring money from the NFL. Several times during his Montreal years Cousineau lost faith in the plan and called Walsh, screaming at him for sending him into pointless exile. Even Walsh, a tough cookie whose big client is Joe Namath, began to doubt the one-league-against-the-other strategy. "I remember the first time I saw Tom at the airport after he'd joined Montreal," says Walsh. "He looked like he'd lost about 20 pounds. He didn't look good at all. I thought, 'My God, what have I done?' "
But everything is fine now. When Walsh was explaining the benefits for Cousineau of signing with a warm-weather team like Miami, San Francisco or Houston, Cousineau kept bringing up Cleveland. "Finally it dawned on me," says Walsh. "This guy really wants to play in Cleveland."
Indeed, Cousineau had been searching for a home in Cleveland for a year and a half before he bought the elegant old house in suburban Lakewood this spring. Cleveland is where he went to high school, where his friends are. "For the last three years I've felt rootless," he says. "I've never owned a house because I never knew where I was going to be. After each season I'd just travel around, staying for two weeks at a time at friends' places, sleeping on couches and floors. But it's been worth it. If I'd signed with Buffalo in the beginning, for what they offered me, I'd be a bitter man today."
The day before the Browns' training camp opened, Cousineau had a friend bring him a record album entitled Ohio State—Saturday Afternoon at Columbus. Cousineau needed it so he could learn the words to his college fight song; he suspected the Browns veterans were going to ask him to sing it at camp. Not many free agents would go to such measures to appease teammates. "I feel very fortunate to be playing a kids' game and getting paid for it," he says. "But it doesn't mean the world owes me a living. It doesn't mean I don't have to try to be a decent human being." Eventually Cousineau sang his song with such gusto for the Cleveland vets that they rated his performance the best of the preseason.
Mercurial by nature, Cousineau can be as flamboyant in play as he is dedicated in work. Everybody who knows him has a story about something exceedingly wild he has done, from close calls while riding a big motorcycle to jumping out of a jet boat at 70 mph to find out what it feels like to skip over water. But Cousineau is an intelligent man—he had a B average and graduated on time from Ohio State with a degree in marketing—and he knows his excesses are only the churnings of a restless soul.
"My mind changes so fast," he says. "Some days I think maybe I want to go to law school, and other days I want to be a physical therapist or learn how to fly and open my own charter service. I've even got a name for it: 'Cousair.' A few months ago I had hair down to my shoulders. Basically, I'm aware that what I do, play football, isn't that important. I'm in entertainment." About craziness, he points out that diving 50 feet from a lighthouse into Lake Erie in midwinter—which he has done and been labeled "crazy" for doing—may well be saner than sticking one's head into the vortex of a Pittsburgh off-tackle blast.
Playing in Canada, Cousineau says, helped him gain perspective. A superstar at Ohio State, he found he was just another "yard dog" in Montreal, a city that prefers hockey, baseball and even soccer to football. Occasionally the Alouettes would get locked out of their stadium before practices. At other times they would get locked in. "At Ohio State I could do anything I wanted," says Cousineau, "and that can be dangerous. In Canada I learned about the other side, about patience and humility. There are no superstars in the CFL. I think we've had more spectators at our minicamps here in Cleveland than we had at some of our games in Montreal."
But the biggest influence on Cousineau has been his father, a man with whom he has a relationship knotted with pride and competitiveness. The bonds are unmistakable: Tom Sr. has a tattoo of an eagle on his left calf; Tom Jr. has a tattoo of the sun and a shark on his right calf. Tom Jr. dates 25-year-old women; Tom Sr., divorced for two years, recently married one.
When Tom Jr. was younger, he and his father wrestled all the time at home. In matches that often turned into wars, they overturned plants, demolished furniture, upset Mrs. Cousineau and daughter Kim no end. Once Tom Jr. split his head open on the mantel and started to bleed heavily, but Tom Sr. wouldn't relinquish his grip. Another time Tom Jr. hit his father "with a standing switch that tore his shoulder out." Tom Sr. had to undergo surgery. These days there is a truce between the two. "Dad's my best friend," says Tom Jr. with conviction.
Tom Sr. did everything he could to make sure that his son would grow up big and strong and skilled at football. He put weights in the family garage. He lectured on linebacker technique. He even moved the family from Indianapolis to suburban Cleveland so young Tom could benefit from the pervasive football atmosphere in Ohio.