Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - Wednesday night, the NFL Network chronicled in it’s series “A Football Life – Cleveland ’95″ the staff that Bill Belichick assembled during his tenure with the Browns and where they are today.
For most Browns fans, the hour-long documentary from NFL Films simply ripped off a scab on a gaping wound.
The narrative primarily surrounded Belichick, who has since gone on to appear in 5 Super Bowls as coach of the Patriots – winning 3 of them.
The backdrop happened to be the tumultuous 1995 season which began with hopes and dreams of a Super Bowl but ended with the franchise in Baltimore and a city devastated.
That staff included some of the who’s who of college and pro football today led by former Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome, who has built the Baltimore Ravens into a perennial NFL power.
Kansas City Cheifs GM Scott Pioli, New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff are well accomplished. Former director of pro personnel Michael Lombardi is now an NFL analyst.
A pair of former Browns GM’s were also on Belichick’s staff – Phil Savage and George Kokinis. Both came back to Cleveland from Baltimore only to be eventually fired. Savage lasted nearly 4 years, Kokinis didn’t survive a year.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz, former Jets and Browns coach Eric Mangini, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and Alabama coach Nick Saben were also former Browns staffers from the early to mid 90′s under Belichick.
“We wanted a tough, hard nosed, blue collar football team,” Belichick said. “That’s what Cleveland is and that’s what we wanted our football team to be.”
NFL Films dedicated a good portion of the program to the move, it’s impact on the players, coaches and the uproar from fans.
Newsome recalled the Friday afternoon meeting following practice when Art Modell informed him that the team was being moved to Baltimore.
“He looked at me and said, ‘We’ve been together for a lot of years’ and I go, “Yes sir,’” Newsome said. “He said, ‘I’m moving this team and I’m moving it for 1 reason.’ I said, ‘Whats that?’ And he said, ‘To win a championship.’”
5 years later Modell won that championship with the help of Newsome – with the Ravens.
It was the ultimate kick in the teeth for Cleveland.
The announcement on November 6, 1995 in Baltimore torpedoed the ’95 season and ripped the heart out of the city less than 2 weeks after the Cleveland Indians lost their first World Series appearance since 1954.
“The owner was nowhere to be found, he was in Baltimore,” Belichick said. “Kinda felt like you were on a deserted island fending for yourself.”
“It was like getting punched in the stomach,” Mangini recalled.
“We were shocked,” former Browns and Ravens kicker Matt Stover said. “We said, ‘What? The Cleveland Browns can’t move.’
“It really shook our world. Our emotions just went stale.”
“It was like the world came to an end when we showed up to play the Oilers on that Sunday,” Savage recalled.
Former center Steve Everitt was one of the many players who took one last tearful trip to the Dawg Pound on Dec. 17, 1995.
“We were like pinching each other almost, like is this really happening?,” Everitt said. “It’s the Cleveland Browns. It’s like one of the teams that built this league. I still thought that something was going to come in and save us and keep us there.”
Earnest Byner, who was responsible for “The Fumble” spoke about how important it was for him to pay his respects to those who cheered him for years.
“I was saying thank you,” Byner said. “To the people that had been a part of a lot of joy. A lot of good times, a lot of difficult times and remained supportive of something that they really loved.”
Several current Browns players watched the documentary and judging by their reactions on Twitter, their eyes were opened.
“This show really puts things into perspective. Shows why Browns fans are so loyal and passionate. #cleveland95,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden tweeted.
“This Browns 95′ documentary is WILD!! The whole coaching staff was Legendary!,” L.J. Fort Tweeted. “Motivating too! Makes you wanna win just for the #DawgPound.”
Just don’t tell the man currently in charge of the 2012 Browns – coach Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur offered a rather cold and dismissive response to an innocuous question about whether or not he would encourage his players to watch the documentary.
“We’re going to have to catch up on that after the season,” Shurmur said. “I think this time of year, you don’t have much time to read books and watch movies.”
To be fair, within his response Shurmur did acknowledge the importance of knowing the history of what was once a storied and proud franchise.
It’s since been turned into expansion team and doormat for the rest of the NFL.
“I think the history of the organization is important,” Shurmur added. “I think it’s important that our guys have a feel for who the great players were that played here.
“As we move forward, I’m more concerned about the 2012 Browns right now. Again, the first part of your question was, ‘I know you’re worried about right now,’ and you’re right.”
It’s as if he’s already packing the U-haul like Modell did in ’95.
With Shurmur, the walls have gone up and they aren’t coming down anytime soon. He’s been like that ever since it was announced that Randy Lerner was selling the team on July 27.
Shurmur’s future and that of his coaching staff as well as the front office immediately came into question the moment that Lerner dropped the bombshell that the team was being sold.
Fairly or not, Shurmur went from a coach who was developing a program, to a coach on the hot seat with one of the most inexperienced team’s in the league while in the midst of his own plan in partnership with Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert.
Shurmur is not a bad man. He did not mean any disrespect with his response, regardless if it came off that way.
He is just in over his head, and like Belichick in 1995 after the move was announced, in an unwinnable situation.
0-4 is not exactly a resume builder for keeping his job. If the Browns don’t beat the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Sunday, it’ll be 11 straight losses for Shurmur as coach.
Hopefully Shurmur has a change of heart and doesn’t allow a teachable moment about one of the most significant moments in the franchise’s as well as Cleveland’s history slip through his fingertips just because he doesn’t have time to read books or watch movies during a season.
Make the time.
It is gift wrapped motivation for his players – an area that Shurmur clearly lacks in the ability to sufficiently do.
‘Cleveland ’95′ was a callous reminder for fans of how not only did they have their team ripped from them but how it was so cruelly done while on the precipice of greatness, only to have had it restored with nearly 15 years of complete and utter incompetence.
After 68 wins and an embarrassing 144 losses since 1999, fans have earned the right to be bitter, angry and frustrated.
Not Shurmur – regardless of the unfairness of his current circumstances.
He and his players need to know what Browns fans have lived through and how they have suffered long enough with inadequate professional football after having to go through the unimaginable indignity of not having it for 3 years.
Meanwhile, the team that used to be here actually won a Super Bowl and continues to compete for another year in and year out while mopping the floor with the current Browns.
Last Thursday night’s loss, albeit tough and competitive, was the 9th straight to Baltimore.
Begrudgingly Newsome and his Ravens are what Browns fans have been craving for, for what now feels like decades. They are the very antithesis of the expansion-era Browns which have spent more time replacing name plates on executive office desks and doors than actually winning games.
The questions of what could’ve been had the Browns stayed will continue to haunt fans and this city until one of these regimes in Berea finally gets it right and the Browns don’t just return to the playoffs but bring home a Lombardi trophy.
Until then the pain will live, and bitterness remain.
And no one associated with the current Browns should ever question as to why that is.