This is another in a series of how former Browns were impacted by draft day.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – “Do you realize when the Browns drafted me, I was only three years out of (Youngstown) Boardman (High)?” said Bernie Kosar.
We were talking about the 1985 NFL Draft, how Kosar, his advisors and former Browns GM Ernie Accorsi found an unprecedented road to Cleveland.
“I was only 21,” said Kosar. “I had just finished my second season at the U.”
Kosar was talking about the University of Miami, where he led the Hurricanes to a national title in 1983.
“I loved being at the U,” said Kosar. “I was always slow and skinny. I didn’t anticipate being a pro player. The goal was to get a degree. My father had me taking advance placement courses in high school so I could get college credits. That’s what it was about in the beginning.”
Kosar didn’t play as a freshman. He was redshirted behind Jim Kelly, a future Hall of Famer. The next two seasons, Kosar beat out Vinny Testaverde and became a star.
“This was when the NFL had a rule against drafting players unless they were seniors,” said Accorsi. “But there also was a little-known part of the rule: A player could be eligible for the draft if he graduated.”
Kosar joked, “I was one of the few guys who regularly attended class.”
He didn’t just go to class, he did the work. He was studying finance and economics. He was taking extra courses in the summer.
“I was cranking through 18 hours a semester and playing football,” said Kosar. “I love math. I could do it in my head. I heard what my teachers told me and I had the ability to remember it.”
When the 1984 season ended, Kosar had a plan for 1985. Not the NFL, but staying at Miami. He’d graduate, then go for his master’s degree. He was named an Academic All-American with a 3.27 GPA in his dual majors of economics and finance.
“We were going to be loaded,” he said. “I could see us winning national titles in 1985 and 1986 if I stayed. My thinking was, ‘These are my brothers. This is my calling.’ Back then, no one left early for the NFL. It wasn’t even discussed.”
MEANWHILE, IN CLEVELAND…
Accorsi was hired as an assistant to Browns owner Art Modell in 1984. Coach Sam Rutigliano was running the team, assisted by Bill Davis.
“I had very little say in personnel,” said Accorsi. “But I told Art and everyone else there that we weren’t going to win with Paul McDonald at quarterback.”
Accorsi said Modell was enamored with Doug Flutie, a star at Boston College who upset Kosar’s Miami team Thanksgiving weekend in Miami behind the famous Hail Flutie last-second pass.
“Bernie’s the guy I want,” said Accorsi.
Rutigliano was fired in the middle of the season. Marty Schottenheimer became the head coach, Accorsi was promoted to general manager. He had scouted Kosar. He knew the quarterback had piled up college credits at a remarkable rate.
He began plotting to bring Kosar to Cleveland, using the graduating-early loophole.
MEANWHILE, IN YOUNGSTOWN…
“My father had been picking my college classes,” said Kosar. “After the season, my father had it laid out for me to take 18 credits in the spring, six more in the summer. Then I could graduate.”
His parents had become aware of the early-entry draft rule.
“I wasn’t very receptive to it,” said Kosar. “I wasn’t even sure if the class I needed to graduate would be available in the summer.”
But something else was happening.
“My family worked at U.S. Steel,” said Kosar. “For so many years, we were laborers and it was a great job. But the mills started closing down in the 1970s. The jobs disappeared. I saw that as a little boy.”
And Kosar knew what it meant. If he turned pro, there would be money. Millions. It would be a game changer for his family.
“I was wrestling with the feeling of responsibility,” said Kosar. “I was thinking that going back to The U, we’d win the national title. I’d probably win the Heisman Trophy. But am I being selfish?”
He had several meetings with his family and others. Finally, Kosar realized it was time to go pro.
“I’d like to play for the Browns,” Kosar told his father. “That’s what it would take to get me out of Miami.”
THIS ISN’T WORKING
“I remember some of the discussions about Bernie before the draft,” said Kevin Byrne, the former Browns public relations director. “We heard from Miami how Vinny (Testaverde) ‘looks like a stallion and plays like a stallion but the gawky guy (Kosar) beat him out. All Bernie does is complete passes.’”
Byrne said Accorsi was a believer in boldly trying to acquire a quarterback.
“It was like Ozzie Newsome once told me,” said Byrne. “There are two kinds of teams in the NFL. Those with a quarterback and those who don’t have a quarterback. If you don’t have one, you are lost in the desert.”
The Brian Sipe Era ended after the 1983 season. McDonald was the only quarterback of note on the roster. In 1984, he threw 23 interceptions compared to only 14 TD passes. He completed a mere 50% of his passes and was sacked 53 times. The Browns were 5-11.
“We had the sixth pick in the regular (1985) draft,” said Accorsi. “I had been in touch with Dr. John Galetka. He was Bernie’s advisor (also a dentist), God bless him. He made it clear Bernie wanted to go to the Browns.”
CAN THEY MAKE A DEAL?
Buffalo had the first pick in the regular 1985 draft. The Bills had Jim Kelly at quarterback, so they didn’t need Kosar. Buffalo already had its heart set on defensive end Bruce Smith.
Houston had the No. 2 pick. Accorsi tried to a make deal with the Oilers, but couldn’t. Houston had a star named Warren Moon at quarterback. During all this, Modell kept asking Accorsi about Flutie.
“What does he have to do to impress you?” Modell would say.
“Art, I know Flutie’s throwing for a million yards,” Accorsi would reply. “But Art, I want Kosar.”
It became clear the Browns were not going to be able to find a way to draft Kosar, if he turned pro. Minnesota had traded with Houston for the No. 2 pick. The Vikings wanted Kosar.
“As a kid, the Vikings were my second favorite team after the Browns,” said Kosar. “(Minnesota coach) Bud Grant called me. I loved him as a coach. At that point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was getting in over my head.”
THE BACKDOOR TO THE BROWNS
The Browns still were obsessed with acquiring Kosar. The family still wanted the Browns.
“Bernie’s first allegiance back then was always to his father,” said Byrne. “He’d often say, ‘You need to talk to my dad.’”
The Browns knew this. They knew Bernie Kosar Sr. would help them. Accorsi came up with the idea of having Kosar skip the regular 1985 NFL Draft, but apply for the supplemental draft. It happened a couple of months after the main draft and usually is not a big deal.
Kosar held off graduating and turning in his paperwork to the NFL until after the April 30 regular draft. Houston, Minnesota and other teams were outraged when they figured out what was happening. They complained to the NFL.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle met with the interested parties and ruled in favor of Kosar. The Browns completed a trade with Buffalo, which had the first pick.
“We made the trade before we knew for sure Bernie was going into the supplemental draft,” said Accorsi. “We never talked to Bernie during that time. We knew he wanted to play for the Browns, but I was sweating it. What if he went back to Miami?”
Accorsi sent a pair of first-round picks, a third-round pick and a sixth-rounder to Buffalo for the rights to Kosar, who officially joined the Browns on July 2, 1985.
“I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE”
Kosar signed a five-year, $5 million deal, including a $1 million signing bonus.
“When I came to the Browns, our area was still the butt of national jokes,” said Kosar. “The Cuyahoga River caught on fire. The city was bankrupt. The unemployment. In Miami, I heard all that. I shrugged it off, but it bothered me.”
Kosar knew the Browns having a winning team didn’t change the social and economic problems, but it would be an emotional lift.
“I kept thinking I could go back there and do something about all the negative stuff,” said Kosar. “I could help my family have security, and I could play for my favorite team. This was a childhood dream and I could make people happy who loved the Browns.”
“I can make a difference,” he said. “That’s what I was thinking about coming home to the Browns.”
“I DIDN’T WANT BE THE WEAK LINK”
Because he went into the supplemental draft, there were no minicamps for Kosar as a rookie in 1985.
“I didn’t know a single play (with the Browns),” he said. “I didn’t know the terminology. I had to get the Browns to be a winning team and get to the playoffs. I didn’t want to be the weak link.”
Kosar struggled in the preseason. Veteran Gary Danielson was acquired by Accorsi to start at quarterback, trying to keep the pressure off Kosar. But the rookie felt it.
“I was suddenly with men,” he said. “I was 21 and I’m looking Ozzie Newsome in the eye in the huddle. I was in the locker room with guys like Clay Matthews. I was the highest-paid rookie ever.”
Kosar paused, thinking back.
“I didn’t even know the snap counts,” he said. “I was taking a crash course to learn everything fast … and I was supposed to be the savior? That’s why I was grateful the great Ernie Accorsi was wise enough to bring in Gary Danielson. He was a huge help to me.”
Danielson started the first five games, then broke his ankle against New England. Kosar finished up and the Browns won, 24-20. The next week, he went to Houston and won his first start, 21-6.
The Browns finished 8-8 that season. But it was clear they had found a quarterback. Fans know the late 1980s was the best era of the franchise since the 1950s-1960s. Byrne was stunned by the magnitude and public relations value of the story.https://0f104cd3bf4db8c0abbde78059549ce9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“Here’s a guy from the Cleveland area who goes to Miami,” he said. “He lives in that great weather and environment – and he wants to come home to the cold and gray of Cleveland. Just by picking Cleveland, he became a huge hero here. Then look what he did for the Browns!”
At different times during our discussion, Kosar mentioned “not wanting to fail” the fans and his team. The fear and the pressure he felt was real. That made his tenure even more impressive.
“There are so many people who have been good to me,” said Kosar. “Bro, it’s been 28 years since I threw a pass … come on … and the people are terrific. It’s been better than a beautiful relationship.”
Author: Terry Pluto, cleveland.com