Tough Test for Mr. Everything

The damage assessment for Tim Couch's statements following the Ravens game on October 6th continues. The Browns front office is looking to see how Couch reacts to the first real competition he has seen in years.

One of the defining moments of Tim Couch's 2002 season came when the Browns lost to Baltimore on a Sunday night.

The team did not play well, and at the time the Ravens were not considered a strong team. Couch struggled in the game, like the rest of the team, and in the fourth quarter he took a blow to the head trying to recover a bad snap deep in Cleveland territory.

As he lay on the ground trying to shake out the cobwebs, Couch heard cheers.

Whether fans were cheering his injury or the fact that backup Kelly Holcomb was warming up -- backup quarterbacks, after all, are the most popular players on the team -- is not known. What is known is that Couch thought fans were cheering the fact he was hurt.

In an emotional and tearful postgame interview, Couch lambasted fans he thought were cheering.

The team grimaced, but Couch stuck to his guns. Even the next day when he backed off a bit he still said he'd treat every home game like an away game.

The Browns privately were not happy. The last thing they wanted was for the fans to turn on the quarterback and vice versa. But criticism was muted -- until this offseason, when the team started to assess the damage caused by Couch's comments.

"I'm sure he has some regrets," coach Butch Davis said at the NFL's annual meetings. "Everybody does stuff that you wish you would have phrased or said differently, and I'm sure in hindsight he wished he would have never said it."

However, team president Carmen Policy also said he should share in the blame. Policy said Couch should never have been allowed to talk to the media because he had a slight concussion.

"He felt it was his obligation as the quarterback, especially in light of what happened, to not duck the responsibility he had as the quarterback, which was to face the ladies and gentlemen of the media and answer their questions," Policy said. "I should not have let that happen. Because of a mistake I made he has suffered from it."

Davis, though, said there were other factors that went into Couch's statements.

"The passion he plays the game with is the passion he answered the question with," Davis said. "He was hurt. And you have to take into context where that kid had been."

Davis went on to point out that Couch had been "the savior in the state of Kentucky."

"He was Mr. Basketball, Mr. Football, Mr. Whatever," Davis said. "He goes to the University of Kentucky and he's God's gift, the savior of the football program. He gets them into bowl games when they have no talent, no ability. And so he's been the favored son at every level."

Including the pros. Couch was the first pick in the draft in 1999, and he was basically given the starting quarterback job in the second game of the season. His status as the No. 1 quarterback in Cleveland has never been challenged -- until Holcomb emerged last year.

For the first time, Couch heard boos -- and calls for someone else to take the job he had always owned.

Davis likens Couch's development to Troy Aikman's. Aikman struggled early in Dallas but grew as the team improved.

"Tim came to a situation in Cleveland that was worse than the 1989 Cowboys," Davis said. "They had some guys that had been in NFL games and played in Super Bowls.

"It's a tough transition. I just think he spoke from the heart out of frustration."

Which makes the upcoming training camp all the more interesting. For the first time in his life, Couch is not being perceived as the savior. Instead he and Holcomb enter on equal footing, with the job going to the best man.

The Browns seem anxious to see how Couch reacts to competition, whether a challenge brings some mental toughness out of him that has not yet been seen.

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