The following article is reprinted courtesy of this week's edition of Bernie's Insiders Magazine. Click here to order.
Returning home has not been an option for former Cleveland Browns quarterback and arguably Cleveland's favorite son, Bernie Kosar. Kosar, a native of Boardman, Ohio, led the Browns during the team's glory years of the 1980's and has remained a significant supporter and follower of the team.
Working through the after-shock when Art Modell announced that he would move the team to Baltimore, Kosar quickly engaged in discussions behind the scenes with the National Football League, civic and community leaders, as well as the present Browns ownership group. Kosar was diligent and determined to ensure the name, history and heritage of the Cleveland Browns would continue.
According to a league source, "Bernie Kosar was as instrumental as anyone in Cleveland getting a football team. He spent endless hours talking with the league office, with the influential members of the league, and with the potential ownership groups that were formed that wanted to purchase the startup franchise in Cleveland. By backing the ownership group of Lerner and Policy, Kosar's name and reputation was branded with the building of the Browns. During a time when Lerner and Policy did not have the support of the public to own the team, it was Lerner and then Mayor of the City of Cleveland Michael White that asked Bernie to join the ranks that helped sway public opinion and get pro football back in Cleveland."
Standing on the podium to back the ownership venture of the late Mr. Al Lerner and Carmen Policy, Kosar appeared to have a role with the 'new' Cleveland Browns, as they were referred to at that time. However, appearances are sometimes misleading. From what we've been told, Kosar thought that he had a role with the 'new' Browns, not just as a face-man for the organization that was being constructed, but a true role and place within the structure of the team."
On the day the announcement was made that the ownership group of Lerner and Policy had been awarded the 'new' Browns franchise, Kosar spent the day at Lerner's MBNA offices with Lerner, his wife Norma, son Randy, and Carmen Policy. Having dinner when the announcement was made, the ownership group prepared for a 10:00 p.m. downtown press conference to answer questions about the process and grant interview requests. At the urging of Lerner and Policy, Kosar was the opening speaker for the ownership group. This was truly an exciting time for the ownership group and the city of Cleveland, but it may have been Kosar that was as excited as anyone about the event.
"Working with Mr. Lerner and Carmen Policy, receiving word that we had been awarded the team, and the whirlwind of excitement and satisfaction was almost overwhelming," Kosar said at the time.
After a night of meeting and discussion at the downtown Stouffer's Hotel, the tandem of Lerner, Policy and Kosar decided they wanted to meet the next day with the media and fulfill every interview request personally, contrary to the normal press conference setting.
"I remember asking Al (Lerner) if I should be there for the interviews since we hadn't formalized my role with the organization," Kosar said. "Rather, Al gave me a lecture that I'll never forget. He told me, 'Bernie you need to lose the diplomacy, the Sir stuff, and the Mister stuff with me. You are part of my family. I'll never forget your trust and what you have done and said.' It was funny, I told Al that I trust and respect him and his family, but I had been told the same thing by former Browns owner Art Modell right before he cut me. Al laughed and said to me, 'okay, so how about uncle.'"
The day following the awarding of the franchise to Lerner and Policy, Kosar was at the side of the ownership group. Helping them to formulate their initial game plan, talking and working through each media request, and looking towards their future, Kosar was back with the Cleveland Browns. Or so it seemed.
"What a great two-days that was when the franchise was awarded. From the meetings with the Lerner family, to the awarding of the team, to the press conference that night, to the media session the next day, and finally dinner at the Lerner's home, it all seems surreal looking back now," Kosar said. "I was having a great time playing pinball with two of the Lerner's grandchildren and we had to be dragged to the dinner table. It was just a fantastic time. All the hard work had paid off, a team was coming back to Cleveland. It's too bad that was my only significant days of real work with the organization."
Before the press conferences and the media sessions, the trio of Lerner, Policy and Kosar toured the Browns office and training facility in Berea, Ohio with Bill Futterer, the Chairman of the Browns Trust. Futterer was placed in Cleveland by the league offices to oversee the Browns organization until an ownership group had been selected. During the tour of the facility, Futterer had offices in place for the three men; Al Lerner's name was on one, Bernie Kosar's name was on another and Carmen Policy's name was on a third. For some reason, Kosar never had the opportunity to use his.
"It's unfortunate that this was the extent of Kosar's role with the 'new' Cleveland Browns," the source continued. "There is no office in the Browns training and operations complex in Berea for Kosar. There is no role, nor is there a job within the organization, or really any sort of communications between the parties. It's too bad. This isn't the way everything was supposed to transpire. Kosar was to be part of the organization."
Throughout all the excitement of the team being fielded in 1999 to the disappointment of being distanced from the team he loves, Kosar's commitment to the Cleveland Browns has remained genuine. Numerous interview requests on his non-involvement have been graciously refused by Kosar. Whatever transpired behind the scenes, he'd rather keep those issues and thoughts to himself. Rather than becoming the story, Kosar would rather help the Browns with his silence when asked about the situation.
"All I want is for the organization and the team to be successful. Out of my respect to the Lerner family and with the same respect of the history and heritage of the team, the fans and the game itself, this is how I chose to handle the situation," Kosar said.
"I'm proud, glad and do not regret my role in helping Cleveland get a football team back in town," Kosar continued. "I am just as proud to have helped Al (Lerner) and his family. My feelings haven't changed despite the outcome and distance between the organization, myself and the Lerner family since those initial days. I still believe the best man and family got and has control of the Cleveland Browns. Al (Lerner) and his family are by far the best people to be controlling and running our history rich franchise. Their resources, wisdom and genuine love of people and the community give the Browns the best chance at having a first class organization and a Super Bowl champion that Browns fans can be proud of."
As he has for the past nine-years since being released by the Browns during the 1993 season, Kosar has maintained dual residences in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Cleveland, Ohio. With his spouse and children, Kosar has closely followed the team.
"I love the Cleveland community and the fans. There are no greater fans in the world. Walking onto the field in Cleveland Stadium was one of the greatest thrills of my life. It's no secret that I wanted to play for the Browns since I was a kid. I wanted to remain in the Cleveland area where I was born and raised and where my parents would have the opportunity to watch me play," Kosar said. "Winning the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys after being released by the Browns was a lift for me. I was down about not playing in Cleveland. It had always been my goal to help bring a championship to Browns fans and the city of Cleveland."
"I have a serious desire to see the team be successful and an appreciation of the Cleveland Browns organization itself. I look at myself as a Cleveland Brown and I haven't hidden the desire that I wanted to be involved with the team in a capacity that would help the organization."
To help the Browns organization, to work for the organization that he starred for almost a decade, just what would or could Kosar do for the organization from his Florida residence? The perception that has made its rounds in the media and from those within the Browns organization is that Kosar wants to work on his terms, doing what he wants, when he wants, from where he wants.
"I have seen the comments, just like you have about not living in Cleveland, not wanting to work, etc. I consider Randy Lerner and Butch Davis to be friends of mine, but they are going by what others are telling them, not from anything I have told them," Kosar replied. "We haven't talked in a while. Hey, I love the team. I love the area. I have family, real true friends and a house here. I definitely want to raise my children here."
"Football is about teamwork, dedication and desire. It is also about respecting the game and its history and heritage. I am a Cleveland Brown, not just from reading a stat-sheet, but in my heart and mind. I was able to play in the NFL for 12 years because of hard work. I haven't changed. I know what it takes to be successful and I still have a desire to see a championship banner flying high over Cleveland, but unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. Life goes on. I've been blessed. I lived a dream. I played for the Cleveland Browns for eight years and helped solidify the future of the franchise here in Cleveland. No matter what happens the rest of my life, I will always be a Cleveland Brown."