"Bernie, this is Bill. I just want to wish you the best of luck with your new publication," were the words he used and were followed by an invitation to give him a call
Bill and I have traded voice mails over the last few years. We have never directly connected because of our schedules. From the sound of those voice mails, I think both of us have put that experience back in 1993 behind us and learned from it. Looking back, I now realize there were some extenuating circumstances that led to my release on November 8,1993.
I will never forget my last game as a Cleveland Brown. We lost the game 29-14, but the last touchdown pass I ever threw was drawn up in the dirt. We had gone into the game with only a handful of plays and we were unable to get much offense going as a result of the limited offensive game plan and personnel deficiencies. Michael Jackson and I saw a soft spot in the defense and drew up the play to take advantage of it.
It worked perfectly. I hit Jackson on a long pass and was really happy with how we improvised to get the job done. Little did I know that touchdown pass would be my last as a Brown. The cool reception I received on the sidelines afterwards made me realize I was in trouble.
The next morning word leaked out that I had been released even before the official announcement. Like every Browns fan, I knew Bill had a big hand in the decision, but what most people didn't know was the role player personnel director Mike Lombardi played in the decision.
The genesis of the plan began during the off season when Jim Bailey asked me to restructure my contract so the team could get more offensive help, particularly on the offensive line. The wide receiver situation wasn't much better. We had just let go of Reggie Langhorne, Webster Slaughter and Brian Brennan. I agreed and gave back $1.5 million with the understanding they would use the money to upgrade the offense. I assumed this meant offensive linemen and wide receivers.
Instead, Lombardi used the money to sign Vinnie Testaverde. This is when I knew I was done.
Vmnie and I were and still are good friends. He is a good football player and I certainty don't blame him for what happened. But as the 1993 season progressed, I think Lombardi convinced Bill that Vinnie should be the starting quarterback. In fact, he went as far as to make up a video of lowlights of me playing so as to convince everybody I had diminished skills. Mike also didn't want me around because he knew that I knew that he was responsible for the offensive line and wide receiver situations, yet he was blaming Ernie Accorsi so that he could get his job. Ernie was the one who rescued Lombardi's career by hiring him in Cleveland when the 49ers wanted to get rid of him and nobody else wanted him around. That is how he repaid Ernie's loyalty.
I think it was then a group decision that it would be a bad idea to keep me around as a back-up even though I played a big part in getting us into first place. Obviously, I wasn't too happy with the decision and how it played out and I certainly wasn't happy with Bill at the time. Looking back now, I see the situation more clearly and don't harbor any ill feelings towards Bill. It was a bad situation that could definitely have been handled better than it was, but in the end, it worked out for me.
God blessed me in many ways throughout my career and life. Even though Nov. 7-8,1993 was a low point for me personally and professionally, six days later I played three quarters in Dallas' win against Phoenix and then got a chance to play a key role off the bench in the Cowboys' win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The latter led to winning the Super Bowl and getting a Super Bowl ring. That is what we all play the game for and it was a highlight for me personally.
After all the adversity I had been through in 1993, it was very gratifying to have reached the pinnacle of professional football like I did with the Cowboys, but my blessings didn't stop there. I was also spared the embarrassment of being part of our Browns' move to Baltimore a few years later as a result of all those events.
It sure is funny how things work out in life. Even when they are terrible, God has a way of keeping everything in balance.
This article was originally published in Bernies Insiders Magazine on December 10, 2001.