Defensive end Mark Word made a bone jarring hit on running back James Jackson and the fan shouted out to Head Coach Butch Davis "you gotta start him Butch. Put him in there and let him play. Mark Word's the man."
It wasn't long ago, before the 2002 season was even underway, Mark Word was nobody's man. As a matter of fact, you could've easily found more than a few folks in football that would've said he was a nobody. He was never drafted, signed as a free agent in 1999 by the Kansas City Chiefs and eventually cut, signed in 2001 by the St. Louis Rams, sent to NFL Europe and then cut. "I wasn't given a fair chance," Word said with little emotion. It was a matter of fact answer on his part. Then he looked up and said "that's all water under the bridge now though."
Mark Word is having fun playing football again.
"Yea," he said with a smile. "It really is fun."
Word led the Browns with eight sacks in 2002. He played in all 16 regular season games and more than once performed like Browns fans have been waiting for Courtney Brown to perform. He surprised almost everybody. "I always surprise other people," he said. "Not me though. Not at all. I felt like I could do it."
Word is a different player than the one who played one year of college football at Division I-AA Jacksonville State. He's bigger. In college, Word weighed 240 pounds. Today, he weighs 300 pounds.
"I've always been tall," said the 6'-5", 27-year-old. "I never had the weight though and really," he paused and added, "I wasn't that strong."
Word was challenged by himself and the Browns coaching staff to make himself into a complete player. In 2002, he was a pass-rushing specialist and he was very good at it but the Browns wanted more. "I had to add 10-or-15 pounds and get strong," he said. "I had to get bigger and stronger so I could stop the run but at the same time keep my pass rushing speed." The Browns, who started Word at right defensive end in the scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills, were giving him an opportunity. "I decided, a while ago, that when I was given a real opportunity, I was going to make the most of it."
Word lives in Miami, Florida but stayed in Cleveland the whole off-season to get ready for this season. "I thought I had a pretty good year (in 2002) but I know I didn't stop the run like I wanted or like the Browns wanted," he said. Word focused on speed and strength during his workouts in the Browns facility. "It helped," he said. "This year, I'm playing the run exactly like I wanted to play it. I'm excited. I can't wait to get out there and play in real games and see how much I've improved."
Their challenge will be a big one but Word is used to that now. "A lot of people are down on us," he said. "We've all got chips on our shoulders though and we're going to go out and show people that we can play."
He's already started.
Just ask the fan wearing the Courtney Brown jersey.