About two weeks ago, I started receiving a significant amount of interview requests. I wondered why. Then, Fox 8 sportscaster Tony Rizzo told me that it was my 10th anniversary.
I told him, no, I've been married for 13-years. He said "No, it's your 10th anniversary of being released from the Browns."
My, how time flies. It doesn't seem like 10 years and I'll be honest with you, I've gotten past that interesting part of my life.
I've always believed that if you conduct yourself in the right way and if you do the right things, then everything will work out for you. On that day though, I lost faith in that belief and I was completely floored.
The sad part about the whole episode is that I first heard about the Browns cutting me through the press. I had yet to even arrive at the practice facility that day and I already knew the fate that awaited me. That was disappointing.
When I got there, I was told that Mr. Modell wanted to see me and I already knew what he was going to say. It was the last thing I ever expected to happen. I always felt I'd finish my NFL career as a Brown.
A lot of people blame Mr. Modell for what happened. Others blame Bill Belichick. Belichick was the head coach, the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator and on and on. It seemed he ran everything. Mike Lombardi was the personnel director though. Lombardi forced Ernie Accorsi out and served as Belichick's right-hand man. Remember that.
By that time, we had already gone through four head coaches; Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson, Jim Shofner and Bill Belichick. Because of the constant organizational and coaching changes and because of Mr. Modell's age, it was easier to switch the quarterback instead of the coach. But, the timing was atrocious.
We were in first place and Vinny Testaverde, the only other proven quarterback on the team, was hurt. I was cut on the Monday following our game against the Denver Broncos at the old stadium. My last pass as a Brown went for a touchdown. I remember the moment like it happened yesterday.
The Broncos were playing aggressive on defense. They had lots of guys up-in-the-box. I noticed the safeties, Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith, cheating up. So, in the huddle, I drew up a play in the dirt of that wonderful stadium and hit Michael Jackson deep for a 50-yard touchdown. It was great.
Three days after making my last pass as a Brown, I was on a plane heading to Dallas, Texas with a choice to make. In my mind, I had to decide whether or not the Cowboys or Miami Dolphins would be my next team. I chose Dallas.
That Sunday, six days after I was cut by the Browns, I started for the Cowboys against the Arizona Cardinals. I played in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl that year. The Cowboys won it all. Yes, I have a ring. I wish it was a Super Bowl ring with the Browns though. But sometimes things are out of your control.
Those are important milestones in the career of an NFL player. In retrospect, and with a somewhat Pollyanna look at it, when the Browns cut me, they gave me an opportunity to enjoy and play in football's greatest game, the Super Bowl. Plus, I finally got over the hump of winning an AFC/NFC Championship game. I also think this: the Browns spared me the tough decision of whether or not to move with the team to Baltimore years later. I'm glad I never had to cross that bridge.
My relationship with Bill Belichick may come as a surprise to all of you. A few years ago, when Belichick was getting beat up in the New York press as he left the Jets job on his way to taking the New England Patriots job, a reporter asked me what I thought of my old coach. I said that I always loved Belichick's leadership and his discipline. I thought he was a great special teams coach and a master at defensive strategies. I also said as soon as he learns to outsource the offensive side of the football, he'll make an excellent head coach.
Belichick read the comments and called me. He said he felt bad for the way he handled things when he cut me and added that he couldn't believe that after all that had happened between him and me, all the emotionally charged moments, that I would say those nice things. He closed by saying that he really appreciated it.
When I retired from football, Belichick was the first one to call me. When I started Bernie's Insiders, he was the first to congratulate me.
I say to all of you today, I have no animosity towards him or the Modell family.
I've been blessed in my life. I've been afforded the opportunity to play the sport I love in front of the Browns fans that I love and with teammates that I loved and still love like family.
I truly believe that God gives you challenges in life that he knows you can handle and being cut by the only team that I ever wanted to play for was a challenge God knew I could handle.
I just wish he wouldn't have challenged me so much with some of those offensive lines I played behind over the years though.
I'm really feeling it now as I approach 40.