By the time April 24th rolled around, the palace coup at 1 Lou Groza Avenue was over. Butch Davis had out-maneuvered, out-hustled, and just plain out-lasted anyone in the Browns' front office foolish enough to challenge him.
Butch vehemently denies pushing anyone out of the organization. But when Carmen Policy abruptly retires from football to watch grapes ripen in Napa Valley, suspicions run high that Butch Davis had taken control of the front office. That thinking gets a major boost when Policy's family places a missing person report for the former 49ers executive. Apparently, Policy never got off his scheduled flight from Cleveland to San Francisco.
The unexplained disappearance kicks off a frenzied manhunt for Ron Wolf, a high-profile consultant for the Browns who quit just two days after Policy's departure. Authorities issue a nationwide Amber Alert for Wolf, complete with pictures of Wolf gracing milk boxes and highway billboards.
All this says one thing to new Browns owner Randy Lerner--stay the hell away from Butch's bad side. And stay away he does. To fill Policy's vacated role atop business operations, Randy hires John Collins, a former VP of marketing at the NFL. Collins is all hair, teeth, and backslaps; which is to say, he's about as much a threat to Butch as Robert Griffith is to Jamal Lewis on an open field run. It also sets the stage for one of the weirdest drafts in league history.
Just minutes before the draft, Butch swings a blockbuster deal. He trades the Browns' first and second round picks, Tim Couch, and the Cleveland Cavaliers to San Diego for the right to grab Robert Gallery with the first pick of the draft. The deal sends Raiders owner Al Davis into a rage. The crafty, zillion-year-old launcher of a thousand lawsuits smashes his cell phone to the ground in full view of ESPN cameras. Al Davis storms out the door, shouts something about killing Butch… and is never heard from again.
In the resulting confusion, the Raiders not only fail to take their first pick in the 15 minute window allowed for each team, they fail to pick in the first round at all. By the time the Raider brain trust recovers, the team is scrambling to make back to back selections late in the second round. It's an epic meltdown that only gets better when Craig Long, director of public relations for the Raiders, blurts out the name of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarrett. Clarrett, of course, had just been ruled ineligible for the draft less than a week earlier.
The weirdness doesn't stop there. At the top of the third round, Butch wrangles a trade with Arizona, shipping Dennis Kucinich and backup LB Kevin Bentley for a 3rd round pick and legendary Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose antics have finally tired in the desert southwest. Arpaio promptly sets up a tent city in Berea for players in Butch Davis' dog house. Dennis Northcutt and his agent Jerome Stanley are seen sleeping under the stars, as is safety Earl Little. More importantly, the Browns don't suffer a single off-field incident through the end of 2004. It takes Kucinich, meanwhile, just over a year to force the city of Phoenix into default.
All the while, Butch Davis' reign of terror continues. Roger Brown vanishes just days after publishing a scathing column about the coach's handling of player matters. Len Pasquerelli turns up missing when he writes a column critical of the Browns head coach for ESPN.com. And when Michael Wilbon cuts into Butch during a "Pardon the Interruption" segment on ESPN, the fiery Washington Post columnist disappears from the set during a commercial break.
The spate of abductions and disappearances has conspiracy freaks and UFO nuts up in arms. Berea police contend with phone lines jammed by frantic calls from guys in Airstream trailers, swearing they saw black helicopters taking off from the Browns facility. U2's Bono appears on David Letterman and announces that he'll be headlining a benefit concert--called Children of the Disappeared--in Cleveland Browns Stadium next month. New York City police scour the CBS studio after Bono and his band fail to show up for a taping the next day.
NFL players and the union are so unnerved that they dare not complain about Butch's hard-headed negotiating tactics. The Browns sign all the players it drafted after the second round to unprecedented 12-year contacts, effectively locking them up for the duration of their careers. For the first round pick, the Browns demand a lifetime contract, with a clause that states that all of the player's male progeny will be contracted to play for the Browns.
Combative agent Carl Poston is having none of it. The man who managed to transform stalwart cornerback Ty Law into an NFL villain decides to take Butch Davis head on, announcing that none of his clients will ever play for the Cleveland Browns. Absolutely no one is surprised when Poston fails to show up for his own 2:00 PM press conference in New York.
Two weeks later, nearly three dozen missing persons turn up in a Coast Guard raid off of Santa Catalina Island, near Los Angeles. The broken down barge, suspected of carrying illegal Chinese immigrants, turns out to be packed with NFL executives, sports columnists, popular entertainers, and one very angry agent. Al Davis, thankfully, is nowhere to be seen.
And that's the way I see it. GMD