It was 1999, a few months before the National Football League draft, and Browns fans geared up for the annual college draft.
The new Browns, partially formed courtesy of the stocking draft and the signing of several street free agents, owned the first pick in the college draft. What better way to inaugurate the new franchise, they figured, than by picking a quarterback.
Not just any quarterback, mind you. A franchise quarterback.
As opposed to what, a franchise linebacker? A franchise running back? A franchise offensive left tackle?
What the hell is a franchise anything in football? What does that mean?
Football teams win because of the confluence of numerous phases of the game played at an extremely high level. The higher the level, the better a team's chances of winning.
The New England Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowl games. And they were led by quarterback Tom Brady. Does the Pats' move toward dynasty status make Brady a franchise quarterback? A sixth-round draft choice?
Peyton Manning's status as a franchise quarterback is blemished by the fact he hasn't come even close to a Super Bowl.
OK, so what exactly is a franchise quarterback? Here's your answer. There is no such animal. Like there is no such thing a franchise linebacker or running back or offensive left tackle.
When the New York Giants drafted Lawrence Taylor out of North Carolina in 1981, did all of Manhattan go crazy because the Giants drafted . . . ooooo . . . a franchise linebacker? Of course not. He was just another very good football player.
And yet, Taylor changed the game with his style of play, helping the Giants become one of the great teams in his 13-season NFL career.
For too many years, a team's quarterback receives entirely too much credit for winning and way too much blame for losing.
A quarterback cannot be held accountable for the way his team's defense performs. He can't be accused of failing if his coaching staff is inept. He can't be charged with gross incompetence if his wide receivers run the wrong routes and/or can't hold on to the ball.
Are they better than Manning or Brett Favre, a non-franchise quarterback drafted in the second round by Atlanta in 1991? Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Maybe it's because they rang up solid numbers at their schools. Or perhaps because Smith's Utes didn't lose a game last season. And Rodgers made Kyle Boller, who preceded him at California, look like . . . well . . . Tim Couch.
So was Smith solely responsible for the Utes' unbeaten season? Did he play defense, too? Kick field goals?
OK, so I'm exaggerating. But by now, you get my point.
As a Browns fan, one very concerned with which path General Manager Phil Savage chooses to trundle down April 23-24, I fear he will take one of those . . . ooooo . . . franchise quarterbacks.
Why else would he stop in Utah and Berkeley to watch Smith and Rodgers perform for all the scouts? With the number three pick in his pocket, there's a good chance one of them will drop to Savage.
Savage comes here with the reputation of being a shrewd judge of talent. He steered Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome to a half dozen All-Pro and/or Pro Bowl players while sleuthing for the Ravens.
But the one position at which he has been bereft of anything resembling a clue is quarterback.
While with the Ravens, he tried first with Chris Redman several years ago. Redman has been an abysmal failure.
Then came Boller, a guy so strongly recommended by Savage and his people, the Ravens traded their second-round pick in 2003 and their first choice in 2004 to get him. Backed by a solid offensive line, a great running back and a terrific defense, he has been average at best.
This past season, the Ravens' defense scored almost as many touchdowns (nine) as Boller threw TD passes (13). The Ravens finished 9-7 and the offense averaged about 17 points a game.
There is growing concern that Savage leans toward drafting either Smith or Rodgers. That would be a mistake equal to – if not exceeding – the mistake the Browns made on that fateful April day in 1999.
And now, nearly six years later, we might hear the following on April 23 by Tagliabue as he confronts the microphone and pronounces: "With the third pick of the 2005 draft, the Cleveland Browns select Alex Smith, quarterback, University if Utah (or Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, University of California-Berkeley)."
No . . . no . . . NO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O.
If Savage picks either one, it proves this franchise is doomed forever to repeat its mistakes. He is a pawn and can't help himself.