This is the second part of the OBR's interview with Browns great Frank Minnifield. Please check out Part 1 by clicking here.
The OBR: How did you wind up in Cleveland as a free agent?
Frank Minnifield: That's a funny story. I'm down in Phoenix, Arizona (playing for the USFL's Arizona Wranglers), and have really gotten accustomed to the southwest climate. I went to (college at) Louisville and (Wranglers) coach George Allen convinced me to go to the USFL. I really started to enjoy the lifestyle down there in Phoenix. So when my contract ended with the USFL, I was really looking forward to staying someplace close to Phoenix. Maybe San Diego, maybe Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, some place that was going to have similar weather to Phoenix.
Probably about half the National Football League knew my contract was ending. Most of them talked to my agent about my services and you won't believe this, but my agent and I actually had a conversation about where I would least like to play. Obviously, I picked the team than was furthest north and we decided we were going to go public and tell everybody that's where we were going, thinking everyone would step back in and start bidding again. The opposite happened. So I said, "All right, we'll see ya." And Cleveland was the only one left.
The OBR: So the team you didn't want to go to was the one you wound up with.
Frank Minnifield: Well, it wasn't that I didn't want to play for Cleveland. I wasn't real interested in playing in snow and sloppy conditions and that type of weather. Out in Phoenix, it never rains, it never snows. Every day is just like yesterday. I started to find a whole lot of things I liked about that. After Phoenix, you don't even look at the Weather Channel.
The OBR: Turns out that's the best thing that happened to you.
Frank Minnifield: Yeah, it is.
The OBR: So you get to Cleveland and the Browns are having some good times and some bad times. They pick up Bernie Kosar and here you wind up with a guy named Hanford Dixon. All of a sudden, things changed for you. Then along came the Dawg Pound. How did that happen?
Frank Minnifield: I think everybody had a small part in creating the Dawg Pound. I don't think it was any one person or any one day. Obviously, Hanford and I kind of took it and ran with it and started marketing it. It was one of those things where probably no one really realized (how big it would get) when it was first said . . . once it got going, everyone took ownership of it.
The OBR: What was the reason for its birth?
Frank Minnifield: You know what? I really, really truly believe it was meant to happen. I think most of us, besides the guys (on defense) who were drafted No. 1 (Dixon, Tom Cousineau and Clay Matthews), were basically overachievers, guys who had to work for everything they got in life. That whole Dawg concept kind of fit all of us. It was a Dawg type of a life. We worked hard every day. There wasn't anybody out there fighting for us. We had to fight for ourselves, for everything. Cleveland was pretty much down at that time. During the 1980s, the Kardiac Kids were well known, but defensively, they were struggling that whole time. And the Dawg Pound and the Dawg concept and the barking and the throwing the stuff on the field, it just fit all of our personalities.
The OBR: How surprised were you when it caught on and really took off?
Frank Minnifield: I was really never surprised because I wasn't really paying that much attention to it. I was trying to win football games. Hanford and I were getting a kick out of doing what we were doing. It really wasn't until late in the development of the Dawg Pound that we realized how big that thing was and to this day, now you really understand how big it was because now it's been 20 years and people still look on that era as an extremely fun time to be a Cleveland Browns fan.
The OBR: You came into the NFL at 5-9, considered somewhat undersized for your position. How much of a motivating factor was that?
Frank Minnifield: In 1984, when I showed up on the horizon, the National Football League defensive backs were in transition. No one had figured out what type of defensive back they needed in order to defend this more aggressive passing game. And then came the change in the rules, where you had to touch the receiver in the first five yards. It wasn't one of these things where you'd run all over the field and hit (the receiver) whenever you wanted to. Your big defensive backs started to fade off the globe, kind of similar to the dinosaurs. At one point, they ruled the game. Now, we had a rules change and the defensive back was in transition. The things I could do well became a very desirable trait to have in a defensive back.
The OBR: In what way did you take advantage of that?
Frank Minnifield: Your 6-2, 6-3 defensive back, Mel Blount, Mike Haynes, Mark Haynes, Lester Hayes, all those guys, that whole philosophy was to get the wide receivers off their feet. Knock the wide receiver down at some point in the play. If you don't get them at the line of scrimmage, then you get them in their first break. If you don't get them in their first break, then you get them if the quarterback doesn't throw them the ball. That was kind of the way they played the game. Consequently, the big wide receiver had to change. So you go to the Mike Quicks, the James Loftons, the Harold Carmichaels and all those huge guys playing wide receiver.
But then the rules changed and there was a new type of receiver who dominated the National Football League. There was a smaller, quicker, more lateral moving wide receiver . . . the Marks Brothers (in Miami), the Three Amigos (in Denver), the Smurfs (in Washington), guys my size started dominating the landscape. So I arrived on the scene just as that was starting to happen. If I had arrived on the scene six years earlier, I probably would have been cut because the things I could do well weren't being used in the NFL at that time.
The OBR: Let's talk about your son, Chase. He signed a letter-of-intent to attend the University of Virginia.
Frank Minnifield: He has not signed. He's going to be a senior this year. He committed to the University of Virginia hoping it would help them with their recruiting. Once we saw all the advantages of going to Virginia and having coach Al Groh down there and feeling that was a very stable situation for him, there was no reason for us to not try to help the program.
The OBR: So you're not unhappy he didn't choose to go to your alma mater.
Frank Minnifield: No. there's different medicine for everybody. We really scrutinized it to the nth degree. And believe me, Louisville was our No. 1 choice, but in the end, I think Chase felt like it, I think my wife felt like it and, in the end, I felt like it, that the things Virginia emphasized was more beneficial for him than any other school.
The OBR: When he goes off to Virginia, and he plays the same position you did, what's the best piece of advice you can give him?
Frank Minnifield: Preparation's everything. You've got to prepare to succeed and to be successful, it doesn't just happen.
CORRECTION: In part one of this story yesterday, it was incorrectly reported that the United States Football League went out of business in 1984. The USFL's last season was 1985.