Goofy ol' Sam Wyche will always be remembered for the wrong thing in northeast Ohio.
One day during his reign as head coach of the Bengals, fans in Riverfront Stadium were in a mischievous mood, winging snowballs at each other, players and officials.
Wyche halted the game like a traffic accident by grabbing a microphone and shouting over the P.A. system, "Stop what you're doing. You don't live in Cleveland. You live in Cincinnati!"
In a later life, as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wyche made a decision that would have far more impact on that franchise than admonishing a few well-oiled fans. It occurred during the 1995 draft. Wyche used the Bucs' 12th pick in the first round on University of Miami¹s (pre Butch Davis days) Warren Sapp, despite widespread reports linking Sapp and marijuana.
Why did he take a chance on Sapp?
"When we met face to face, I asked him if he was going to continue that when he got to the NFL," Wyche explained. "He looked me in the eye and said, 'Coach, I promise you, if you take me, I will never embarrass you by doing anything like that.' Sometimes, you have to take a man at his word."
Sapp, arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL, has fulfilled his promise to Wyche off the field as well. He has not had a single substance abuse problem.
On Draft Day 2002, the Browns took a chance on a player whose past didn't quite mirror Sapp's, but nonetheless is a past that could have caused Davis to red flag him on the Browns' draft board. But the Browns are not worried.
William Green, a 6-1, 220-pound running back from Boston College, was suspended for the Aloha Bowl in 2000 and the game against the University of Miami last season, each time for marijuana use.
During their one-on-one meetings at the combines in February, and subsequently during a more extensive one-on-one session during a visit at Boston College, Davis and others in the Browns front office were convinced Green will not resort to substance abuse again. They made him the 16th pick of the first round.
"I let a lot of people down," Green said frankly the day after the draft. "It was a life lesson and taught me a lot. It's something I'm never going to do again.
"I'm going to come in here and work hard and help the team win. Whatever it takes, that's what I'm going to do. One thing the Browns will find is I'm an extremely hard worker. I'm going to give it my all."
It is truly amazing the only black marks on Green's record are a couple incidents with marijuana, considering the temptations and traps he was faced with while growing up.
Green was raised in one of the toughest projects in Atlantic City, N.J., a neighborhood that makes a Cleveland slum look like a country club by comparison. His father was a heroine addict. He died from complications related to AIDS when William Green was 12.
Green's mother contracted AIDS from his father and died from the merciless disease when Green was 14.
His maternal grandmother raised Green. As though losing both parents to AIDS wasn't bad enough, because of financial straits he was separated from his siblings. He has two brothers, two sisters, a half brother and a half sister.
At any time during his teenage years, Green could have been swallowed by a life of hard drugs and crime and easily gone down the same path of no return his father took. But Green had football and a God-given talent he was smart enough to not squander.
Tim Fetter, a high school football coach, saw potential in Green the way a talent scout sees stardom in a budding actor. Fetter guided Green to Holy Spirit High School, a Catholic school in Atlantic City, where discipline came first and football second.
His success at Holy Spirit prompted offers from all over the country, including Miami, but Green chose Boston College because it was a better fit academically and geographically.
One might think Green already had suffered through his life's share of hard knocks, but such was not the case. A year ago, Fetter pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct.
"I use the things that have happened in my life as motivation," Green said. "Football has always been my escape. There's no greater feeling than when everybody is behind you and you know they can't catch you."
There is symbolism in that remark by Green. The demons of his past have tried unsuccessfully to tackle him. Now, only 22 years old, he has the chance to make a new life for himself and his brothers and sisters. Green wants to reward those who never gave up on him by returning that faith.
That vow includes the Browns. They are getting a football player that should make life easier for Couch. The Browns ranked last in total offense each year since their return to the NFL. They were last in rushing in 1999 and 2001. They were 30th, second last, in 2000.
Davis could have selected 254-pound T.J. Duckett, a running back from Michigan State with a faster 40-yard dash time and a clean past, but Green is considered more of a big-play back.
Green ran a plodding 4.6 40-yard dash at the scouting combines. Big deal. Last season he had touchdown runs of 67, 58, 42, 71, 40 and 62 yards.
Director of Football Opera-tions Dwight Clark compared Green to Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. Lewis rushed for 1,364 as a rookie in 2001. He was injured last year.
"William is a power runner who can make you miss when he needs to, but he's also going to break a lot of tackles because of how strong and talented he is," Clark said. "At this level, the holes aren't open very long. We felt William has the explosion to get through the holes fast and the vision to get the extra yards once he gets through the line of scrimmage."
Green left Boston College after his junior season. He gained 1,559 yards on 265 carries, a 5.9 average, and scored 15 rushing touchdowns in 2001. He gained 1,164 yards on 187 carries and scored 14 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore.
"William Green is 221 pounds," Davis said. "We feel he'll add a new dimension to our offense. He has been at or near 100 yards almost every single game. He has power, speed and jump-cut ability.
"We¹ve broken down run after contact and how often each of these runners made the initial tackler miss. That's one of the things that impressed us. He also had the longest runs."
And the fact is, had William Green run a 4.3 40 instead of 4.6, the Browns never would have sniffed him at 16 despite the suspensions for marijuana.
"I'm not a track star," Green said. "You get down there, they put you in a three-point stance and tell you to run the 40. Put a football in my hand, and there's not a guy on the field who can catch me. That's all that matters."
Davis sees a backfield of Green and James Jackson taking heat off Couch. Couch has been sacked 117 times in 38 games. Opponents have scoffed at the Browns' running game because it existed only technically. The theory is that with the addition of Green plus two drafted offensive linemen and two free agency additions on the line the run offense will become a legitimate threat.
"The more weapons we can surround Tim Couch with, the better we'll be," Davis said. "It gives us a terrific one-two punch with William Green and James Jackson. We truly believe that each guy in his own right is a feature-type guy.
Green was healthy during his two seasons as a starter for Boston College. As for his past, his hard life growing up and his suspensions, well, the key word there is PAST. The Browns are convinced of it.
"There's always concerns (about character), even when a young man comes in without official marks on his record," Browns president Carmen Policy said.
"When he comes from a background that presents challenges, those challenges can make you strong. If you go through the process of surviving, and surviving against pretty substantial odds, when you come out with a scratch, a bruise, a black eye, I'm talking about a character standpoint, but nothing is broken, I think now you're ready to take it to the next level.
"And I think with Butch Davis to look up to, coach you and mentor you and help direct you, I think this is an excellent opportunity for (Green) and an excellent opportunity for us."
Davis added: "Our interactions with him were all very positive. He looks you in the eye. He's a very straightforward guy."
Except when he is carrying a football. Then he isn't straight-forward. He shimmies and shakes to make opponents miss.
If all goes well, opponents will be grabbing at air in the years to come when they reach for Green. And William Green will be grabbing a dream.
|Pick: No. 16 (first round)
College: Boston College
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 6-0, 221
40-yard dash: 4.6
Birthdate: Dec. 17, 1979
High School: Holy Spirit (Atlantic City, N.J.) High School
Honors: (2001) All-American first-team selection by The NFL Draft Report, Walter Camp, The Sporting News and Football News; All-Big East Conference first-team and Offensive Player of the Year (2000) First-team All-Big East Conference