King: Living Through the Uproar

While the locker room filled with noise, three veterans grimly weighed another upended Browns season. Some players come and go, but for these three, another lost Browns season is more personal...

There's wide receiver Brian Robiskie. He spent his high school years in Chagrin Falls in Cleveland's far eastern suburbs serving as a ball boy for the Browns while his dad, Terry, was the team's receivers coach, offensive coordinator and, briefly, interim head coach. He then went on to star at Ohio State

There's linebacker Jason Trusnik, who grew up in Macedonia, located between Cleveland and Akron, played at Nordonia High School and finished his college career at Ohio Northern.

There's quarterback Brady Quinn, who grew up a big Browns fan in the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Dublin and played at Coffman High School.

There's wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs, a former Kent State quarterback who is in his fifth year with the Browns.

There's wide receiver Mike Furrey, who was born in Galion, Ohio, played at Hilliard High School in the Columbus, Ohio area, and was a walk-on as a freshman at Ohio State before transferring.

Because of their Browns, local and/or regional ties, the struggles of the team on the field this season, and the circus-like atmosphere off the field that has been prevalent not just this year but for a number of years, hits home to them.

But there's a definite limit to the pain they feel, for Robiskie also lived other places while growing up, Trusnik has been with the Browns less than a month, Quinn grew up two full hours away and has been a Brown for only three years, Cribbs was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and Furrey, like Quinn, grew up 125 miles to the south.

Most of the other players on the Browns are so-called hired guns. They didn't grow up here and/or haven't played with the club for very long. This is their job, and they would be just as willing to do it in Indianapolis, Seattle, Atlanta and – gulp! – Baltimore and Pittsburgh – as they would in Cleveland, so long as their paychecks clear.

However, there are three – and only three – players on the Browns for whom this year's nightmare – and the nightmare overall of the expansion era – are extremely personal. They have either put down deep roots with the Browns because of the length of their service, or they were born and raised in the Cleveland area rooting for the Browns, and coming home is something they've always wanted to do.

Meet kicker Phil Dawson, tight end Steve Heiden and punter Dave Zastudil. They fully realize all the negative emotions Browns fans are going through because they're experiencing them, too.

And it's now more so than ever following Monday's midseason firing – or resignation, depending on whom you believe – of general manager George Kokinis on Monday. That came two days after the Browns, who may arguably have their poorest team ever, lost their third straight to fall to 1-7, tying for their worst start in the expansion era and angering to the hilt owner Randy Lerner.

And it came two weeks after the owner angered to the hilt Eric Mangini by hiring former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar as a consultant to look over the shoulder of the head coach and his offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, and also two weeks after the owner fired Mangini's close associate, director of team operations Erin O'Brien.

And did we mention that Kokinis was hand-picked by Mangini, thus making the coach further angered by what happened on Monday when he was forced to offer up his friend -- or former friend, as it were – as the fall guy for the team's struggles?

Talk about an ongoing soap opera. Right now, Jon and Kate Gosselin have nothing on the Browns when it comes to being dysfunctional.

It may be humorous to some, but that's not the case for Browns fans – or for Dawson, Heiden and Zastudil. Having become a running national joke is no laughing matter to them.

Dawson, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and maybe the best of the great lineage of kickers the Browns have had, is the last member of the team's 1999 expansion club still left in the league. Though he was born and raised in the Dallas area and is as proud of a native Texan as you'll ever find, he now makes his year-round home in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake. So between that and his length of service, he's put down deep roots in the area. He's a Greater Clevelander and a Browns lifer.

Heiden had never been to Cleveland before being traded here at the start of the 2002 season, but with this being his eighth season with the Browns, he is second only to Dawson on the active roster in terms of longevity with the club. So he, too, is closely tied to this community and this team.

But long before Dawson and Heiden knew what – or where – the Terminal Tower was, that the big body of water next to Cleveland Browns Stadium was Lake Erie, or could pronounce Berea, Cuyahoga and Medina properly, these were Zastudil's stomping grounds. He was born and raised in Bay Village, just a few booming punts west of Cleveland, and was an ardent Browns fan. He went on to play at Ohio University and with the former Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, but getting back here to suit up for the current Browns was always his dream, and when it finally came about as he signed as a free agent in 2006, nothing – not even a season's worth of kicks that roll dead inside the opponent's 1 – could have made him happier.

But none of these three Browns are happy now, or willing to talk about it. We're not talking about fluffy, feel-good quotes, the kind that came out of the locker room on Tuesday and were attributed to these players, but honest, thought-provoking, straight-from-the-heart, "This is how we really feel" comments.

Neither Dawson nor Heiden nor Zastudil were willing to touch that with a 10-foot pole. There would be a better chance of oh, say, Kokinis running the next Browns draft.

"No, I'm sorry," Dawson said. "Getting involved in that would take my focus off my job – my next kick – and I can't afford to do that. I've got to stay on track."

Spilling their guts on the matter would have only served to fester the situation and further anger their coach and owner – not a good thing for employees to do – and, more importantly, to further frustrate themselves.

In fact, their refusal to do it – their refusal to provide pointed answers to pointed questions – were, in effect, revealing answers.

While some – in fact, a lot of their teammates -- laughed and joked around in a fiddling-while-Rome-burns manner, Dawson, Zastudil and Heiden, somber and expressionless, quietly got dressed and readied for practice.

Though they would never, ever say this, either, you get the idea that those three Browns were irritated – probably very much so – at their teammates' lack of concern about a half-season – just a half-season – that has taken a once-very proud franchise and dragged it through the mud, stomped on it and then spat on it while the entire country watched.

All these other players – maybe even the ones who, as mentioned, are feeling some pain over what is transpiring – will leave the Browns and Cleveland someday, quite possibly sooner rather than later.

But Phil Dawson, Dave Zastudil and Steve Heiden will stay behind and be forced to continue to deal with this untenable situation.


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