An open letter to new Browns general manager Tom Heckert:
Welcome to the Cleveland – or welcome back, as it were, since you were in and out of town a lot from 1982-86 when your dad, Tom Heckert Sr., was a scout for the Browns.
You said in your introductory press conference recently that in addition to coming here with your dad on business trips from your home in Adrian, Mich., you also went with buddies to a lot of Browns home games while you were in high school and college. You mentioned that you were even at "The Drive," the 23-20 loss in overtime to the Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. When you looked down and shook your head slightly as you said that, I know that that defeat still bothers you, just like it does the rest of us.
That's exactly why I'm writing you at this time. The conference championship games will be held on Sunday, of course, with the Indianapolis Colts hosting the New York Jets – remember those guys? -- in the AFC and the Minnesota Vikings visiting the New Orleans Saints in the NFC.
Yeah, remember those guys, the Jets? The Browns earned a trip to "The Drive" game by outlasting the Jets 23-20 in double-overtime eight days before in the divisional round. That Jets game was also at Cleveland Stadium. You were probably there. If not, then I'm certain you recall that game, for it, too, was a classic, but in a better way.
Anyway, your boss, new team president Mike Holmgren, the guy who hired you, said at your introductory press conference that slowly but surely, he's beginning to understand what Browns football – and Browns fans – are all about. This is where you come in. We would like to give him a long, detailed explanation of such, but it's a heckuva lot easier for you to do it since you see him every day at Browns Headquarters and you're someone he really likes and respects. You could tell him what it was like back in the day, back in 1986, and how it would be that way again – but maybe only better – if the Browns could somehow return to that level.
The guy who hired your dad in Cleveland, former head coach Sam Rutigliano, really seems to grasp the Browns experience. He once said, "When it's good in Cleveland, it's better than it is anywhere else in the NFL."
He's right, and you know that from having been here before and seen it for yourself.
Think back to the last weeks of the 1986 regular season, when the Browns were putting the finishing touches on a 12-4 record to guarantee themselves home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and then in the days leading up to the two playoff games, especially the AFC title contest. Think back to how wild it was with the non-stop Browns mania.
Everywhere you went, it was Browns, Browns, Browns, whether it be the "Bernie, Bernie" rendition of the song, "Louie, Louie," all the banners, streamers and pennants hanging in the windows of businesses and homes not just in Cleveland, but in the outlying areas as well, from Chagrin Falls to Olmsted Falls to Cuyahoga Falls and beyond, and just the constant conversation about the team from people at work, home and school and everywhere in between. It was a 24/7 sports talk show. All Browns, all the time, all the places.
You couldn't escape it no matter how hard you tried, and no matter where you went.
If you were a Steelers fan, then it was like a living you-know-what to be around these parts at that time. That made it even better. The worse those guys feel, the better we all feel. It's just the way it is.
And when Kosar threw that 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Brennan, who faked out safety Dennis Smith so badly that his legs became a twist-tie, and went ahead of the Broncos 20-13 with just under five minutes left in regulation, and then Denver fumbled and stumbled around on the ensuing kickoff and got downed at its 2, the Stadium crowd roared maybe like it had never roared before, or since. The Browns were going to the Super Bowl – finally. You could see it, sense it, smell it, hear it and almost touch it.
But you know that because you were there.
Instead of getting physically ill, as that story – and that memory – always does to all of us, think about this: How much better would it have been had the Browns closed out that win and then went to the Super Bowl? The world as we know it here might just have spun out of control and sent us all off into the stratosphere. It would have been the party to end all parties.
And if the Browns had gone on to win the Super Bowl to top it off, then we would have set new records for celebrations, ticker-tape parades and unbridled joy.
Now, on top of that, think about this: With 23 more years of pent-up frustration added on to what we – and things – were like in 1986, what would it be like now for this team to get over the hump?
We only hope we find out at some point soon.
But in the meantime, make sure Holmgren knows all about this, and more importantly, understands it. That thought will act as an inspiration for both of you when you get bogged down over the next several months and are daunted by the enormous challenge of turning this franchise around.
Remember, nothing is ever as bad as what it seems to be, and at the same time, nothing is ever as good as what it seems to be.
Except maybe for the Browns winning the AFC Championship Game, advancing to the Super Bowl and winning that one as well, finally quenching the thirst we've had for way too long.
For as Coach Sam says, "When it's good in Cleveland, it's better than it is anywhere else."
But you know that, because you've been here.
Just wanted to make sure you knew that, and that you realized the importance of it this week especially, what with the conference championship games and all.
Before I go, make sure to tell your dad we – all of us -- said hello.
And if the Browns ever get to that AFC title game during your tenure, particularly if it's in Cleveland, then you might want to invite him to sit with you and Holmgren in your box and watch. "The Drive" game was your dad's swan song in Cleveland since he left after that year, so there's some unfinished business. It would be a good father-son moment of closure.
Moreover, it would be a good moment for Holmgren to finally see – full flush – what everybody's been talking about.