By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
The Wizard of Oz: I’ve known Ozzie Newsome for over 25 years, have interviewed him a thousand times and stated his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in three closed-door selectors meetings before he was enshrined.
Yet I heard a few stories Monday night that I’d never heard before.
The Baltimore Ravens general manager and former Browns tight end great was compelling when fielding questions from guests at ESPN Cleveland’s “An Evening With …” series at Flemings Prime Steakhouse in Woodmere.
On the disappointment of falling short of the Super Bowl last year because of a dropped pass in the end zone by Lee Evans:
“Lee Evans is one of the nicest young men I’ve ever been around, from Bedford, Ohio. He came to my office the next day, and said, ‘I worked my whole life for that opportunity and I didn’t come away with the catch.’ He wanted to talk to me because he knew what I had went through with Red Right 88, the Drive, the Fumble. He asked, ‘How do you deal with that?’ And I told him as time moves on, it heals. You will heal.
“The very next day I was down at the Senior Bowl with Earnest Byner and I told him about Lee coming up to talk with me. And Earnest said, ‘Yeah. But you know what? You do heal, but it’s always there. Even though I got a chance to win a Super Bowl with the Redskins, it still eats at me for what happened to me when we played against the Broncos (in the Fumble game).’”
On the disappointment after ‘the Drive’ -- the loss to John Elway in the 1986 season AFC Championship Game:
“Brian (Brennan) scored that touchdown and we kicked off and they got the ball at the 2-yard line. What I’ve come to learn, the mistake that we made, myself and the whole offense, was we watched that drive, instead of getting ourselves ready to go back out on the field and win the game in overtime. Watching the Broncos execute, I think it took our will away from us.
“I’ve learned, when the defense is out on the field, you can’t control what they do, so get yourself ready for when you go back on the field. If we’d have been prepared to step out on that field and do what we had just did by scoring a touchdown, then we win that game.”
On joining Art Modell in Baltimore after moving the old Browns in 1996:
“I cannot sit here and say it wasn’t some difficult times, for the fans, for us, to have the opportunity to move. I didn’t know I’d have the chance to move. Eventually Art called me and invited me he said, ‘I’m moving the team and I want you to go with me.’
“You know what, I’d been here for 18 years and I don’t think there’s a street in this city that I don’t know, that I could get lost on. I was so much a part of this city and the fabric of the fans. But that became a unique opportunity. An opportunity that I was able to parlay to become the first African-Anmerican general manger. So out of something that was somber and disappointing, something good happened. I think that’s the way you have to look at everything in life.”
On the impact of Modell’s decision on the 1995 season:
“I remember Bill (Belichick) called me in his office when we were on a downward spiral and he said, ‘I don’t know how we can stop this bleeding. I’ve asked all around for any other time when a team went through this. I don’t know if this has ever happened before in the middle of a season and I don’t know how to stop the bleeding.’ We were 4-2 when that announcement came. Then that took the air out of us. Really did.”
On the rift between Belichick and Bernie Kosar:
“I was on the coaching staff. It was (against) Denver … it’s always Denver. It became a situation where Bernie had audibled and we ended up scoring a touchdown, and it was one of those things where Bill felt he needed to have control of the team. We had Vinny (Testaverde), but Vinny was hurt. We didn’t know how hurt at that time.
“He felt he could make the change from Bernie, but he didn’t feel like if he did that Bernie should be on the team. If you’re going to make the decision, you have to make it wholeheartedly. Today, he and Bernie are good friends again and Bill would admit he made a mistake doing it. I think Bill learned from that.”
On whether he agreed with Belichick’s decision at the time:
“That’s one of the times, we had a staff meeting, which included Mr. Modell and (former VP) Jim Bailey, and when the decision was made, we all had to be all-in. Whether you agree with it or not, you’ve got to be all-in. Otherwise it would really fracture you, so that’s what happened.”
On whether he ever envisioned Belichick being a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach:
“He was very detailed, very thorough. He would ask questions, and half the time he would know what the answers were. He would push and prod and make sure we covered everything. Now I’m with the Competition Committee and when we discuss new rules, we look for the unintended consequences. That’s what Bill does. So … I didn’t know he was going to be as good as he’s become. I think Tom Brady’s had something to do with that. But he lived and ate football and it ended up impacting his life.”
On what in his career is he most proud of:
“I think when you look back over your career, both as a player and now as a front office executive, the people I’ve had a chance to touch along the way are still my friends. They still respect me. I think they applaud me. What I’m coming to learn now in my position, there’s a lot of young guys coming in … probably 70 percent of the guys (at the NFL combine) are fatherless. This has given me the chance to be a life coach also. … There is something else in life and my platform to be able to help those kids is through being a general manager. But I’ve got a chance to help some young men to become better men, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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