By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The next generation: It wasn’t Brian Hoyer’s birthright to some day play quarterback for the Browns. Every kid in Greater Cleveland of his generation who loved football dreamt of doing that.
He just happened to be born the same day Bernie Kosar made his first NFL start for the Browns on Oct. 13, 1985.
“My dad always told me that,” Hoyer said to me on Wednesday. “He said he was waiting for me to be born while watching that game.”
For the record, Kosar endured a difficult day in his first start as a 21-year-old rookie. But he beat a couple of Jerry Glanville’s all-out blitzes in the second half and returned from the Astrodome in Houston with a 21-6 victory over the Oilers.
Hoyer had no less difficult time than Kosar in his first outing for the Browns Sunday in Minnesota. A generation apart, the most obvious parallel was that both quarterbacks persevered and produced a victory that instilled confidence in them from teammates hungry for someone to lead them.
When Hoyer scanned the dozens of texts and messages of congratulations on his smart phone after the 31-27 win over the Vikings, the one from Kosar stood out.
“You look down on your phone and there’s ‘Hey, it’s Bernie Kosar,’” Hoyer said. “For me, when I used to wear his jersey in the backyard to now getting a message from him, that’s pretty cool.
“I do remember seeing him play. We had season tickets, so we were going all the time. Every game me and my dad would go. Our seats were behind one of the posts. I just remember trying to look around the post and seeing if Eric Metcalf made it up the middle.”
Hoyer was only 8 when Kosar was banished in the middle of the 1993 season by Bill Belichick. He was, of course, the same coach who eventually signed Hoyer for the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent from Michigan State in 2009. That’s a story for another day.
The homecoming: Hoyer grew up in suburban North Olmsted and played high school football for inner city powerhouse St. Ignatius, of course. Unlike Kosar, who was born and bred a Browns fan in Boardman, 80 miles southeast, near Youngstown, Hoyer is a true-blue Clevelander.
He will make his first start in his home stadium Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brandon Weeden has been ruled out for the second week in a row with a sprained thumb.
“Sure, it means a lot,” Hoyer said about the occasion. “I think this is the part, when you guys ask me does it mean more, obviously playing at home, it’s going to be special. But once they kick that ball off, that’s what you have to worry about. Maybe you think about it after the game. It’ll be awesome. Our fans will be great.”
The more you’re around Hoyer, the more you can feel the influence on him by Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback for whom he understudied three years with New England.
Asked about his debut Sunday in Minnesota, in which he shook off three interceptions and led the Browns to their first win with a touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron in the last minute of the game, Hoyer said, “It was OK. I’m really disappointed in myself with those decisions I made because those are kind of easy things. Usually that’s not in my game to make bad decisions like that. But you watch it and you move on.”
Hoyer cobbled together a winning effort despite practicing with the first team for the first time on Wednesday since he joined the team in May. He worked with the third-teamers throughout training camp and preseason and practiced with the scout team the first two weeks of the regular season.
“I think just came out and played relaxed,” Hoyer said. “A lot of people probably thought I’d be nervous or anxious. For me, I always feel the best when I get to the stadium and get into a routine, get going. That probably helped me loosen up a bit, we had a few drives get going early, some big plays. You just have to be yourself. I’m not really concerned with what I did best. I’m concerned with what I did poorly. You try to learn from that and move on.”
When asked about Brady’s influence on Hoyer, receiver Josh Gordon said, “Sitting behind a guy like Tom Brady, you’re definitely going to pick up some things, especially after three years. You’re going to pick up his habits of the game, his leadership capabilities. You’re going to take that with you.”
One hungry quarterback: One of the interesting differences in the Browns’ passing game with Hoyer at the helm was the utter resolve to get the ball in the hands of Gordon. Hoyer targeted the smooth receiver 19 times – far more than any game with Weeden at quarterback last year.
“I’m very confident in him,” Gordon said. “He’s a real fired-up mentality kind of guy. He never seems to get rattled, after the interceptions, sacks, just bad plays. He comes out there the next drive and acts like it never happened and that’s just exactly what we need.”
Gordon observed a difference between Hoyer and Weeden.
“Hoyer definitely seems more like a scrappier player out there,” he said. “I don’t know, he just wants to prove himself. He just doesn’t really care what people think about him, anything like that, whatever his situation was about being a backup and how he got into this position now, he just wants to take full advantage of it.”
The new Browns’ regime has talked about fielding “hungry” players. There might not be a hungrier one on the team right now. Hoyer has been yearning for this job, well, since he was born.
|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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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