By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Back to the future: Before there was Johnny Manziel, Bernie Kosar was the last great Browns quarterback who created the giant buzz in Cleveland.
And before there was Brian Hoyer, the veteran who toiled in the vortex of Bernie Mania was Gary Danielson. It was just about the hardest job on the football team, back in 1985.
Everyone wanted to see Kosar play right off the bat – except the coaches. Danielson arrived in a trade with the mandate to keep the kid on the bench as long as he could.
“When I was there, I was pretty much convinced that Bernie was the franchise quarterback and I was playing a role to push him and compete with him,” Danielson said. “Everything I did was mindful of the fact it was Bernie’s team. Maybe not exactly that day, but very soon. And I wanted it to be his team.
“No matter what I did or say, I was always aware of doing everything in the perspective of Bernie first. But that didn’t mean I didn’t try hard.
“It never entered my mind to keep him off the bench as long as I could. What entered my mind was playing my best to create value for the trade and kind of honoring my career. Plus, we had a good team. I felt the team was one quarterback away from being a contender.”
Danielson held the starting job through the first four games, winning two, and then was hurt in Game 5, another win. Kosar came in in relief and fumbled his first snap. The rookie started the next four games, and then gave way to a one-game return of the gimpy-armed Danielson, in which the Browns mashed out a win despite seven total pass attempts.
Danielson’s wounded wing took him out again and Kosar finished the season. The Browns won the division with an 8-8 record, launching a five-year playoff run that hasn’t been approached since.
Similarities and differences: In this era, Hoyer is the local kid whose chance at claiming a starting job for the first time in his career is threatened by the national phenom, Manziel.
Ultra-competitive in his own right, Hoyer faces two foes in the coming training camp – Manziel Mania, plus his own burning desire to return as good as new from October ACL surgery.
Before the injury, Hoyer grabbed a deflated locker room and showed it could win right now. His ability to stay on the field will dictate how soon Manziel gets on it.
“Hoyer reminds me of the way I played, to tell you the truth,” Danielson said. “But I was never going to allow a controversy to happen. I was at a different point of my career. When I did well, it didn’t matter.”
Danielson was 34 when cast in the role of Kosar mentor and had been a starter on and off for eight seasons in Detroit (ironically, his hometown team). Hoyer is 28 and looking for the first team to call his own.
“The biggest difference between Brian and I may not be our age as much as the fact I had my chance to be a starter in the league,” Danielson said. “It wasn’t as hard (to give up the reins).”
Even in the following training camp in 1986, coaches were still of the mindset to start Danielson ahead of Kosar. But a broken ankle in the fourth preseason game ended that plan. Kosar rose to the occasion with 349 total yards in a season-opening loss against the historic defense of the defending champion Chicago Bears. Four more playoff seasons, including three AFC Championship Game appearances, ensued.
Dealing with the mania: Here is Danielson’s advice to Hoyer:
“The right mindset for him is to embrace the fact that Manziel is going to need a partner to be a great quarterback,” he said. “And that may mean he starts for a year, it may mean he starts for a game, or not at all. But he has embrace it, play as well as he can and put the team in front of his own desires for the good of the franchise.”
That means not grumbling if snaps are split evenly in training camp. Danielson believes they should be divided equally, so as to not stem the early development of Manziel.
And it means not shrinking under the torrent of Manziel Mania sure to intensify when camp opens.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Danielson said. “Now, maybe the Manziel Mania will be bigger nationally, but it’s impossible to eclipse the Bernie Mania locally.”
As the lead college football analyst for CBS-TV, Danielson called every one of Manziel’s big games with Texas A&M the past two years. Before the draft, he advocated the Browns should draft Manziel because he will live up to the hype and give the franchise – and the city – the jolt of energy it has lacked for 20-plus years.
So how does Danielson see this competition unfolding?
“You know what would be great, for both?” he said. “It may be that Hoyer goes out there and lights it up for 3 to 5 games and Manziel goes in and lights it up for 3 to 5 games.
“And then, after the season, you do kind of a personal favor (to Hoyer) and say, ‘We’re going to trade you to somebody who needs a starter.’”
|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. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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