If you’re making a list of the best Cleveland Browns of all-time then that list wouldn’t be complete without Bernie Kosar, who is not just a legend, but a fan favorite as well. Kosar grew up around the Youngstown area and attended Miami University of Florida where he won their first National Championship as a freshman in 1983.
Kosar went on the play two more years setting numerous school records along the way. He double majored in Finance and Economics while managing a huge workload in the spring and summer of 1985. See, Bernie had a plan and that involved graduating early and playing for his hometown Browns. In case you didn’t know, this is where all the controversy was centered on when discussing the drafting of Bernie Kosar.
At the time only seniors and graduates could enter the draft and they had until April 15th to notify the NFL if they planned to enter the upcoming draft on April 30th. The problem was that Kosar never officially notified the league despite saying he would be available and want to play for Cleveland at a March 15th news conference.
Leading up to the draft, the Buffalo Bills who owned the first pick, already signed defensive end Bruce Smith two weeks prior. On April 9th, the Minnesota Vikings traded two picks to Houston to move up to the second spot in the draft with the intent to select Kosar. The Browns also wanted the quarterback so they traded their 1st and 3rd round picks of the 1985 draft and their 1st and 6th round picks of the 1986 draft to Buffalo for their 1986 first round pick. The intent was to use Buffalo’s pick as the first overall pick in the supplemental draft because Kosar never filed any paperwork for the league.
Minnesota threatened to sue the NFL if Kosar was allowed to skip the draft. They argued that he stated his intentions to enter the draft and once he hired an agent he should have lost his college eligibility. Kosar’s agent fired back with a threat of a lawsuit if his client was forced into the draft.
After holding a meeting which allowed all four teams involved to present their case, it was decided by the commissioner to leave the decision up to Bernie to decide what he wanted to do. So the original “I’m coming home” announcement occurred on April 25th when Kosar announced he would forgo the draft and enter the supplemental draft to be a Cleveland Brown.
I can’t speak on the legality of it at the time or even if it was morally right, but this move speaks volumes. The hometown kid coming home. There isn’t a greater story.
Kosar rode the bench to start his career. He served as Gary Danielson’s backup until Week 5 after going down with a shoulder injury. Cleveland finished 8-8 and made the playoffs only to lose to Dan Marino and Miami Dolphins in the divisional round.
Danielson ended up getting injured in the preseason the following year and Bernie took advantage of the situation to establish himself as the full-time starter. He went on to lead the Browns to top seed in the AFC with a 12-4 record. They played the New York Jets in the divisional round. Kosar went on to pass for a playoff record 489 yards (recently broken by Tom Brady) while leading the Browns to a 23-20 come-from-behind victory in double overtime. Cleveland advanced to the AFC Championship only to lose a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos. This was the infamous 98-yard drive that was led by John Elway to tie the game and ultimately win it in OT. We still feel the pain from this one.
The ’87 season was shortened due to a strike, but the Browns still finished with an 8-4 record. Kosar still passed for over 3,000 yards with 22 touchdowns. Once again, the Browns faced off with the Broncos in the AFC Championship. Missed opportunities and mistakes led to a quick 14 point deficit which grew to 18 by halftime. Cleveland was playing from behind the whole game, but the never gave up even to the last drive. That’s when it happened. The Fumble. What appeared to be a game-tying, Earnest Byner touchdown resulted in a fumble at the two-yard line, loss of possession and ultimately the game. A tough pill to swallow.
Bernie caught the injury bug in 1988 and managed a 6-3 record before he went down.
The quarterback bounced back the following year. Cleveland set themselves up for another post-season run even with a 9-6-1 record. Maybe that can happen again with some Mayfield magic. Anyway, the Browns beat the Buffalo Bills to advance to the AFC Championship only to lose to the Denver Broncos again. I know what you’re thinking. Am I reading the same thing? No, you’re not.
Bernie Kosar led the Cleveland Browns to the conference championship three out of four years. This is no easy feat. None of them may be wins, but the atmosphere in Cleveland those years was probably amazing. The winning. The heartbreak of coming so close and losing. This is what it’s like to be a fan. We only hope to see the Browns franchise rise to greatness once again.