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The Real McCoy? A Look At Cleveland Quarterbacks’ Successful Past, Recent Woes and the Uncertain/Optimistic Future

August 16, 2011
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(Note: Adam Redling joins us with his second guest spot. Very well written piece, Adam.)

The quarterback is inarguably the most important position in football, and probably, in all of sports. The weight of orchestrating a NFL offense lies squarely on the quarterback’s shoulders—as oftentimes does the fate of the entire franchise. A great quarterback like Peyton Manning can singlehandedly turn around a lowly franchise’s fortunes like Indianapolis’ for fifteen years and lead them to a Super Bowl. A bad quarterback will turn your team into the Cleveland Browns.

It used to be different.

Dating back to the 1950s with Otto Graham at the helm, the Browns won the NFL Championship Game in 1950, 1954, 1955, and 1956. They won again behind Frank Ryan in 1964, making Cleveland one of the most winning programs of the era.

Brian Sipe guided the Kardiac Kids throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, amassing the NFL MVP Award in 1980 and taking the team to the playoffs. Sipe’s excellence was followed by fan-favorite Bernie Kosar, who led the Browns to the AFC Championship Game three times in the mid-‘80s.

And though the fans yearned for a champion in the Sipe and Kosar years, they had to settle for the consolation prize year after year, braving the freezing Cleveland temperatures to cheer at Cleveland Municipal Stadium only to have their collective hearts crushed by the now all-too-familiar memories: “Red Right 88”, “The Fumble” and “The Drive”.

But fans kept showing up, dreaming of a winner into the mid-‘90s. Until what they loved most got ripped away, and the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens after the 1995 season.

They’ve been kept hoping ever since.

After returning to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns were awarded the first overall pick in the NFL draft. The Browns decided to bank their franchise’s fortunes on University of Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch. Enticed by Couch’s gaudy college numbers, including a 67% career completion percentage and numerous games with close to 500 yards passing, the Cleveland Browns’ management thought they had a star in the making. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

After floundering with the upstart Browns for five seasons, unable to adapt to the pro game, the only list that Couch ranks near the top of these days is NFL Network’s rankings of the biggest draft busts of all-time.

(Ed. note: Watch the video for a hilariously sad quote that comes in at the 1:02 mark: “After already ruling out Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb, Cleveland struggled to choose between Couch and Oregon’s Akili Smith.” Damnit.)

The malaise at quarterback wasn’t cured with the ousting of Couch, however.

After Couch, the revolving door of hapless Browns’ quarterbacks reads like the Mount Rushmore candidates of has-beens and never-will-bes: Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, and Seneca Wallace.

And then there was Colt McCoy.

Is Colt McCoy any different from the Couches and the Quinns who were built-up on the largest of pedestals by the fans only to crumble as their erratic and ultimately lackluster play exposed them? Or is McCoy different? Can he be the guy to turn the Browns into a serious contender again?

Since 1999, the only two teams to win the Super Bowl without a superstar quarterback have been the Baltimore Ravens with Trent Dilfer in ’01 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Brad Johnson in ’03, both of whom rode the coattails of their otherworldly defenses, which remain in the discussion as some of the best ever. In other words, Dilfer and Johnson were aberrations. They were exceptions to the rule that states, in order to build a championship-caliber football team, your quarterback better be a ringer.

In a football-crazed city starved for a leader to bring the basement-dwelling Browns back to prominence for the first time in over two decades, Cleveland is waiting with baited breath to see if McCoy can actually be that guy.

Although he showed some promise in the second half of his 2010 rookie season, it was too early to judge what kind of player McCoy will really develop into. He had games where he looked like a lock to be the people’s true Chosen One of the city (rather than the exiled, self-ordained one), and then there were games where his questionable arm strength and turnovers made him look like any other confused rookie.

And as the preseason begins again, the familiar, seemingly ever-present blind optimism emanates from the city and its fans, looking for any positive sign from McCoy that will signal that he is, in fact, the leader they’ve been hoping for, pleading for, since Bernie.

The fans will hope that McCoy is finally their Super Bowl virtuoso rather than another glorified back-up who they’ve crowned too soon. And like always, every preseason snap will be scrutinized, every post-practice quote dissected to see what their quarterback’s future might hold.

In the meantime, fans will buy their season tickets, get their winter coats ready, and spray-paint their old cars orange and brown.

And they’ll believe in Colt McCoy, because that’s what Clevelanders do.

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