The karma of Kosar
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 12, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
Football fortunes are shaped as much by the offseason as by what happens on game day. And just like in other aspects of life, every choice has consequences.
Taking a player in the NFL supplemental draft means sacrificing the equivalent pick the following April. If you select someone in the first round, he better deliver – or the franchise will be paying for it, literally and figuratively, for years to come.
With the 2006 supplemental draft taking place today, teams will be mindful of the putrid picks from pigskin past. The quarterback position alone has yielded infamous first-round busts like Dave Wilson ('81 Saints), Steve Walsh ('89 Cowboys), Timm Rosenbach ('89 Cardinals) and Dave Brown ('92 Giants). Collectively, they threw a whopping 51 more interceptions (187) than touchdown passes (136).
The one success story among the supplemental QBs taken in the first round is Bernie Kosar. As a redshirt freshman at the University of Miami, he delivered a national championship for the Hurricanes with a stunning 31-30 upset of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The next season, he set school records for passing yards (3,642) and touchdowns (25). Amazingly, in just his third academic year, Kosar also fulfilled the requirements to graduate – with a double major, no less – making him draft-eligible.
How and when he would enter the draft became the source of much conflict. Having grown up little more than an hour from Cleveland, Kosar was a huge fan of the Browns. He was born and raised in Boardman Township, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown, and he made no secret of his desire to return to the area. The interest was mutual. In desperate need of a quarterback, the Browns were willing to hatch a plan to get their man.
Leading up to the 1985 draft, Buffalo had already committed to taking Bruce Smith with the first pick. Anticipating that Kosar would be the next-best player available, Minnesota acquired the second overall selection from Houston in exchange for two picks. Cleveland, meanwhile, had convinced Kosar to forgo the regular draft by not yet declaring his eligibility, thereby allowing the Browns to take him as the first pick in the supplemental draft. Cleveland paid handsomely for that opportunity, sending the Bills two first-round picks, a third and a sixth.
All of these maneuvers sparked quite a controversy. Vikings general manager Mike Lynn contended that Kosar should be part of the regular draft since he had already renounced his collegiate eligibility by signing with an agent. Commissioner Pete Rozelle held a hearing with the four teams involved – Buffalo, Minnesota, Houston and Cleveland – and ruled that the quarterback could choose when he would enter the league. By opting for the supplemental draft, Kosar was assured that he would play for his hometown team.
And the scheming that landed him in Cleveland may also have sealed his professional fate.
Kosar joined a 5-11 team and led them to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. On several occasions, the Super Bowl seemed well within Cleveland's grasp – and every time, it was snatched away.
It seemed as if once every postseason, Kosar would get a visit from karma. The meeting would never be pleasant. Over that stretch, Cleveland suffered some of the most excruciating playoff losses in NFL history, as if karma was determined to make Kosar and the Browns pay for the dubious circumstances that brought them together.
Jan. 4, 1986
Dolphins 24, Browns 21
In Kosar's rookie season, Cleveland was the best of a bad lot in the AFC Central, winning the division with a paltry 8-8 record. Traveling to Miami (12-4) in the divisional round, the Browns actually led 21-3 midway through the third quarter. The Dolphins then reeled off three unanswered touchdowns to claim the victory. Miami's huge comeback spoiled the playoff debut of Kosar, who had thrown an early 16-yard TD pass to Ozzie Newsome.
Jan. 11, 1987
Broncos 23, Browns 20 (OT)
Sporting a 12-4 record, Cleveland was the conference's top seed, and it hosted 11-5 Denver in the AFC championship. A 48-yard touchdown pass from Kosar to Brian Brennan gave the Browns a 20-13 lead with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter. John Elway then quarterbacked the Broncos on a 15-play, 98-yard sequence that has come to be known simply as "The Drive." It was capped by a 5-yard touchdown strike to Mark Jackson with 37 seconds remaining. In overtime, Cleveland was forced to punt, and Elway again marched Denver down the field, setting up the game-winning Rich Karlis field goal from 33 yards out.
Jan. 17, 1988
Broncos 38, Browns 33
A year later, the rematch of the AFC title game was held in Denver. The Broncos had claimed the No. 1 seed with a 10-4-1 record, a half-game better than the 10-5 Browns. Trailing 21-3 at intermission, Kosar rallied his team to 28 second-half points. The last of his three touchdown passes, a 4-yarder to Webster Slaughter, tied the game at 31-31. After Denver reclaimed the lead with an Elway TD pass to Sammy Winder, Cleveland appeared to be going in for the equalizer when Earnest Byner fumbled just short of the goal line. The Broncos' Jeremiah Castille recovered with 1:05 remaining, and punter Mike Horan subsequently took a safety for the game's final points.
Dec. 24, 1988
Oilers 24, Browns 23
Although both Cleveland and Houston finished with identical 10-6 marks in the AFC Central, the Browns hosted this wild-card playoff game because of a better division record. On a snowy Christmas Eve, Cleveland carried a 16-14 lead into the fourth quarter despite numerous quarterback injuries. With Kosar sidelined by strained ligaments in his right knee, Don Strock got the start at quarterback but hurt his hand in the first half. Mike Pagel played admirably in relief until a late interception by the Oilers' Richard Johnson led to a game-clinching, 49-yard field from Tony Zendejas.
Jan. 14, 1990
Broncos 37, Browns 21
For the third time in four years, the AFC championship game pitted Cleveland (9-6-1) against Denver (11-5). The Browns again had to travel to Mile High Stadium, where they were held scoreless, 10-0, in the first half. Kosar promptly rallied Cleveland to three third-quarter touchdowns, twice connecting with Brennan in the end zone. Down just 24-21 entering the fourth quarter, the Browns were shut out the rest of the way, and two Kosar interceptions contributed to 13 more points for the Broncos.
Five years, five heartbreaks. A Super Bowl appearance somehow always eluded Kosar and the Browns. Then, a string of losing seasons followed. After a Week 8 loss to old nemesis Denver in 1993, third-year coach Bill Belichick made an unpopular move and released the QB, citing "diminishing skills."
Free from Cleveland, Kosar's luck began to change. He signed with Dallas after an injury to Troy Aikman and played in four games, starting one. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cowboys eventually went on to win Super Bowl XXVII with a 30-13 victory over the Bills. And Kosar would finally get a ring – albeit as a backup.
(Karma, meanwhile, has continued to kick Cleveland's ass. Belichick left town in disgrace, only to reappear in New England years later and grow into the best coach of his generation. The Browns franchise packed up and left town in 1996, moving to Baltimore and winning a Super Bowl five years later as the Ravens. And the new Browns, now entering their eighth NFL season, have been consistent losers. Their only winning campaign was a 9-7 mark in 2002.)
After the fiasco of 1985, the rules governing the supplemental draft were changed. The NFL obviously wanted to avoid a Kosar situation in the future, so the chances for disputes or dirty dealing were minimized.
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