“I’m not supposed to be here.”
That’s one of the first things that Coach Kitchens ever said to us, when he took over the team. He said, “Listen, fellas — I’m just a big ol’ redneck from Alabama. Nobody ever figured I’d be here today as an NFL Head Coach. Nobody. I’m not supposed to be here. But you know what? I’m here.”
When people ask me what’s different about the Browns this year, what’s different about this city, and this football program — those words from Coach always come to my mind.
That mentality that Coach Kitchens brings….. I think we’ve all adopted it. It’s just who we are now, you know what I mean? We have a lot of players here who, in one way or another, they’ve been underdogs their whole career. Players who got to the league, or got to this franchise, and all they’ve known since then is losing. And our fans are the same way: We have these amazing fans — but a lot of them, they’ve never watched a Browns playoff game in their lives.
And I think in other years, maybe, that history has made people feel like there could never be a winner here. In other years, I feel like people would just be saying, you know, The Browns? Nah, they’re not going to win — because they never win. They’re not SUPPOSED to win.
The Browns aren’t supposed to be here.
And it just feels like starting last year, and into this summer, and now as we’re getting ready for Week 1 of this new season….. all of a sudden it’s like we took that saying and we flipped it. We’ve gone and taken what a Cleveland Browns team is “supposed” to do, in people’s minds, and we’ve changed that from this curse into this gift. Into an opportunity.
And that’s what our team has always been about, to me, for as long as I’ve been here.
I saw it even when we went 0–16, in my rookie year. A lot of locker rooms, they go on a losing streak like that, and you’ll see it tear them apart. You’ll see a lot of giving up. You’ll see a lot of hopelessness. But our room, man, it just wasn’t like that at all. You’d see guys talking about a 50-50 ball they could have gotten, but they didn’t, and how can they fix that. You’d see guys talking about how many of our losses were by one score or less, and how we’re right there in these games. And to me that says a lot. You had this group of players that was going 0–16, and getting laughed at by the sports world. But in our locker room? It’s like those weren’t even 16 losses to us. They were just 16 missed opportunities.
And if you want to know why Baker clicked so fast with this team last year, I think that’s your answer there too.
Most people, they probably think that Baker’s “welcome to the team” game came in one of those early comeback wins he led us to. But it wasn’t one of those. Actually, it wasn’t even a win.
It was Week 13 against the Texans. We were 4–6–1. They were 8–3, on an eight-game winning streak. Huge game for us. Needed a win to stay in the playoff race.
And they came out and they just punched us in the mouth. Baker threw three picks in the first half, I think. We all played terrible. And we ended up down 23–0.
But then at halftime of that game….. I remember, I watched Baker closely. Wanted to see what he was about, you know — in a real moment of adversity. And here’s what I saw: He didn’t get mad. He didn’t get frustrated. He wasn’t yelling at himself, or trying to blame other guys, or making some big kind of scene. At the same time, though, he also wasn’t faking it. He wasn’t on some fake positive vibe. Nah.
He just….. didn’t say a word.
That’s right. Baker didn’t say one word, that whole halftime. He just kept to himself, minded his own business, and got ready to go back out there. And it’s hard to explain how that works — you really have to know football, and know this team. But just by Baker not saying a word? It was almost like he was refusing to acknowledge that that half had even happened. Like he had the power to just….. reject it or something. It was wild. And whatever it was — coming out for the second half, he had this team FIRED. UP.
Baker went for like 350 yards in that second half, we scored a couple of touchdowns, plus we kept them out of the end zone on D….. and it wasn’t nearly enough. We lost — bad. 29–13. But that was one of those losses where, even in the moment, you could see a silver lining. Because guys came away from it knowing Baker was for real. They came away from it knowing we had a quarterback.
And since then….. I guess things have been a little crazy.
We won three in a row off of that Texans game. Almost reached the playoffs. Made strong moves all spring and summer. Traded for Odell. Our offense is getting more and more experience in Coach’s system. Our younger vets like myself are a year older, smarter, better. The city is rocking. It’s an exciting time for this organization.
And it’s shaping up to be one of those special seasons.
But before any of that gets started, you know, I really just wanted to write this down, and say a quick thank you to Cleveland, and Browns fans everywhere. I know it hasn’t always been easy. I know there’s been 0–16, and 1–15, and some tough years on top of that. But y’all have stuck with us the entire way. Y’all are THE best fans in the whole NFL. And whatever happens from now….. we’re going to take it one game at a time, together.
Because we’re the Cleveland Browns — and we’re not supposed to be here.
But guess what?