Following the 1995 NFL season, Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and the ‘City by the Lake’ was left without a professional football team for the first time since 1935.
Naturally, Clevelanders found it hard to conceptualize life without the city’s beloved Browns football. Shortly after the announcement of Modell’s moving of the team to Baltimore, city officials began working tirelessly to reunite Cleveland with the NFL.
The two parties reached an agreement that provided Cleveland with a new, state-of-the-art stadium and pledged to return NFL football to Cleveland, beginning in the 1999 season. After Modell agreed to surrender the Browns’ name, colors, and history to Cleveland, the Ravens came into existence, and the Browns were deemed to have “suspended operations” from 1996 until 1998.
Since the Browns would officially return to Cleveland, the city’s and the NFL’s focus shifted to finding a new owner for the franchise. The bidding intensified during the summer of 1998. Seven bidders stepped forward, but two contenders emerged as frontrunners. Billionaire banker Al Lerner, who ironically was instrumental in helping Modell relocate the Browns to Baltimore, was the leader of one of the contending ownership groups, while Cablevision Systems chairman Charles Dolan and his brother – current Cleveland Indians owner – Larry led another.
In an attempt to gain publicity and support, the bidders aligned themselves with recognizable celebrities and football names. The Dolans teamed up with NFL coaching legend and Ohio native Don Shula, who would serve as executive vice president and limited partner if the Dolans won the ownership bid. The Dolans even included entertainer Bill Cosby as a member of their ownership group.
For his efforts, Lerner hired former San Francisco 49ers president Carmen Policy to serve as the new president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland Browns if Lerner’s group were to win the ownership bid. Policy brought along former 49ers great Dwight Clark to serve as Browns general manager. Although Browns fans are very aware that the men Lerner hired turned out to be pretty awful at their new jobs, at the time, this was considered around the league to be a respected front office for a franchise put in the difficult position of completely reassembling a football team. In an attempt to win support from city officials and residents, Lerner also brought in former Browns quarterback legend Bernie Kosar to serve as assistant general manager. Acknowledging the power Kosar could have in gaining the support of Clevelanders, Lerner made Kosar extremely visible in the pre-bidding process.
On Tuesday, September 8, 1998, Lerner and his $530 million bid bested the next highest bid – made by the Dolans – by $30 million, and Al Lerner became the majority owner of the Cleveland Browns. As Lerner and company transitioned their focus from winning the ownership bid to actually building the NFL franchise they were now in charge of, Kosar vanished like a virgin on prom night. Just a handful of days after Lerner was awarded ownership of the Browns, Bernie Kosar was oddly no longer a member of the Browns’ front office.
Neither Lerner nor Policy publicly addressed Bernie’s departure and never even as much as mentioned his name ever again. This begs the question: what really happened to Bernie Kosar back in 1998? Why did he suddenly become non-existent within the Browns organization until finally being hired in 2009 to fill a modest position as a team consultant? Is there a never before shared story that provides context to Bernie’s sudden departure from the Al Lerner-led Browns organization?