My father’s close friend agreed to anonymously share that story. The never before publicized story helps provide context to this long forgotten Browns mystery. For the sake of this article, I’ll refer to my father’s friend as Bill.
In 1998, when the new Browns’ ownership bidding process was going on, Bill, a lifelong Browns fan who grew up in the 1960s in Akron, Ohio, was an executive in the wireless communications industry in Dallas, Texas.
“My dream was to own an NFL franchise, but clearly that was not going to happen,” Bill said in an email interview. “So, second best was a chance to work for an NFL franchise. With all of the news about the Browns returning to the NFL in 1999, I figured, what better team to try to work for than my Cleveland Browns?”
In hopes of making his dream of being a part of the new Browns organization become a reality, Bill contacted a business friend of his. The man Bill contacted was a former All-Pro safety for the Miami Dolphins, and, because of his NFL connections, he was able to provide Bill with the home mailing addresses of both Don Shula and Bernie Kosar.
As the pre-ownership bidding process was still taking place, Bill sent out two letters, one to Shula and one to Kosar. Bill had a sense of false optimism that writing these letters could get his foot in the door with one, if not both, of the leading contenders of the Browns’ ownership bid. Although he never received a response from Shula, approximately ten days after he mailed the letter to Kosar, Bill received a phone call while driving on Interstate 75 in Dallas.
“I remember saying hello and hearing someone with a raspy voice bluntly saying, ‘Hey, this is Bernie Kosar,'” Bill said. “Somewhat shocked, I pulled the car over and talked with Bernie for about one hour.”
During that phone conversation, Kosar asked Bill which Browns position he would be interested in filling. Because of his background in the wireless communications industry, Bill told Bernie he was aspiring to be the team’s vice president of sales and marketing. Bernie agreed that this position suited Bill, and the two went on to discuss the job and team in greater detail.
Despite it being the first time the two had actually spoken to one another, Bill quickly made a good impression on Bernie. Near the end of the phone conversation, Kosar even told Bill that he wanted to introduce Bill to Carmen Policy. Bill was immediately confused as to why Kosar was quickly so sure that Bill was the right man for such an elite position with an NFL franchise. After all, it generally takes more than sending an “I would be a great addition because…” letter to a randomly selected front office member to be in serious discussion for an NFL executive job.
“I said to Kosar, ‘I am flattered, don’t get me wrong, but don’t you want to meet me first?'” Bill recalled.
Kosar agreed that the two should meet in person, so Bill arranged to fly to south Florida to convene with Kosar in early August for a 9 a.m. meeting at the Marriott Intercoastal’s hotel restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. When Kosar’s secretary called Bill to get his travel plans, Bill told her that he was staying at a Super 8.
“Bernie’s secretary told him that I was staying at some seedy hotel,” Bill said. “So, Bernie upgraded me to a room in the Marriott on his own nickel. He even arranged for a limo to pick me up from and take me back to the airport. He was treating me like I was Bill Walsh, not Bill from the wireless communications industry.”
Bill arrived early to his meeting with Kosar. The time of 9 a.m. hits, and Bernie is nowhere to be seen. Then 9:15 and still no Bernie. 9:30. 9:45. Bill, beginning to think that the Kosar meeting wasn’t going to happen after all, called himself crazy for even getting his hopes up. However, just after 10 a.m., the awkwardly lanky Kosar finally strolls into the hotel restaurant lobby and begins to approach Bill. Kosar put his hand out, and said, “You must be [Bill].”
Bill was scheduled to meet with Kosar all day to discuss each of their involvement with the new Browns. He explained to Bernie that adding live, caged pit bulls to the end zone area of the Dawg Pound would be a great marketing tactic. Michael Vick’s dog fighting scandal obviously makes this the idea seem laughable nowadays, but Kosar thought it was a great idea for the Dawg Pound going forward. Bill’s initial marketing ideas were a huge hit, and Bill and Bernie continued to talk casually for hours. The meeting even included a comical, by-chance encounter with a former Los Angeles Dodgers managing great.
“At about 11 a.m. Bernie looks at me and says, ‘Isn’t that Tommy Lasorda?'” Bill said. “I agreed that it was Lasorda, and, with that, Bernie stands up and invites Lasorda to join us.”
Lasorda is perhaps best known for his tenure as Dodgers manager and his not-so-graceful fall at the 2001 MLB All-Star Game. However, Bill also knew Lasorda as a well-known spokesperson for the weight-loss beverage, Ultra SlimFast.
“Bernie introduces me to Lasorda and tells him that [he] and I are talking about the Browns franchise,” Bill said. “Lasorda, who was in town for a Dodgers game against the Marlins, immediately thinks I’m some swinging dick involved in the Browns deal and stays at our table for about two hours. A waitress keeps asking the three of us if we want anything to eat, so after the third or fourth time, I point to Lasorda and say, ‘Hey, get my friend Tommy here a Chocolate SlimFast on the rocks.’ Kosar starts laughing, and Lasorda blurts out, ‘Are you busting my balls?’ The look on Lasorda’s face was priceless, and as Kosar was laughing all throughout, it finally sunk in that my dream of working for the Browns actually could become reality.”