Baker Mayfield may have established himself nationally as the most polarizing figure in the NFL. In doing so he may have finally made Cleveland Browns fans come together in a way that hasn’t happened in over a quarter century. You would think that a fanbase as starved for success as Browns fans would latch onto just about any quarterback who has shown any level of competence, but that just hasn’t been the case.
Good quarterback play in Cleveland has been rare, but it has happened. The issue is that when a quarterback plays well here, fans haven’t always appreciated it for one reason or another. Mayfield was an unlikely candidate to break that trend due to his brash reputation, and questions of his overall skill level coming out of Oklahoma. But Browns fans quickly learned that Mayfield is for real and quickly accepted him as our QB1.
Today I would like to take a look back at four Browns quarterbacks who had some success, but ultimately fell victim to a split fanbase.
Vinny Testaverde vs Bernie Kosar
In the late 1980s, Bernie Kosar established himself as one of the all-time greats for the Browns. His popularity knew no bounds as the leader of the team. However, the team began to slide in the early 1990s and in 1993 Vinny Testaverde was brought in to serve as Kosar’s backup.
Testaverde was once a first overall selection in the NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had always shown promise, but never had the success that they had hoped. The Browns were left in a bit of bind because they knew that they wanted to see what Testaverde could offer the team. But the Browns also knew they would have to displace one of the most popular players in the team’s history to do so.
In the midst of the 1993 campaign, the Browns did just that. Knowing that fans would likely not accept Kosar as a backup, he was released citing, “diminishing skills,” as the reason for his departure.
Testaverde then had the unenviable task of replacing a legend in the eyes of most Browns fans. By 1994 some of the critics were silenced as the Browns had a nice rebound season, even winning a playoff game. However, before fans could fully accept Testaverde as the Browns starting quarterback the team announced it’s intended move to Baltimore. As the Baltimore Ravens’ first starting quarterback Testaverde never was given the opportunity to emerge from Kosar’s giant shadow.
Tim Couch vs Kelly Holcomb
When the Browns returned to action in 1999, Tim Couch was the player selected to be the team’s franchise quarterback. Coming out of Kentuck, Couch drew comparisons to Peyton Manning making him a hot commodity to help start a new expansion franchise.
However, after two seasons Couch had only mustered four wins overall. But in 2001 Couch began showing his upside. Poised to lead the new version of the Browns to the playoffs for the first time Couch was injured late in the year. A relatively unknown player named Kelly Holcomb was thrust into duty.
Holcomb performed admirably, even throwing for over 400 yards in a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. So in 2002, it was only natural that many fans thought that maybe the Browns answer at quarterback may not be Couch after all.
After throwing two interceptions in a game versus the Ravens, Couch was injured. As he was lying injured on the field many of his home fans began to cheer. A visibly shaken Couch lamented the Browns fans and his career never recovered. Couch quietly retired in 2003 after only five years in the league.
Derek Anderson vs Brady Quinn
In 2007 Browns fans thought the team had finally added the final piece to its puzzle. Brady Quinn was selected by the team after a shocking trade that netted the Browns a second first-round pick that season. Not only was Quinn considered one of the top prospects in that year’s draft he was also a fan of the team growing up.
Fans couldn’t wait to see Quinn in a Browns jersey. Mostly because there didn’t appear to be a decent option at quarterback. However, instead of reporting to camp and taking a job that was surely his, he held out. Quinn and his agent wanted his contract to reflect where he was projected to be drafted as opposed to where he was actually drafted. It wasn’t until the day before the first preseason game that Quinn was under contract.
Missing almost the entirety of training camp was a huge blow to a team that thought they had solved their issues at the position. Instead, they had to choose between Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. After abysmal performances by both in the pre-season, the Browns looked to be in huge trouble.
Frye started the first regular season game for the team. His performance was so poor he was promptly traded before the second. This left Anderson to take the reigns much to the chagrin of the hoards of Quinn supporters in the fanbase. But Anderson shocked the NFL by making the most of his opportunity. Anderson was named a Pro Bowl alternate while leading the team to a 10-6 record. A tiebreaker kept the team from the playoffs, but Anderson had certainly done enough that there was
While Anderson had earned some support through the fanbase, many were flatly obsessed with the idea of Quinn playing. While Anderson actually won the games, he did not share Quinn’s boyish good looks and charisma. I was there for the first day of training camp in 2008 when chants of Brady Quinn’s name echoed through the entire session. And after the practice, Anderson was signing autographs until Quinn walked by being followed by a group that looked more like a gallery following Tiger Woods. I am no mind reader, but Anderson is no poker player. He was disgusted.
2008 became a train wreck of injuries and bad fortune. Anderson was eventually given the same treatment that Couch received as the crowd appeared to cheer an injury to him. Anderson never returned to form for the Browns, and Quinn never took advantage of the opportunity. Soon enough both were mere side notes in Browns’ history.
Brian Hoyer vs Johnny Manziel
In 2014, no player entered the NFL Draft with the same pomp and circumstance as Johnny Manziel. While there were many questions on what kind of player you were drafting with Manziel, one thing was for sure his rabid fan base was going to scoop up his jerseys. When Manziel slid outside of the top 20 the Browns seized the opportunity to see what all the hype was about.
While a large portion of the Browns fanbase was giddy with excitement, the coaches certainly were not. To the chagrin of many, Coach Mike Pettine named Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback for the season. Many fans obsessively took to social media to express their displeasure with the decision, causing a huge rift in the fanbase.
It was strange to see Hoyer vilified by a large section of the fanbase. Hoyer had Cleveland roots and grew up dreaming of playing for the Browns. To complicate matters further Hoyer played exceptionally well over the first half of the season, leading the Browns to a 7-4 record and a lead in the AFC North division.
But Manziel’s fans simply weren’t satisfied with success. As I would lend support for Hoyer on social media I would get flooded with insane responses. Several fans went as far as responding they would rather lose with Manziel than win with Hoyer. It was a sad narrative for a fanbase that went from being starved for wins, to only wanting to win with conditions.
The constant pining for Manziel seemed to destroy any momentum that Hoyer had built. When Manziel was finally given his opportunity he was abysmal. He quickly showed why the majority of teams passed on him on draft day.
Manziel only lasted two seasons with the Browns as off the field issues overshadowed any value he had on the field. His career provided more fodder for jokes than actual success and Manziel’s rabid fans were left with yet another jersey destined to be cut up for rags.
Baker Mayfield didn’t show up to Cleveland universally loved but mercifully success has met good timing. Mayfield did what he had to do to earn the respect of the fans. I firmly believe he will be the player that finally changes the strange culture that has been the Cleveland Browns. Things are looking up for the Dawg Pound and finally most of us can agree on that.