How The Browns Were Built A behind-the-scenes look at the way a billionaire owner, a seasoned NFL architect and their crew assembled a new franchise in Cleveland

September 12, 1999

When the Cleveland Browns report for work in the morning at
their gleaming $13 million training center, they can hand an
intern a grocery list and drop off their dry cleaning; the
groceries will be in the player's refrigerator at home that
afternoon, and the dry cleaning will be back in 24 hours.
Players can go to the cafeteria for fresh carrot juice,
hand-rolled granola, a scone and eight kinds of fresh fruit. By
October, when they want to warm up on an exercise bike, they'll
be able to watch tape of that week's foe--on a nine-inch video
screen mounted between the handlebars.

On game days, when the players drive to their $292 million
granite-and-glass palace on Lake Erie, uniformed valets will
park their cars for them. They can drop their kids off inside
the stadium at the Puppy Pound, a day-care center staffed by
three nannies. They'll dress in the largest locker room in
American sports, an 11,000-square-foot expanse with recessed
lighting and oversized lockers. They shouldn't have to worry
about overaggressive fans: Four holding cells are located in the
bowels of the stadium, and a year ago the facility's director of
security was running the U.S. Secret Service.

This is not your father's football team. Or organization. Built
in 11 months, the Browns could serve as a blueprint for the
state-of-the-art sports franchise in the 21st century. Here's
how the Browns, dormant since Art Modell picked up and took his
team to Baltimore after the 1995 season, were reborn.

SEPT. 8, 1998: ROSEMONT, ILL.

Four ballots have been taken in the Grand Ballroom of the O'Hare
Hilton to decide who will be the Browns' new owner. Four ballots
have failed to produce the required three-quarters majority (23
votes) for the leading vote-getter, credit-card magnate Al
Lerner. A cadre of old-guard owners, led by Modell, wants the
group led by Charles Dolan to get the team, but the majority
won't budge. Prodded by imminent defectors, Modell finally gives
up.

"Even though I'm profoundly disappointed Dolan didn't get a fair
shake," Modell says wearily, "this has gone on long enough. We
ought to come out unanimously for Lerner." Lerner's $530 million
bid is approved. Modell sits down and cries.

How ironic that Modell has become the prince of peace. Three
years earlier he had flown to Baltimore in his good friend
Lerner's plane to sign the deal--with Lerner as an adviser--that
moved the Browns to Maryland. But Modell and Lerner split
bitterly after Lerner, faced with a firestorm of criticism in
Cleveland, said he had merely allowed his plane to be used.
"Whether I had a greater role, a lesser role or a kaiser roll is
irrelevant," Lerner said. "Art made the decision to move."

At this point no one cares much anymore, not even in Cleveland.
What matters now is that the new Browns have a megarich owner in
the 66-year-old Lerner and an architect with a get-it-done
reputation in Carmen Policy, the former San Francisco 49ers
president. This is the biggest news to hit the city since Modell
split. To the rest of America, it is buried on page 4.
Seventy-three minutes after the NFL awards Lerner the franchise,
Mark McGwire breaks Roger Maris's single-season homer record.

"I didn't know," recalls Lerner, "or care."

SEPT. 18: BEACHWOOD, OHIO

Lerner differs from Modell in at least two important respects.
One: As chairman and CEO of the MBNA Corporation, an $80 billion
credit-card empire, he won't have troubles with debt, as Modell
did. Two: Unlike Modell, Lerner won't be involved in every
decision regarding the franchise. "I'm not competent to judge
the quarterback or the water boy," Lerner says. "I did not get
qualified by osmosis when they awarded me the franchise."

Over doorways throughout Lerner's MBNA America offices is the
following sign: THINK OF YOURSELF AS A CUSTOMER. In conference
rooms are sayings such as COMPLACENCY IS DEVASTATING and SUCCESS
IS NEVER FINAL. In his first few days in Cleveland, Policy would
begin to meld his sporting acumen with the business philosophy of
Lerner.

Lerner tells Policy that since 1991, when MBNA went public, the
company has lost only one senior executive. Why? Because MBNA
hires the best and treats its employees better than any
competitor. "Get the very, very best people to work for the
Browns," Lerner tells Policy. "It will cost what it costs;
that's the least important criterion. Make sure they're nice
people. If you don't really like the best person, then hire the
second-best person. Life's too short. You don't want to work
long hours with jerks."

Over the next few months a headhunter would identify the best,
and Policy would pursue them. The new vice president of finance
would be the former managing partner of Arthur Andersen's
Cleveland office, Doug Jacobs. Policy would find his director of
security, Lew Merletti, heading the Secret Service. The NFL's own
top salary-cap expert, Penn-educated Lal Heneghan, would become
the Browns' capologist. Policy would name Judge George White, a
Carter-administration appointee to the U.S. District Court in
Cleveland, director of the Cleveland Browns Foundation. Seeing
this impressive roster, one NFL owner cracked, "What are they
building in Cleveland--a football team or a Fortune 500 company?"

By the time they are done, the Browns will have secured
approximately $30 million in marketing and local radio and
television contracts, ranking second in the NFL to the estimated
$35 million landed by the Dallas Cowboys. "Our primary goal is
to win football games," says Lerner. "The secondary goal is to
have income exceed the expense by as much as possible. Period."

OCT. 14: CLEVELAND

Executives from NFL Properties had recently shown Policy three
new uniform designs for the Browns, whose previous uniforms the
New York marketing folk consider more drab than those worn by
Penn State. One new look featured a gaily modernized version of
the Browns' elf design from the '50s. Of course, the
traditionalists among Cleveland's fans--which is to say all of
them--are worried sick that Lerner will want everything new. In
a question-and-answer session at a Cleveland City Club luncheon,
a fellow in a business suit asks Lerner if a new uniform or logo
is in the works.

"No," Lerner replies. "If the league wants different uniforms,
let them go out and buy their own team."

The reply brings down the house.

NOV. 12: WASHINGTON, D.C.

"Let me ask you a hypothetical question," Lerner recalls having
said to Policy earlier this fall. "If we could get Lew Merletti
into the organization, would you be interested?"

Lerner's question catches Policy off guard. "How could we get
him?" Policy asks. "And how could we afford him?"

Lerner's response is a reminder why Policy, who usually got
everything he needed to succeed while working for Eddie
DeBartolo in San Francisco, considers this such a great place to
work. "If you want him," Lerner says, "and he wants to come,
we'll afford him."

The special agent in charge of protecting the President
overseeing the Dawg Pound? Why would Merletti want the job
heading security and stadium operations for the Browns? "That's
what football does to people," Policy says with a shrug. Before
taking the job, the 50-year-old Merletti has to tell Bill
Clinton he's leaving. When he does, the President bows his head
in disappointment. "Where are you going?" Clinton asks.

"I'm going to work for the Cleveland Browns, sir," Merletti says.

Clinton brightens. "You mean Carmen Policy, Al Lerner, those
Cleveland Browns?" Merletti nods. "Oh," Clinton says, "you've
got to do that."

JAN. 17, 1999: MINNEAPOLIS

The coaching search is not going well. Already the Browns have
failed to entice Policy favorites Mike Holmgren and Steve
Mariucci, and now it appears that club vice president Dwight
Clark, a former colleague from the Niners and one of Policy's
first important hires, has wasted a trip to Minnesota. "Dwight,"
Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick says imploringly
across the barroom table, "isn't there any way we can get past
this problem?" The Vikings had been knocked out of the playoffs
six hours earlier, and Billick appeals to Clark to let him keep
his appointment to interview with Modell for the Baltimore
Ravens' head coaching position the next morning; Billick
promises to be in Cleveland the day after that.

Clark shakes his head. "Can't happen, Brian," he says. "You have
to understand the climate in Cleveland."

Of course, the last thing the new Browns want is to get in a
public battle for a coach with Modell, and perhaps lose. Billick
has emerged as Cleveland's top choice for the job, but if he
doesn't get on Lerner's jet--the same one that flew to Baltimore
on that fateful day in 1995--and return to Cleveland with Clark,
he can kiss any chance for the Browns' job goodbye.

"Sorry, Dwight," says Billick. "I've got to keep my word to Mr.
Modell."

JAN. 21: BEREA, OHIO

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is hired
as the Browns' new coach. It was his first interview that helped
him win the job. "I've dreamed my whole life of getting a chance
like this," Palmer told Policy. "If I'm offered any other job,
I'm calling to see if I have a prayer for this one."

After getting endorsements from former Palmer bosses Bill
Parcells and Bob Kraft, Policy was smitten. "Everyone here is a
zealot," Policy says. "We needed our coach to ooze that, and
Chris did."

FEB. 9: CANTON, OHIO

Dave and Denise Reichelt are Mr. and Mrs. Browns Fan. He's a
communication technology consultant; she's a receptionist.
Dressed in white Browns T-shirts, matching orange shoes and
brown pants, the Reichelts sit in the Canton Civic Center an
hour before the first real football event in the franchise's new
history: the 1999 expansion draft. The Reichelts paid $740 for
their pair of season tickets in 1995. They will pay $2,500 to
watch the Browns this year--$1,400 for two personal seat
licenses in the new stadium and $1,100 for season tickets.

"Knowing what we know now," Dave says, "I have no qualms about
having lost those three years of football. When it happened, we
were bitter. We'd given the best years of our lives to Art
Modell, and he stole our team. But now we've got a great owner
in Al Lerner, a good front office led by Carmen Policy, a
beautiful new stadium. We wouldn't have any of that if Modell
was still here."

When Lerner and Policy stroll across the floor of the civic
center just before the draft begins, 4,400 crazies give them a
standing ovation. "My god!" Lerner says over the din. "This is
incredible."

Matt Underwood, a sports anchor for WEWS-TV in Cleveland,
corrals the team's first expansion pick, Detroit Lions offensive
lineman Jim Pyne, and introduces him to Cleveland by saying,
"Here he is, in the flesh, Jim Pyne!" Tonight, WOIO will devote
40 minutes and 45 seconds of its 60-minute newscast to the
Browns. And WEWS's Michael Settonni will liken Policy to a "fine
wine...part college professor, part evangelist, part CEO, part
savvy Youngstown lawyer, part public relations genius."

They'll have to lose a lot of games for this junior high crush
to wear off.

FEB. 12: BEREA

The free-agency shopping season begins. The Browns, determined
to show prospective players that no team in the NFL will go to
greater lengths to woo them, pitch Vikings cornerback Corey
Fuller, Ravens tackle Orlando Brown and Patriots center Dave
Wohlabaugh on the stadium and food and the other amenities. "We
want to be the place of choice for the best players," Lerner says.

Expansion draft pickups are around to make their pitches. "I've
come to NFL heaven," says Pyne.

"I didn't come here for the food," Brown says gruffly during his
visit. "I came here for a contract."

No problem. Never an All-Pro, the 350-pound Brown will get paid
like one: six years, $27 million, including a $7.5 million
signing bonus. In all, Cleveland will sign three players to
deals averaging more than $4 million annually. Unfortunately for
Palmer, whose forte is offense, none of that dough will go to
skill players to help the quarterback he knows he'll draft.

FEB. 23: BEREA

To the outside world Palmer is Clark Kent, the mild-mannered
assistant who'd been overshadowed by domineering
coaches--Parcells and Tom Coughlin--for the previous six years.
But Palmer has a plan, and damn anyone who gets in his way. He
has his finger on the pulse of his players. Already he has met
with police chiefs from six area towns and representatives of
the Ohio Highway Patrol, inviting officers and their families to
watch minicamps; in exchange he has asked them to give the club
a heads-up if their departments find his players running into
trouble in their towns.

Palmer is bitingly blunt with his players. "If I tell you
something, it's the truth," he says. "It might not be what you
want to hear, but it's meant to make you better."

Case in point: Soon after guard Jeff Buckey is picked up in the
expansion draft, Palmer asks him why the Miami Dolphins had given
up on him and exposed him to the draft. Buckey says he doesn't
know. Palmer tells him he'll find out. At the NFL scouting
combine in Indianapolis, Palmer does just that.

"Hey, Buckey," Palmer says in the weight room a couple of days
later. "I found out why the Dolphins gave up on you. You're soft,
and you don't practice hard."

Buckey is speechless.

"If they were on the expansion list," says Palmer, "they're on
it for a reason. It's not going to do any of us any good to
pretend they're great players. If they're going to help us,
they've got to improve their weak points."

MARCH 11: LEXINGTON, KY.

The football world thinks that the Browns are considering which
of these three players to make the first pick in the draft: Tim
Couch or Akili Smith, both quarterbacks, or running back Ricky
Williams. Palmer, sitting in the bleachers at the University of
Kentucky's field house before Couch's NFL workout, narrows the
field.

"Out of the 309 prospects at the scouting combine, guess who had
the smallest hands?" he asks a reporter.

"No clue," the reporter replies.

"Ricky Williams," he says. "And I like throwing to my backs."

Couch is warming up on the artificial turf, overseen by his own
off-season coach, former NFL offensive coordinator Larry Kennan,
when Browns college personnel coordinator Phil Neri clambers up
to see Palmer. "He's planning to go through all his routes,
throwing one to each side," Neri says. That would mean 30 throws
or so. "That O.K.?"

"No, it's not," says a suddenly edgy Palmer. "I want to see 75,
100 throws. I want to tire him out. You go tell him we're about
to spend $50 million on a player, and if he doesn't want to do
what we want, we'll go home right now."

As Neri walks away, Palmer shakes his head. "I didn't sleep last
night," he says. "We're about to make the most important
decision in the history of this franchise, the new franchise. If
it's a quarterback, I've got to be comfortable with the guy.
I'll be working shoulder to shoulder with him for the next 10
years--I hope. Like I told him: 'Tim, I'm going to have eyes out
there. You're down at the Flats [a downtown Cleveland party
spot] getting poured into a limo, I'll know. I've got to trust
you.' So he and his people better realize how important this is."

The message is delivered. In front of 42 coaches and scouts
representing 19 teams, Couch throws until he's drenched in sweat.
He tries too hard. Seven balls flutter. His accuracy, though, is
good, as is his deep throwing. "I think I proved I'm worthy of
the top pick," Couch says afterward.

Well, maybe. Palmer tells the press he likes what he saw. Deep
down, though, he and Clark wish Couch had been more impressive.
Palmer leaves Lexington thinking, I need to see him again. I need
to run the workout. And I hope he's better that day.

MARCH 24: COLUMBUS, OHIO

Policy and Lerner, invited to the Ohio statehouse to be formally
thanked for bringing back the Browns, walk into the 138-year-old
mahogany-paneled building. In the rotunda, the lawmakers woof and
growl.

"Our legislators are barking at us," Policy says to Lerner.

"My opinion of politicians has just gone up," Lerner says.

MARCH 24: BEREA

On the night of the first minicamp meeting, when Palmer speaks to
his veteran players for the first time together, he sounds like
Parcells. "Coaches are the most selfish people in the world,"
says Palmer, standing at a podium. "All they want to do is win.
If the front office gave you $7 million to sign, that's their
problem. If you aren't the best guy, you aren't playing."

Palmer tells his players they will have the best of everything.
They will get an 800 number to put on their key chains, and five
security officers will staff that phone line around the clock
and address any problems. To give players flexibility in their
off-season schedules, strength coach Tim Jorgensen will begin
workouts at 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. A nutritionist, a
holistic-medicine practitioner, a martial-arts coach and a speed
coach will be on call. Coaches will have open office hours for
an hour in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon; no
subject will be off-limits. A game room will include a 72-inch
TV, dominoes, checkers and chess. "And Scrabble," Palmer says,
"for the Stanford guys."

"Understand one thing," he adds. "All we want is excellence in
everything we do."

APRIL 16: NEW YORK CITY

The man scurrying across 49th Street in the steady rain curses
his luck. Figuring he'll never find a cab in this weather, he's
resigned to walking the nine blocks back to his hotel from the
meeting he has just wrapped up. As he gets soaked, Lal Heneghan
calls Clark and Policy to update them on his three-hour
negotiating session with Tom Condon, the agent for Couch.

"How'd things go?" Policy asks.

"Not good," Heneghan says. "Condon wants the Peyton Manning deal
plus 8 1/2 percent."

It is the day before the draft, and things are tense. Heneghan's
charge was to negotiate with Condon, see where things stood
after a few hours, then call Smith's agent, Leigh Steinberg. The
Browns prefer Couch, but if Condon's demands are too outlandish,
they'll go with Smith. Policy curses Condon. Heneghan stays cool.

Back at the Loews Hotel, Heneghan orders room service chicken
soup, then calls Steinberg to sketch out the parameters of a
deal with Smith. But, Heneghan says, he isn't authorized to make
the deal. Across town, as Couch and Condon are wrapping up
dinner, the player says, "I want to play in Cleveland, and I've
always wanted to be the first pick in the draft." At 10:30 p.m.
Condon goes to Heneghan's room to talk, and after four hours the
two have hammered out a deal. Couch gets the opportunity to redo
the contract after three years. The Browns get the seventh year
they want. Couch also gets $21 million in signing bonuses, more
than Manning got as the top pick in 1998. "I can't tell you it's
O.K. till I call the office in the morning," Heneghan tells
Condon. Then Heneghan pulls out two cigars, and two grinning men
stink up the fourth floor of the hotel.

APRIL 17: NEW YORK CITY

"Only the best for you, Tim," Heneghan says as he, Couch and
Condon duck into the only private space they can find, a men's
room at Madison Square Garden. The Browns are serious about
getting Couch signed to a precontract agreement before the
draft. It is 11:45 a.m. The draft starts at noon. Couch reads
and signs the document before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue
goes to the podium and makes the quarterback's dream come true.

Steinberg and his partner, Jeff Moorad, feel used, and Heneghan
gets the following message from a bitter-sounding Moorad on his
voice mail back in Berea: "We will never do business with you
again."

MAY 13: BEREA

Steinberg-Moorad client Jamir Miller, a free-agent linebacker,
signs a one-year contract with the Browns.

JUNE 7: BEREA

Every team needs a leader, someone who can dish it out as well
as he can take it. Around noon Couch walks through the locker
room. Fuller, the cornerback and champion trash-talker imported
from Minnesota, starts running his mouth about Couch being the
next Brett Favre. Couch gives it right back. "Yeah, and every
quarterback in the NFC Central is sad to see you gone," Couch
says.

JUNE 17: CLEVELAND

The Browns' former and future franchise quarterbacks sit alone
in a 10-person box at Jacobs Field, keeping tabs on a game
between the Indians and the A's. Bernie Kosar, a first-round
pick of the Browns in the 1985 supplemental draft and now a club
consultant, has these words for Couch: "You'll be hit with so
many demands on your time this year, when all you want to do is
focus on football. You'll change your phone number 10 times.
I'll be one of the few people you meet who won't want a thing
from you. So if there's anything that comes up, I want you to
call me." Kosar hands Couch his home, office and cell numbers.

Even the rookie quarterback has his own QB counselor on call. Is
there anything this organization hasn't thought of?

JULY 25: BEREA

Palmer's private phone rings. It's 3 p.m. "Got any time?" Couch
says.

"I will," Palmer says, "in about 15 minutes. What's on your
mind?"

"I'd like to watch some tape," says Couch. "Blitz pickup. That
O.K.?"

"Sure," Palmer says. "Fifteen minutes."

Training camp will open in four hours. Couch knows he has a
complex offense to learn; when he can grab an hour with Palmer,
Couch jumps at the opportunity. "Because he has an attitude like
this," Palmer says, "he's further ahead than I thought he'd be,
but he's still not where I want him to be."

JULY 26: BEREA

At 9:15 on a Sunday morning, at the first practice of Browns
training camp, the linemen are in hand-to-hand combat. The
morning session is a ragged one. After his fourth offside
penalty in an hour, defensive end Hurvin McCormack hears this
from Palmer at about 93 decibels: "Get me another defensive end!
What's that, four offsides? That's four gassers, McCormack! Keep
this up and you're going to think you went out for cross-country!"

AUG. 1: BEREA

The Browns don't offer contracts with no-trade clauses, but
free-agent cornerback Ryan McNeil, the NFL interception leader
in 1997, is adamant about making an exception. He won't sign his
one-year deal unless the Browns guarantee he won't be traded to
the Cincinnati Bengals. Like many players, McNeil considers
Cincinnati the NFL's Siberia. The Bengals are dangling holdout
wide receiver Carl Pickens in a trade offer, and McNeil doesn't
want to risk being part of a package for Pickens.

Heneghan agrees to the clause. Repeat after the Browns brass:
Anything for a player.

"We have 20,600 people working at MBNA, all of them in a very
nice working environment," Lerner says. "We are very big
believers that it pays to give people the most comfortable work
environment possible. Showing people you care, I believe,
motivates them."

Lerner pauses. "But," he adds, "if we give them the nice
environment and they lose, then they lose the nice environment."

AUG. 9: CANTON

The first game back for the Browns is a preseason matchup
against the Cowboys, and the most important event occurs with
six minutes left in the third quarter. It's third-and-eight from
the Dallas 11 with the Cowboys leading 17-14. From the shotgun,
Couch finds no one open and takes off running. Instead of
sliding when defensive end Sam Simmons blocks his path, Couch
tries to bull his way for the first down. Simmons levels him two
yards short of the first down. But the partisan Browns crowd
appreciates the macho act, and Couch's teammates know he's got
guts. A veteran tells him, "Slide next time."

"Screw that!" Couch hollers, wild-eyed. "I'm Superman!"

AUG. 17: CLEVELAND

On an evening off, Jim Pyne and fellow offensive linemen Jim
Bundren and Steve Gordon are relaxing at the Chop House, a
downtown meat emporium. "Hey," Bundren tells Pyne, "my muscles
are locking up. I'm cramping, bad." Bundren remembers the 800
number on his key chain, and he struggles to the pay phone at
the front of the restaurant. He punches in the number and
reports his problem. In exactly four minutes--the Browns keep a
log of such things--club security operations manager Carl Meyer
arrives in a team SUV. A police escort rushes the vehicle
through downtown traffic to the Cleveland Clinic, and 15 minutes
after Bundren mentioned his problem to Pyne, a saline-solution
IV is in his arm.

"They do a lot for us," Bundren says. "It makes you want to do a
lot for them."

AUG. 19: BEREA

Every afternoon at one o'clock Palmer has a meeting with 16
coaches and staffers. The topics are mostly mundane--organizing
practice, for instance, and the game plan for a preseason
game--but parts of the 40-minute session are the NFL's
equivalent of the stock market. On this day the stock of rookie
free-agent wideout Ronnie Powell is rising. The stock of veteran
guard Alex Bernstein is under scrutiny.

"Kenny," Palmer says to special teams coach Ken Whisenhunt, "you
had Bernstein in Baltimore. He's a strong son of a gun, but he's
stiff, huh?"

Whisenhunt nods. "I don't know if he's flexible enough," says
Palmer, looking around the conference table for Jorgensen, his
strength coach. "Tim, let's get him working on some flexibility
exercises, huh?"

Receiver depth, after starters Leslie Shepherd and rookie
second-round pick Kevin Johnson, worries Palmer. But he's
intrigued by Powell, a former running back at Division I-AA
Northwestern (La.) State who was brought to camp for his speed
(4.3 in the 40) and has shown that he can run disciplined routes
and has good hands. "Jerry," Palmer says to wideout coach Jerry
Butler, "who would be your top three receivers right now?"

"Shepherd, Johnson, and then I'd say either [Damon] Gibson,
Powell or [Jermaine] Ross," says Butler.

"But," Palmer says, "Powell gives you something special. He runs
by people. He's convinced the players, I'll tell you that. Jerry
Ball and Corey Fuller are already telling me, 'Get it deep to
Powell.' I say my top three are Shepherd, Johnson and Powell,
and now we have to zero in on Powell and see what he can do. My
question is: Can he get off the bump well enough?"

Can anyone in Cleveland's camp? Franchise players aside, there
were no rushing or receiving prizes in this free-agent class, so
the Browns are light at the skill positions. Palmer is an
offensive-minded coach, and a very good one by all accounts. But
just how will this team, starting such journeymen as Shepherd,
Ty Detmer at quarterback and Terry Kirby at running back, score
enough to win any games?

AUG. 21: CLEVELAND

The first game in the new stadium yields this tribute to the
Browns' fans' love of their team--and to Lew Merletti and the art
of security: Of the 71,398 fans in attendance for the Vikings'
24-17 win, no one was ejected or shipped to the stadium's holding
cells. The 43 concession stands worked flawlessly, as did the
1,339 toilets.

AUG. 25: BALTIMORE

Talking on a crackly cell phone, Modell wonders why he is still
"the devil," as he says. "The fans in Cleveland are better off
today than they were three years ago, with the team, the stadium,
the deep pockets. How can anyone possibly wish for the way it
used to be?"

For the first time in years, Browns fans can nod in agreement
with Modell.

SEPT. 3: CLEVELAND

Even though they went 2-3 in the preseason, the Browns could be
worse than both 1995 expansion teams because their skill players
would be roster marginalia anywhere else and the defense has
looked like a rusty sieve all summer. And though they saved
bonus money to spend on free agents in 2000, it's likely that
the best skill prospect next year might be mediocre Bear wideout
Curtis Conway. You hate to hang your hopes on the schedule, but
that's the Browns' biggest strength: Only three of Cleveland's
16 games this year are against teams that made the playoffs last
year.

Inside the stadium crews are replacing the month-old turf with
new sod trucked in from Illinois. Seems the first sod--passable
in the league's eyes, unacceptable to the Browns--was slightly
slick. No problem, Lerner said of the six-figure tab to get it
first-class. Fitting. Lerner has paid to make everything
first-class. Wins, he'll soon find out, will not be so easily
bought.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER How the Browns Were Built Here's the way a billionaire owner and seasoned NFL architect assembled Cleveland's new franchise, including bringing in top young quarterback Tim Couch (above) [T of C] COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY MATT MAHURIN COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE All dressed up No expense has been spared to give the Browns a locker room as first-rate as the team's front-office staff. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE Brain trust Lerner (left) and Policy were greeted by 4,400 rabid fans at the expansion draft, and the enthusiasm hasn't ebbed since. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE Pick of the litter The Browns got their man when they made Couch the first choice in the draft, and they love his eagerness to learn. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE Watchful eye Palmer has warned his players that the front office's generosity won't influence his decisions on who gets to play. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Up and over In a Hall of Fame Game win over Dallas, Kirby scored the first TD in the history of the newly reconstituted franchise. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID LIAM KYLE Welcome back The reception that Johnson got after an exhibition TD shows the depth of Cleveland's love for the Browns.

"We believe in creating the best work environment possible,"
Lerner says. "We think it motivates people."

Get the very best people to work for the Browns," Lerner told
Policy. "Cost will be the least important criterion."

Couch has Kosar standing by as his own QB counselor. Is there
anything this organization hasn't thought of?

"All the coaches want to do is win," Palmer tells his players.
"We want excellence in everything we do."

The Browns are very light at the skill positions, and the
question remains: Can they score enough to win?

"If we give them the nice environment and they lose," Lerner
says, "they lose the nice environment."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)