The talkers always talk to Orlando (Zeus) Brown. He has been
around the NFL for seven years now, and the talkers know how he
operates. They try to slip their words through the ear holes in
his orange helmet with its brown and white stripes down the
middle. They have seen how combustible he is, a half tick from
frenzy, and they try to play on that, push him over the edge.
They try to get inside his head.
John Copeland will try to do that next week. "He'll try to piss
me off," Brown says. "He'll try to get me kicked out of the game.
He'll be talking and talking. I can't pay him any mind. I have to
say, 'All right, Zeus, you have to relax. You can't get caught up
in that. Relax. You're going to hurt the team, hurt yourself.'"
The Baltimore Ravens talked in the game on Sept. 26. They know
Brown as well as anyone does. He was their teammate last year
before he took a free-agent offer in February and went to the
expansion Cleveland Browns and settled in at tackle on the right
side of the offensive line. Talk? Half the Ravens tried to get
Brown to explode, yipping at him, sounding on him. Linebacker
Peter Boulware even slapped him. The other half of the Ravens
tried to be his friends, to lull him into distraction.
"Zeus, why don't you call me?"
December 6, 1999
"Zeus, where's my tape at, the one I let you borrow?"
Talkers. Brown did well. He paid the talkers no mind.
He will have to do the same thing against Copeland. Copeland
will talk and talk and talk. "The last time I played him, he got
me," Brown said a few days before the Browns played the
Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 10, the first of the teams' two
meetings this year. "Or maybe it was two times ago. We got into
a fight. I grabbed his face mask. Eric Green had to pull me off
him. Copeland kept calling me a fat ass, and I kept calling him
an MF. It finally got to me. I started thinking about hurting
him more than I did about playing the game. That's what he wants
me to do."
The image of Copeland, left defensive end for the Bengals, sat
in Brown's consciousness the week before the October game, mixed
with all the important people in Brown's life: mother, father,
wife, kids. During that week Brown thought as much about
Copeland as about anyone. That will be true next week as well.
There will be no publicity about, nor much notice taken of,
their meeting on Dec. 12, this 6'7", 350-pound tackle from the
Browns matched against a 6'3", 280-pound end from Cincinnati in
a game that means zero in the NFL standings. But publicity and
notice are not important parts of the package. This is the
individual game, part of the bigger game but separate at the
same time. Ground level.
Before their October meeting Brown studied film of Copeland from
Wednesday till Saturday, freezing the action, rewinding, looking
for an edge, for subtle changes in posture or performance,
indicators of weakness. How was Copeland's health? A ripped left
Achilles tendon kept him out of both Ravens-Bengals games last
year. Was it healed? Was he coming hard, willing to absorb the
blows? Or was he dancing more, the way so many defensive ends do
these days, trying to avoid contact and using speed to get to
the quarterback? In Cincinnati, Copeland studied film of Brown,
looking at the same situation from the other side of the mirror.
At the end of the week the two men would step into their
forgotten corner at the edge of the TV screen and attempt to
beat the bejesus out of each other in five-second bursts. Each
would know everything he could about the well-padded figure
across from him, soft spots and hard, football-related qualities
that not even his closest relatives knew. The rest of the
picture would remain an unexplored mystery. Who is this guy?
What are his thoughts, hopes, values? Who cares? They would be
two intimate strangers trying to tear each other's heads off.
"I want to hurt him," Brown said before the October game. "I
don't want to give him a career-ending injury, but I do want to
hurt him. You can see when a guy is hurt. He gets that
shell-shocked look. I love to hit, love to use my size. I love
to see people bleed. I'm no big talker. I do my talking by
hitting my man, throwing him on the ground, jumping on him."
The dance--Mr. Copeland, meet Mr. Brown--is simple. One man
wants to go somewhere, to sit on top of the quarterback or stop
the running back from racing into the SportsCenter highlights.
The other man does not want this to happen. Force will be
exerted by both parties to further their desires.
This is the bass line of malevolence that is laid down with
every snap of the football, the foundation that makes all the
other notes sound better. Run all the way down an open field and
you have nothing more than a TV commercial for deodorant or
soap. Run first through a wall of mayhem, big men tossing one
another this way and that, and you have an adventure that is
played out in the early game, the late game, the games on Sunday
and on Monday night. Brown and Copeland are part of the wall of
mayhem, their work reflective of all the other collisions at all
the other lines of scrimmage in the league. Neither man is a
star. Neither has been to the Pro Bowl.
"The first thing I'm going to do against Orlando is bust him in
the mouth," Copeland said before their October meeting. "That
doesn't mean hit him in the mouth, exactly. It's just an
expression. It means I'm going to hit him hard somewhere. The
second thing I'm going to do, second play, is bust him in the
mouth again. That's to let him know that we're here all day.
Third play? Hopefully he'll be ready for me to bust him in the
mouth, and then I can just run around him, get to the
Copeland, 29, is less than three months older than Brown. He is
also four inches shorter, 70 pounds lighter. Copeland has been a
defensive lineman for most of his life, since he followed his
older brother, Sylvester, to Pop Warner games and fell in love
with what he saw. He is a small-town guy from Lanett, Ala.,
whose parents worked in a factory and provided a modest but safe
life for their six children. Copeland encountered few gangs and
drugs as a kid, none of the familiar horror stories. Water guns
were the weapon of choice in his neighborhood. Fireworks were
the escalation. He remembers aiming Roman candles at his
brothers' heads, and his brothers aiming back at his. Lucky no
one was hurt.
Football always was easy for John. Probably too easy. He had a
match of two athletic gifts, size and speed, that made him a
star for Valley High. He didn't have to lift weights, didn't
have to do much running. He showed up and played. Big schools,
Alabama and Auburn and Tennessee, wanted him. He signed with the
It was a surprise to him when he found out he could not go to
Tuscaloosa because he lacked the proper grades and the proper
courses in a core curriculum. Then again, that was his style.
Easy. When he'd needed a C or a D in the easiest course to
remain eligible for high school sports, that's what he'd gotten.
A year and a half at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss.,
under assistant coach Gene Murphy gave Copeland a taste of
discipline and structure. He accumulated decent grades, went to
Alabama and was part of a national championship team as a
senior. The Bengals made him their top choice, fifth pick, in
the 1993 draft. Easy. Too easy.
Only now is he starting to tinker with his large body. The torn
Achilles tendon finally made him get serious in the weight room.
The Bengals had been stunned when Copeland reported as a rookie
and couldn't do a single chin-up, but he had believed that he
didn't need to look good in a muscle contest to play football.
The whisper about him has been that he is an underachiever, but
he has been a starter his entire career. "Everybody always
wanted me to do weights," he says. "I'd go to the programs, put
in the time in the room, but I was never into it. I was the
spotter. I hate that it took me so long to learn. I'm lifting
now, and I see the difference in my play. I feel a whole lot
stronger, can move a whole lot better."
Copeland remembers the first time he saw Brown come onto the
field, as a late-game replacement in 1994. Even in a league
filled with big people Brown is eye-poppingly large. "I said,
'What is that?'" Copeland says. "He was so big, and I didn't
know anything about him. He wasn't very good, really. Just all
emotion. When he was pass-blocking, you could make one move on
him and get by. The emotion was working against him. I don't
know who worked with him, but they've done a good job. He's
become a good football player."
Before Oct. 10 the two men had faced each other eight times. The
defensive statistics were a rough gauge of Brown's improvement.
In their first four meetings Copeland had 18 tackles, 16
unassisted. In the next four he had eight tackles, seven
unassisted. (Nonetheless, Brown's team won the first four games.
Copeland's team won three of the next four.)
Copeland said he had played against Brown so many times that he
would watch less film before the Cleveland game than he would if
he were facing a less familiar opponent. The film sessions
mostly would be a refresher course. How many times do you have
to watch The Godfather to know exactly when the horse's head
will appear in the bed? Copeland knew what to expect.
"Orlando is a smash-mouth," Copeland said. "I think of him as
one of the old Green Bay Packers offensive linemen: Get down in
the mud and play hard-nosed football. There are other guys who
try to finesse you. They just want to move you a little bit to
another spot. Orlando wants to take you on. I like to play
against a guy who says, 'Come on, let's go. I'll beat you, or
you'll beat me. We're going to bang all day until one of us gets
tired of banging.' I can't sit there and muscle this guy. He's
too big. I have to use my speed on him a lot. I have to try to
outsmart him. I don't want to hurt anybody, but I do want to
cause some pain. The ball is snapped, and for those five or six
seconds we're at war."
The only time Copeland has seen Brown has been on the field.
They never have bumped into each other at a Super Bowl, at a
nightclub, in an airport lounge. Even if they did, Copeland does
not think there would be much conversation. He never has had a
real conversation with anyone he has played against. Talk with
an opponent? The way they do in the NBA? Or golf? Be his friend?
This seems almost impossible.
Copeland doesn't even have much conversation with the offensive
linemen on his own team. They are creatures of another species,
with different styles and smiles. Why would you want to be their
"In training camp it's the worst," Copeland says. "They're
definitely the enemy. You can barely sit down to dinner with
them. [Offensive guard] Ken Blackman and I used to fight every
day in camp. Ken Blackman thinks he's a tough guy, and I wasn't
going to let him tough-guy me. So every time we were matched
against each other, we had a fight. Then we took showers in the
The only talk with Brown on Oct. 10 was trash talk. Copeland
remembers their fight of two years ago. Final game of the season,
in Cincinnati. Copeland got inside Brown's head, calling him "a
fat f---" after every play, asking: "How come you can't handle
someone who's so much smaller than you? Just a little guy?" He
remembers Brown's rage.
"It's an an odd thing," Copeland says. "It's like you know the
guy, but then again you don't know anything about him. I asked
[Cleveland cornerback] Antonio Langham about Brown once. Langham
went to college with me. Langham says Brown's cool. That's all I
know, really. I guess they call him Zeus. Isn't that what they
call him? Zeus?"
"The worst thing a guy ever did to me on the field was grab my
testicles," Brown says. "I think it was number 74 of the
Pittsburgh Steelers, Nolan Harrison. I was run-blocking. I came
up on him hard, and he grabbed my testicles. I never had seen
anything like that. He wouldn't let go. He was squeezing. I was
so mad, just driving him. I said he was going down! When he let
go, though, I dropped to the ground. Dropped. He could have beat
the s--- out of me right there. I was helpless. When I finally
got back up, I was screaming at him. I said, 'You're gay! You're
gay as s---!' He apologized, but I wanted to kill him."
The game is one long scuffle to Brown. That is the part he
enjoys. He doesn't particularly like football, the larger game.
The scuffles are what drew him to the sport. He is very good in
scuffles. "My mother didn't allow me to fight at first as a kid,
but I was brought up in Washington, D.C., and my junior high
school principal convinced her that fighting was all right,"
Brown says. "The principal told her, 'Mrs. Brown, this boy, to
survive here, has got to fight. If he doesn't fight, they will
make a punk out of him.' My mother, she's from South Carolina,
had never heard of something like this. But she finally said,
'Look, I'm going to let you fight. If you can avoid it, avoid
it, but don't let anyone step on your toes.' From that day it
was on. I fought everyone. There was one kid, I fought him every
day for maybe two years until I gave him one good ass-whipping,
and he never wanted to fight anymore.
"The coach at my high school heard about me and told me I should
come out for football. He said, 'You can fight till the cows
come home in football.' I said, 'For real?' I went to my first
practice, saw all these big guys around, all of them about 6'5",
and I said, 'I can be myself here.' And I stayed."
His neighborhood was in the section of the city called Northeast.
Washington had one of the highest murder rates in America at the
time. Northeast might have been the most murderous part of a
murderous city. Brown saw a friend shot dead right in front of
him on the street. The football player was acquainted with the
drug dealers and the thugs. They were contemporaries with gold
jewelry and fine Mercedes-Benz rides.
The coach at H.D. Woodson High, Bob Headen, tugged Brown in the
other direction. Football. Be yourself. Fight here. Orlando's
mother, Catherine, who nicknamed him Zeus before he was born
because she was teaching a junior high school class in mythology,
even told Headen where to find the spare key to the Browns'
house. This way he could show up and drag Zeus out of bed if he
was trying to skip school. Football for Zeus became structure, an
environment where his size mattered, where he mattered.
"It didn't matter on the street how big you were if you ran into
someone with a gun," says Brown. "I came home after my senior
year of college, and I was carjacked by three kids who must have
been 12 years old, maybe 13. I was talking with this girl in
front of her house, and these three kids pulled up, and one had a
gun. He told the girl to get on the ground and told me to give
him the keys to my truck. I guess I hesitated, and he was like,
'Big man, you ready to try something?' He cocked the gun. I said,
'Here's the keys, and there's a gas card in the glove
compartment.' That's D.C."
Colleges didn't rush for Brown's signature on a letter of intent
during his senior year at Woodson. Not only were his grades low,
but his times for the 40 were slow. He weighed 240 pounds. He
spent two years at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio,
then went to South Carolina State. He was a defensive lineman
until halfway through his junior season, when he was switched to
offense. The pros were in no rush for his services either. He was
not drafted, and the scouts didn't even want to look at him.
Only when Scott Pioli, then working for the old Cleveland Browns,
visited the South Carolina State campus to evaluate another
player did Brown have a chance to make his case. He arrived at
the field and demanded a tryout. Pioli refused. Brown pressed his
case. Pioli reluctantly agreed. Brown, who was wearing street
clothes, stripped down to his underwear and combat boots and ran
"maybe a 5.65 40, so slow it was ridiculous," Pioli would say
later. Brown said he was a hitter, not a runner. Let him hit.
Pioli held a blocking dummy. Brown came out of his stance,
run-blocking, and knocked Pioli and the dummy to the ground.
Pioli said, "Hey, don't do that again." The next demonstration
was supposed to be of pass-blocking. Brown didn't know how to
pass-block. South Carolina State had a simple run-oriented
offense. Brown came out of his stance and run-blocked again,
knocking Pioli and the dummy to the ground again. Pioli said,
"This time, just keep your hands behind your back. O.K.?" Brown
repeated his run-blocking move and knocked the scout and the
dummy to the ground a third time. Pioli said, "That's it. The
"I'd seen a camera set up, so this was being put on film," Brown
says. "That meant someone else was going to watch the tryout.
Whoever it was, this is what I wanted him to see. Turned out it
was the coach, Bill Belichick. He was, 'Uh, let's go out and get
Cleveland rookie camp was more of the same. Brown knocked over
anyone he saw, including the assistant equipment manager, who
was holding a blocking dummy and suffered a broken collarbone.
Brown also fought anyone, anytime. He still didn't know the
fundamentals of pass-blocking, so he tackled defensive ends as
they tried to rush past him. The defensive ends and the coaches
screamed, but Brown's ferocity was undeniable. Belichick loved
Brown spent his first season on injured reserve, learning his
new job. He arrived every day before seven in the morning to
study the dance steps of his position. An assistant coach, Pat
Hill, set out chairs across the meeting-room floor in the
formations an offensive lineman would face. Brown blocked the
chairs with a passion. Player personnel director Mike Lombardi
supplied him with films of Jackie Slater, the All-Pro tackle for
the Los Angeles Rams. See? This is how you do it. Brown tried to
copy the moves. He had this one chance, and he wasn't going to
let it go. He was on the roster in his second season--the year
that Copeland first saw him and asked, "What is that?"--and a
starter in his third.
"Belichick liked emotional guys," Brown says. "The day before a
game, he'd call me into his office and say, 'Look ass----, if
you don't f------ block, we're going to f------ lose, and I'm
going to send your f------ ass home.' I'd say, 'Send me home?
I'm damn sure not going back to D.C.' To me, D.C. stood for
Death Certificate. I'd come out of those meetings heated up."
Brown still is amazed that he is in the league. He was so naive
that he tried to cash a paycheck at a drive-through bank window.
He remembers veteran Tony Jones, one of his mentors, looking at
him--this wild kid from the D.C. ghetto with hair in braids and
a rap-video wardrobe--and saying, "First, we have to get you a
haircut. Then we have to get you some clothes."
Brown has learned so much about the game, about everything. The
team moved to Baltimore after his first three seasons, and he
moved with it. After three years as a Raven, he was a free agent
and signed with the new Browns. He is back in Cleveland as
veteran. A veteran! He is married with two sons. He owns two
houses, one in Cleveland and another in Baltimore. "I always
thought I would want a Benz, like those guys on the corner in
D.C.," he says. "You know what, though? I'd rather have a
tax-free bond than a Benz."
The foundation of his success has not changed. Brown still plays
the game with knock-down-the-door anger. He eats healthier food
now, trying to keep his weight down to cope with the speed of the
new breed of pass rushers. But he still relies primarily on his
rage. "I hate the guy I'm playing against," he says. "I hate
everything about him. I say, 'This guy slapped my mother.' I say,
'Orlando's got to eat. Orlando's family's got to eat. This guy's
taking food off Orlando's table.'"
Copeland, by game time on Oct. 10, was a despicable character to
Brown. A mass that not only had to be moved but also had to be
buried. Brown's first priority would be to protect the inside
lane to the quarterback. Force Copeland outside. Violence would
be met by violence. If Copeland led with his helmet, as many
pass rushers do, Brown would counter with an upward push to
Copeland's chin. If the head was pushed back, the body would
"Copeland's a bull-rusher," Brown said. "He likes to come
inside. The Bengals have a different defense now. They have him
slanting sometimes. They have him two-gapping sometimes, playing
head-up with me. Sometimes he's got to read me first, then go
make the play. Well, he's not going to make the play, but he's a
good player. He's got some speed. Some finesse. He'll try some
shakes on me, try to get around the corner. But it won't work."
Brown says he always reads the press-guide biography of his
opponent. He likes to know as much as he can about the man's
personal life. Under "Personal" for Copeland, the Bengals' press
guide reads, "Born in Lanett, Ala.... Attended Valley (Ala.)
H.S., lettering in football and basketball.... Hobbies include
fishing and video games." It is not a lot of information.
The game was in Cleveland. Both teams were 0-4. The big story
was the battle between rookie quarterbacks Tim Couch of the
Browns and Akili Smith of the Bengals. Tony Grossi, the Browns'
beat writer, did a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on the
key matchups. He mentioned 23 players on the two teams. He did
not mention Brown or Copeland.
The day was cloudy but dry, 65[degrees]. The new Cleveland
Browns Stadium was sold out, with 73,048 spectators. "This is my
favorite kind of weather for football, 65 degrees, playing on
grass," Copeland said. "Although I do like to play in the snow.
Especially when you play against one of those teams from Florida
or from out West."
"I like it when we get the ball first," Brown said. "I like to
get out there, get going, establish the tone right away. I don't
like sitting around."
This time he had to sit. The Bengals received the kickoff, so
Brown and Copeland were on the sidelines for the first series of
downs. The two men looked for all the world as if they were
standing on opposite sides of the same street, waiting for buses
traveling in different directions. Brown told himself to relax,
to concentrate on technique. Copeland simply waited.
The Bengals drove for a 27-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead before
Brown's and Copeland's units went onto the field. Cleveland
started with the ball on its own 35-yard line. The dance began.
First play: Couch threw a quick eight-yard swing pass to
halfback Terry Kirby for eight yards. Copeland saw it developing
and peeled away from Brown in the direction of the action. He
was not involved.
Second play: Kirby hit left tackle, the other side, for one yard.
Copeland and Brown collided. Not part of the play.
Third play: Kirby again to the left side for two yards and a
first down. Copeland and Brown collided. Not part of the play.
Fourth play: Kirby ran over right tackle for four yards. It was a
misdirection play, a fake out of the shotgun, and Brown let
Copeland run the wrong way.
Fifth play: Couch threw an incomplete pass. Copeland tried a
spinning move to get around Brown, but Brown nailed him.
Sixth play: Copeland lined up far on the outside. Brown had
another assignment. Copeland got through to Couch and gave him a
whack as he threw another incompletion. The Browns punted.
Copeland and Brown returned to the sidelines.
This is the way the afternoon evolved. The Browns ran 53 plays.
Brown and Copeland were on the field for all of them. Thirty of
the snaps were pass plays (including the three times Couch was
sacked), 23 were rushes. Probably 95% of the time, the actions
of Brown and Copeland did not affect the outcome of a play. The
two men negated each other, off on the side, involved in their
private work. Every fifth play, perhaps, they were not matched
against each other, different formations creating different
assignments, but basically they were responsible for each other.
"When I started and couldn't pass-block very well, Coach
Belichick would give me help on pass plays," Brown says. "On the
runs I'd be on my own, but for pass plays he'd keep the tight
end in, and we'd double-team our man. Now that I know how to
pass-block, I never see that tight end. I look for him--ha!--but
he's always somewhere down the field."
"We don't run a lot of games [in which defensive linemen loop
around each other to confuse the blockers] against Brown,"
Copeland says. "He's been around too long. He picks that up
pretty good. It's mostly me against him."
The two men bounced off each other again and again. Copeland
says Brown tried to hold on every play. Brown agrees. Every
offensive lineman tries to hold on every play. Copeland tried to
get separation, moving his body away to allow the referee to see
Brown's grabbing. Brown tried to keep his arms inside Copeland's
arms, hiding them from anyone in a striped shirt. This is the
The more vulnerable of the two is Copeland, especially on
running plays. Trouble can come from any direction. He worries
about his knees. He can be tangling with an offensive lineman
and not see a chop block coming from someone else, an attack
from the side. He says most teams, the Browns included, do not
chop-block routinely. "The Oakland Raiders did it to me twice in
a row in one game, tried to put me out of the game. The first
time, the guard, Steve Wisniewski, came over after the play. I
was yelling about it, and he said, 'That's right, Copeland, we
did it, and we're going to do it again.' He yelled, 'Knife!'
just before the snap, and they did it again. But that time the
referee caught them."
There was none of that on Oct. 10. Copeland and Brown worked
within the established boundaries, trading forearm to the thorax
for elbow to the ribs, grab for slap, grunt for wheeze. Copeland
talked. Brown resisted the temptation to react. Neither was
called for a penalty during the game. Where they placed their
hands and what they did with them was lost as they tugged and
pulled at each other. Number 77 for the Browns. Number 92 for
the Bengals. The two men mostly were numbers in a jumble of
Then number 92 suddenly stood out. Copeland got a sack on the
second play of the fourth quarter, one of his two tackles on the
day. He was in the spotlight, zap, as quickly as that. Number
92. He was dancing in the middle of the field.
The sack came on one of the plays in which Brown had another
assignment. Reinard Wilson, an extra linebacker, charged though
the gap on a blitz, and Brown had to shift left to stop him.
Copeland looped around that collision, avoided a block from
Cleveland fullback Marc Edwards and leveled Couch from behind.
The ball squirted out of the quarterback's hands but was
recovered by his teammate Mark Campbell. The Browns' drive was
stalled, and they kicked a 33-yard field goal to take a 17-12
lead with 14:09 remaining. Zeus was not happy.
"The most overrated statistic in football is the sack," he says.
"The guy makes one play--and he doesn't make it on me--and he
jumps and dances around. One play out of 70. Where was he the
other 69 plays? Why wasn't he dancing then?"
Brown showed his displeasure during the next series of downs. On
one play Copeland was knocked to the ground, part of the pile.
He was lying at Brown's feet after the whistle, and he put out
his hand, silently asking for a lift back to his feet. Brown
looked at him with disgust. "You have to be f------ kidding me,"
he said. "I'm not picking you up." He walked away.
Copeland, pissed--his word--crawled to his feet. He tried to
bust Brown in the mouth a little harder on the next play and the
play after that. Their collisions had a renewed zip. This time
Brown had climbed into Copeland's head a little bit.
The score stayed the same, 17-12, for most of the fourth
quarter. With 3:50 left the Browns started a drive from the
Cincinnati 44, hoping to close out the first win in their
expansion history. After a one-yard loss on the first play, they
sent reserve running back George Jones behind Brown and past
Copeland for a nine-yard gain. Advantage, Brown. Third-and-two.
The Browns ran the same play again. Copeland says he can sense
when the play is coming at him the moment the ball is snapped.
He can feel a different urgency, electricity, focus, something.
This time he closed the gap, and linebacker Adrian Ross made the
play on Jones. Two-yard loss. Advantage, Copeland. Cleveland
punted with little more than two minutes left.
The Bengals then came back to win. Smith, in his first start,
directed the Cincinnati offense 80 yards down the field as if he
were working from a John Elway playbook. On the 10th play, with
nine seconds to go, no timeouts, Smith scrambled on third down
and hit wide receiver Carl Pickens with a two-yard touchdown
pass. A two-point conversion failed, but the score still was
18-17, Cincinnati, bringing silence to the stadium.
Brown and Copeland, both standing on the sidelines,
noncombatants in the drama that decided the outcome, returned to
the field for one last play with five seconds remaining. The
kickoff had left the ball on the Browns' 19-yard line. An
unlikely 81-yard touchdown pass by Couch or an interference
penalty was the only possibility for a Cleveland win. When the
ball was snapped, Brown grabbed Copeland's shirt. He wasn't
going to surrender a free shot at his quarterback-of-the-future
on a play that was almost certainly meaningless. That is how the
game ended, Couch's pass incomplete, Brown holding Copeland's
The two men acknowledged each other with a look. Then they left
the field walking in different directions.
"I think I kicked that boy's ass," Copeland said in the Bengals
locker room. "That third down? That was the ball game right
there. I kicked the boy's ass."
There was noise and music all around him, handshakes and
enthusiasm mixed with relief, but Copeland was just a small part
of the celebration. No reporter from either the Cincinnati or
Cleveland papers or TV stations came to his locker to record his
words. The news was all about Smith and Pickens and the
last-second escape. This was nothing new to Copeland.
"I can't think of anybody who watched us on every play today,
Brown and me," he said. "My family doesn't watch. My fiancee
doesn't. They follow the ball, just like everybody else. I
follow the ball when I watch football on TV. I never watch the
"You watch football?" a player at the next locker asked. "I
never watch football."
Brown, in the other locker room, did some interviews. He was a
thoughtful conversationalist, a spokesman for the Browns'
disappointment. The Cleveland angle was, How did we let this one
get away? If we can't beat these guys, whom can we beat? Brown
said all the right things about how the next few weeks would be
a test of character, how everyone had to draw together or the
group would fall apart.
He had showered and dressed. The locker room was pretty empty,
most players having escaped in a hurry. He was wearing an outfit
that looked like pajamas, except it was made from the same blue
pinstriped wool as a businessman's suit. He looked like a record
company executive. Or maybe someone important in Hollywood.
"What about Copeland and you?" he was asked. "How did that come
"One-on-one?" Brown said. "I think I did good. I can't say I
won, because when your team loses, everybody loses, but I think
I did good."
"Copeland talked about that third-down play, the stop on that
"He thought he did that?" Brown rolled his eyes. He had a
That might be the final beauty of this anonymous matchup. Who
won or lost the individual game within the game often depends on
whom you ask. There are times when one lineman destroys another,
when the defensive player is in the backfield the entire day or
when the offensive lineman buries the man in front of him. This
was not the case here.
Copeland had his two tackles, one of them the sack on the play
in which Brown blocked someone else. There was no other real
statistic. Who really won? Who really lost? Who knows? The only
permanent score is kept in the two men's heads, separate
subjective judgments filed next to the memories and grudges from
the other meetings. The last time mostly is fodder for the next
"I'll try to hurt him," Brown says.
"I want to bring some pain," Copeland says.
On Sunday, Dec. 12, the two men will meet again, in Cincinnati.
The game again will mean nothing. The Bengals are 2-10 after
last week's victory over Pittsburgh. The Browns have the same
record, with last-minute wins over the New Orleans Saints and
The league fined Brown after the New Orleans game for wrestling
his man to the ground on the last play and elbowing him in the
back. Brown says he will try not to do that again. Control. He
must play under control.
Copeland will try to make him lose that control. He will talk
again. Yes, he will. Brown will try to resist again. They will
be caught in their belligerent tango, forms and faces, push and
shove, two men going through the same revolving door at the same
time. They will try to beat each other senseless one more time.
Copeland is in the second year of a five-year, $15 million
contract. Brown is in the first year of a six-year, $27 million
Mayhem is not without its rewards.
"I want to hurt him," Brown said of Copeland. "I love to hit,
love to use my size. I love to see people bleed."
"I can't muscle this guy," Copeland said. "He's too big. I have
to use my speed. I have to outsmart him."
"The worst thing a guy ever did to me on the field was grab my
testicles," Brown says. "He wouldn't let go."
Copeland, by game time, had become despicable to Brown, a mass
that had to be not just moved but buried.
They bounced off each other again and again. Copeland says Brown
tried to hold on every play. Brown agrees.