The Waiting Game and the Call That Didn’t Come: Former Browns Players Share Their Draft Day Stories
Beginning April 29, the NFL’s future stars will be in Cleveland for the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s a primetime televised event with musical performances and fireworks. But there will be several hundred players drafted who won’t be on that big lakefront stage.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto reached out to a handful of former Browns players to get their draft day stories.
Preparations for the NFL Draft in Cleveland have been ramping up in the last several weeks. A big stage has been built along Lake Erie downtown. There will be concerts from Kings of Leon, Machine Gun Kelly and others. There will be a fan festival, watch parties and fireworks each night. Football fans all over the country will be tuned in to see Commissioner Roger Goodell announce the top picks.
But NFL Draft wasn't always a star-studded event. It wasn't even televised until 1980.
"When I was a kid, you kind of picked up The Plain Dealer the next morning to see who they drafted," Pluto said.
From academic to pro
Brian Brennan was a Browns fourth-round pick in the 1984 draft. He played at Boston College but was more interested in a career in business than in football.
"He said, 'I was piling stuff on my resume to get a good corporate finance job.' But suddenly, he's a draft pick, and he's waiting and watching. He finally sees his name about five hours afterwards," Pluto said.
Brennan played eight seasons with Cleveland. His ninth was split between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers.
After his retirement, Brennan stayed in Cleveland and began his career in finance. He works at KeyBanc Capital Markets.
"Most of the players in the NFL have stories like these. The party that took forever [and] the call that didn't come."
The undrafted kicker
One of the Browns expansion-era fan favorites is kicker Phil Dawson, who played in Cleveland from 1999 to 2012. He holds the franchise record for field goals.
Pluto described him as "one of the greatest kickers in Texas high school football history" and went on to play at the University of Texas.
Dawson had high expectations heading into the 1998 draft. Pluto said his family rented out a barbecue restaurant to watch and celebrate. Not only was Dawson not a high draft pick, he wasn't drafted at all.
So, Dawson ended up being signed and released as an undrafted free agent by the New England Patriots and several other teams. Then the Browns called, and Dawson never looked back.
He went on to play his final years with San Francisco and Arizona. In 2019 when he announced his retirement, he signed a one-day contract to finish his career as a Brown.
The waiting game
Tight end Aaron Shea played at University of Michigan. The night of the 2000 draft, Pluto said Shea had to sit in the dark of his Illinois home when the power went out during a strong storm.
"He's sitting in his basement. The cell phone was working. So he finally does get a call and picked for the Browns," Pluto said.
He was selected in the fourth round. Shea retired in 2008 and worked for the Browns from 2011 to 2014. He later became an insurance agent.
"Each of these guys talks about how coming to Cleveland was the best thing that could have happened to them."
High hopes crushed
Pluto said most of the players he talked to said they all anticipated to be drafted higher than where they landed.
"Most of the players in the NFL have stories like these. The party that took forever [and] the call that didn't come. But it also takes a certain amount of a mindset like that. You have to think, 'I'm better than that guy. They just missed it. And I'm going to show them.' Or you have no chance," Pluto said.
One of those players was running back Greg Pruitt, who entered the 1973 draft. Pruitt was an All-American at the University of Oklahoma but was considered undersized at 5-foot-9 and under 200 pounds.
His former college coach, Chuck Fairbanks, took the head job with the New England Patriots. That year, the Patriots had three first-round picks. Pruitt figured he was sure to get the call. He didn't.
"Some reporter found him and told him he was drafted by Cleveland," Pluto said.
Pruitt spent 12 years in the NFL, nine with the Browns. He was a five-time Pro Bowler.
Making Cleveland home
Pluto said one thing remains consistent among all of the players he talked with.
"Each of these guys talks about how coming to Cleveland was the best thing that could have happened to them," Pluto said.
A number of these former players, including Pruitt and Brennan, continue to live in Northeast Ohio and often make public and TV appearances.