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September 10, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — Things are getting just a little weird in that chilly, old concrete jungle called Cleveland Stadium.

Sure, it's strange, but if appearances truly are not deceiving, if the Cleveland Browns actually are a team that's going to carry destiny into the Super Bowl, then that body of water over there can be nothing else but, yes, Lake Eerie.

This place is spooky, all right. The last time the Browns were champions of the NFL was in 1964, when their current quarterback, Bernie J. Kosar Jr., was one year old. Now, the Browns' biological time clock is ringing like crazy.

The good citizens here are waking up to the fact that perhaps after Christmas, with visions of sugarplums and Milt Plums dancing in their heads, the fans' beloved Browns may be taking no prisoners, Bernie-ing all the bridges behind them and heading for the Large One, the biggest game of them all.

The Browns in the Super Bowl? Hey, it could happen. After all, it almost did last season. With Kosar the starter from the first game, Cleveland finished the regular season 12-4 and was an eyelash away from the Super Bowl before John Elway blinked and finished them in the AFC championship game.

Elway took the Denver Broncos on a 98-yard drive for a touchdown that tied the Browns with only 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter, then moved the Broncos into position for a game-winning field goal as soon as he got the football in overtime.

All Kosar did was pass for 259 yards, which was more than Elway, plus a pair of touchdowns. The week before, in the Browns' 23-20 victory in two overtimes over the New York Jets, Bernie was even better: 489 yards, 64 attempts, 33 completions.

But the Broncos were the ones who got to the Super Bowl.

To get so close and not succeed, well, Browns' owner Art Modell said Kosar, as well as the rest of the team, can use the 23-20 loss to Denver as a learning experience.

"It was like feeling the fire," Modell said. "To end the season like that, we're a better squad for it now. We matured under adversity. We grew up after the Denver game."

And Bernie? Did he get burned feeling the fire?

Bernie's back, he's 23, he's in his third year and he's carrying an entire city on his back.

Only last week, Higbee Co., founded in 1860 and Cleveland's oldest department store, announced it was going out of business. On the same day, it was reported that Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, experienced the third-largest population drop of any county in the U. S. since the 1980 census.

Even though the area's unemployment figures aren't so good either, the stores are closing down and the population is depressed, there could be a ray of hope shining through all the gloom.

Some people believe "Cuyahoga" is the Indian word for "pigskin." In that case, it seems as though some good news might be welcome around here.

"This city hasn't had a love affair for so long," Modell said. "We're a city of widows and bachelors. The Indians haven't done anything since 1954 and we haven't done anything since 1964. The people here want to get something. And we want to give it to them."

Up steps Bernie Kosar into the pocket. A city's hopes, a team's dreams ride on his right arm. Is that too much of a load?

"I guess it's a heck of a compliment," Kosar said. "I wanted to come here. The Browns have always been the team I followed. I'm just looking to make a contribution to this team and this city. And to this point, I think I have."

In the next several months, there may actually be some good news in this city's newspapers. Kosar may not have written it, but he will almost certainly be responsible for a large part of it. There should be a lot to read. So be ready for the headlines to come, because these are . . .


Bernie: Bright Boy

Uses Brains, Not Brawn

Much has been said about all the football knowledge Kosar has locked up in his gray cells. He is the thinking man's quarterback who considers 100 yards of green grass his personal mind field.

Browns' Coach Marty Schottenheimer, said that you cannot make too much of a quarterback's ability to think clearly. However, Kosar can do much more than that, Schottenheimer said.

"Some people learn by rote," he said. "Other people learn by concepts. Bernie has the ability to conceptualize. As a result, he sees things clearly and that's what quarterbacking is all about."

Although he is only in his third season, Kosar's reputation as one of the NFL's pre-eminent thinkers seems to be growing. Some quarterbacks throw the ball harder and most quarterbacks look a lot better doing it than Kosar, but there probably aren't too many who actually get the job done as well as he does.

Cleveland's offense, established last season by coordinator Lindy Infante, is big on spreading out the field, thereby stretching the defense, throwing to the backs and wide receivers depending on what the defense does.

Kosar must read the defense and adjust. He thinks doing that may be his greatest strength.

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