The battle between quarterback Bernie Kosar and Coach Bill Belichick of the Cleveland Browns ended Monday with a knockout punch that shook the football world.
Kosar, one of the most popular players in franchise history, was cut.
"Basically, it came down to his production and a diminishing of his physical skills," Belichick said at a news conference.
But sources say the reasons were much more personal.
Belichick, a conservative former defensive coordinator, likes a a ball-control offense featuring rushing and short passes.
Kosar, a nine-year veteran who took the Browns to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, wanted the freedom to call his own plays.
"The problems with our offense go a lot deeper than who the quarterback is," Kosar told a group of cheering fans at a dinner appearance Monday night in Cleveland. "When you make a decision like this, certain things need to be said to justify it."
Earlier this year, Belichick ordered Kosar to stop changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Then, three games ago, he benched him.
When new starter Vinny Testaverde suffered a separated shoulder against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kosar returned to the starting lineup. But Sunday against the Denver Broncos, he found himself in more trouble with the boss.
Before the game, after studying the film, Kosar pointed out that the Broncos could probably be kept off balance by throwing the ball on second and third downs.
Belichick did not agree with that strategy, but in the second half, Kosar ignored him and threw those passes anyway.
The Browns, who trailed 16-0, scored twice and missed a field goal in five possessions with Kosar calling the plays. He was sacked six times.
They eventually lost, 29-14. And less than 24 hours later, Kosar lost his job.
Art Modell, the Browns' owner who treated Kosar like a son, sadly agreed with Belichick's assessment. Modell recently gave Belichick a two-year contract extension, which signaled the beginning of the end for Kosar.
"I think he's been hurt so much," Modell said of Kosar. "He has taken more punishment than any quarterback I have known in this league. He played a half against Miami last year with a broken ankle, something I have never seen in football."
Said Kosar: "The timing of this is very hard for me to understand."
The move was surprising, not only because Kosar was the starting quarterback for a 5-3 team that shared the AFC Central Division lead, but also because the Browns must now fight for the championship with quarterback Todd Philcox, who has started one game in four seasons.
Testaverde is not expected to be ready until the final two weeks of the season.
"We have some games coming up that we can win, important games, and I've been in those types of situations before," Kosar said. "It's disappointing that there is a lot of business that goes into football."
Part of that business was his seven-year, $27-million contract that was announced five weeks ago. Although contracts are guaranteed for the first half of the season under the new basic agreement, players are paid by the game during the second half.
The Browns saved themselves a lot of money by cutting Kosar now, although they lost credibility in the community.
The sports-talk radio station in Cleveland received about 150 faxes during a three-hour period after the announcement, with an average of nine fans criticizing the Browns for every one fan who supported them.
Local television stations showed season ticket-holders standing in line at Municipal Stadium, demanding their money back.
Kosar is expected to consider playing for contenders such as the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.