Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Browns send greetings to Gibson




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

gibson
Damon Gibson
        CANTON, Ohio — Damon Gibson never knew there would be days like this. He had always believed pro football was foremost a business, cold and impersonal, lucrative and yet lacking.

        Throughout his rookie year with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gibson never imagined he could feel so wanted, so welcome, so wonderful as he did Tuesday in his first few minutes with the Cleveland Browns.

        “It's kind of like heaven to me,” Gibson said. “You know what I mean?”

        To see Cleveland as the site of salvation suggests a vantage point as bleak as Bosnia. This is where the Bengals find themselves , and why so many of their players are eager to get out. Gibson got his ticket punched Tuesday during the first round of the National Football League's expansion draft, and no one has been any happier about an exit visa since Victor Laszlo left Casablanca.

        Before the Browns formally selected Gibson Tuesday , the wisp of a wide receiver was brought to town for a tour of the team's facilities, and meetings with his new coaches and Browns owner Alfred Lerner. He was delivered to the draft in a limousine, and received there with a thunderous ovation for walking onstage and placing a Browns ballcap atop his head.

A real welcome
        For a fringe player from a terrible team, Gibson was made to feel as if he really mattered. “That,” he said, “is what a player looks for.” He became the object of the unconditional love Browns fans have been hankering to bestow on their football team. If not a heavenly experience, it was certainly heady.

        “A guy with the Denver Broncos told me he always talks to the owner,” Gibson said. “I didn't know you could do that.”

        History says Gibson will likely be long gone before the new Browns can contend for a title — expansion players are nothing if not expendable — but his present is full of possibilities.

        “Cincinnati is a young team,” Gibson said. “I think they're going to get their problems worked out. But I would rather be in Cleveland than Cincinnati.”

        Here is what the Bengals will shortly be up against in the Battle of Ohio: a bigger market with a fanatical following; a modern arena/revenue machine online a year before Paul Brown Stadium is finished; aggressive executives skilled at wooing players and brilliant at circumventing the NFL salary cap. Plus the Dawg Pound.

        The new Browns have all of the elements which made pro football in Cleveland a unique passion, and none of the misguided management of Art Modell. If Bengals President Mike Brown does not adapt to the competition, he risks turning the Battle of Ohio into a rout.

A successful Policy
        “We're going to treat our players well,” Browns President Carmen Policy promised. “We're going to treat them in a way they should want to be treated. We're going to pay them more than fairly and we're going to provide them with coaches who are good teachers.

        “In return, we'll expect a lot of them. There will be a high level of accountability. If everyone understands that with fine treatment comes responsibility, there's no reason we can't get anything done.”

        Policy's formula was formulated with the San Francisco 49ers, whose commitment to quality at the expense of profits has so far produced five Super Bowl titles. He will probably run the Browns more prudently, but the strength of his constituency encourages calculated risks. Al Lerner described the Browns' following Tuesday as having a “connection that goes beyond anything reasonable.”

        When Detroit center Jim Pyne was introduced as the Browns' first selection, he was hard-pressed to recall his last standing ovation.

        “Maybe,” he said, “my mom did it at a game.”

        When Damon Gibson was asked how many times he had been engaged in conversation with the owner of the Bengals, he was hard-pressed to remain diplomatic.

        “A little bit less than one,” he said.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com

       



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