In 2011, NFL Films launched its remarkable A Football Life series with a two-part study of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The next episode, which focuses on the ’95 Browns, should more accurately be regarded as a Belichick prequel.
The study of the 1995 Cleveland Browns, which debuts Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on NFL Network, spends more time focusing on the legacy of the coach than the fate of the franchise. Yes, there’s plenty about the final days in Cleveland of the team that became the Ravens. But there’s more about the manner in which Belichick influenced a generation of men who reached tremendous heights (admittedly with varying degrees of success) elsewhere.
Dubbed “the slappies,” guys like Eric Mangini, Phil Savage, Jim Schwartz, Kirk Ferentz, Scott Pioli, and Thomas Dimitroff, went from low-level jobs in Cleveland to high-end jobs elsewhere. (Actually, Savage’s high-end job came back in Cleveland, as G.M. of the reconstituted Browns.)
Praised by everyone in modern-day interviews for his role in teaching and shaping football minds, the show features great footage from the early 1990s of Belichick (at times in a Cliff Huxtable sweater), showing the same intensity and drive that carried him to three Super Bowl championships and perennial contention.
It’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if the Browns hadn’t left Cleveland, especially with Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arriving the next season via round one of the draft. And that will continue to haunt Browns fans until they secure a championship of their own.