Former Cleveland Browns running back Eric Metcalf never lacked confidence on the football field, and that belief in himself led him to be an impact player, both on offense and special teams, on teams that played deep into the postseason.
Although he last played for the Browns 20 years ago, Metcalf remains confident, confident that the team will reverse their fortunes and build a winning culture in the near future.
“Right now, we’re heading in the right direction,” Metcalf said. “We have core people who can be the leaders and be the people that other guys will follow when they come in and become that tight-knit group that can turn it around and become a winner.”
An NFL team is a group of 53 players being mentored by nearly 20 coaches, but the key to turning those individuals into a consistent championship contender is building a family atmosphere within the locker room, according to Metcalf and fellow former Browns running back Kevin Mack.
Metcalf played with the Browns from 1989 to 1994, and Mack, from 1985-93. Combined, they played in 12 playoff games and were a part of 115 victories in the orange and brown. In building their chemistry on the field, the teams Mack and Metcalf played on spent time together away from football.
“The guys generally liked each other, so it was easy for us to get along, even off the field,” Metcalf recalled. “I think that’s what made it special because a lot of teams and in a lot of places in the real work world, people don’t generally get along. They just work together. You don’t have to get along when you work together, but we did, and that made it special. That’s why we were able to just go out there and compete as one and not even worry about anything else.”
Mack added, “It was definitely a family atmosphere from the day I stepped in Cleveland. Getting to know my teammates took a little while. Good thing for me was it was in the offseason, so I had a few workouts to get to know my guys.”
For Mack, building the football family began with getting to know his fellow running backs, including Earnest Byner. As the 2014 Browns begin building a winning culture, he would stress to players the importance of competition on the field and spending time with each other’s families.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that me and Earnest Byner are great friends still today,” Mack said. “He was a guy I really kind of gravitated towards and we got to be really good friends. In our workouts, we kind of challenged each other to go out and be the starting running backs on the team that year. It was a process and a thing where it wasn’t just the guys getting to know each other.
“We also went out with our families. Our families knew each other and I think it was how the organization operated. We had been through a lot together, suffered a lot together and we genuinely got to know each other. Once our families got close and we got to know each other, it became pretty special for us.”
Mack describes that time as “really important” to the success of the franchise because the chemistry helped build a trust within the locker room that allowed the Browns to appear in three AFC Championship games in a four-year period in the late 1980s.
“It’s one thing to be on a team and play with a bunch of guys, but if you don’t know those guys, you’re not really giving it your all,” Mack said. “For us, it was special because there were times when we were down and we never really gave up. We were always looking for somebody to make the big play and we always had someone step up and make a big play for us.
“Over the course of the years, we knew that guys were going to step up. No matter how much we were down or how much we were up, we were going to execute the game plan that we were given and go out and play as hard as we could.
“We had fun playing the game. A lot of guys these days forget that if you’re not having fun when you’re out there, even though it is a job, if you’re not having fun, it’s just not the same. All our teams that I played on and was involved with here, we had fun. We had a great time playing the game. We loved competing.”