Brian Brennan has kept a heavy attachment to the city of Cleveland ever since the Browns drafted him in the fourth round of the 1984 draft.
Brennan, a native of Bloomfield, Michigan, didn't know what to think when Sam Rutigliano called him to let him know he was the newest Browns receiver. Rutgliano needed a possession-savvy receiver to restore his offense, and Brennan — a small but sure-handed receiver from Boston College — was an underlooked talent in the draft class.
So for the next eight seasons, the Browns reaped the results of the reliable receiver. Brennan, meanwhile, reaped the benefits of being a football player in Cleveland, where he still resides today and is always up for reminiscing about his favorite Browns memories.
"I was thrilled," Brennan said during a recent Club 46 interview with Jay Crawford about being drafted by Cleveland. "My parents can drive in quickly enough and see the games. And like you said, the people in Detroit are hard-nosed, a lot of blue collar workers in a sense. And Cleveland had the same kind of core, the same kind of character and fiber of people. And I had walked through town, and it seemed like even back then, I fit into the Cleveland way."
Brennan ranks 11th in franchise history with 4,148 receiving yards in a Browns uniform, and his 19 touchdowns came during one of the best eras in Cleveland's football history — four AFC Central division titles and three trips to the AFC Championship Game in a five-year span.
Even though he was a fourth-round draft pick, Brennan believed he could make a first-round impact in his rookie season. The Browns' WR depth chart was wide open, and the team needed to find receivers beside future Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome who were capable of making plays.
The top WR spots needed to be given to the most athletic pass catchers on the roster, and Brennan could tell early on that he fit the bill.
"When I got to the Cleveland Browns, I felt I was the best receiver by far, right away," he said. "It's just how I felt about my abilities as a rookie."
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Brennan proved himself right. He was the best, and he finished second on the Browns behind Newsome with 35 receptions for 455 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his first NFL season. The Browns only won five games that season, but Brennan's quality start helped set the Browns up for one of their most memorable periods in franchise history.
Some of those memories are bittersweet. The Browns lost by one possession to the Miami Dolphins in the Divisional Playoff Round in 1985 before falling three consecutive times to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Games in '86, '87 and '89. The leadup to those games, however, trigger some of the best memories Brennan has with the Browns.
Brennan had a career-best season in 1986 when he made a team-leading 55 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns. He was a core receiver for quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose career was beginning to take off, and the Browns marched into the playoffs with a 12-4 record and homefield advantage in the AFC.
Then, they almost immediately lost it.
Some fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium began to head for the exits as the Browns fell behind the New York Jets 20-10 late in the fourth quarter. With 4 minutes left, Cleveland's comeback hopes were dwindling, and it seemed as though a season capped with Super Bowl hopes was going to end prematurely in their first game of the playoffs.
The Browns, however, stormed back with 10 points in the final minutes and forced overtime. The game was still tied after the first overtime period, and the Browns won the game, now dubbed the "Miracle on the Lake" on a short field-goal attempt.
Brennan remembers that game well, but his most recent memories about the wild afternoon now stem from fans he sees around Cleveland who were at the game.
Many of them tell Brennan they left the stadium, and many of them tell Brennan they came back.
"When I walk through Cleveland or through the airport, people of our generation come up," Brennan said. "A lot of the older generation will come up and mention those games, and some of the fans that come up to me today say, 'I left and I came back in the game when I heard the roars and such.' So it was quiet for moments, but once there was a clear sign that we were coming back, it was euphoric to beat the Jets like that. We haven't seen that in Cleveland in 30 plus years, as you say. So it's a memory for me that I'll never forget."
Brennan's ninth and final year in the NFL felt much different after leaving Cleveland to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. The atmosphere felt different, and fans didn't seem to be as committed to the team no matter a win or loss. That sapped the joy out of playing the game for Brennan, whose body had begun to wear down as he reached the final segment of his football career.
Brennan realized that he didn't want to play anywhere else. Cleveland was his football home, and if he couldn't play there, he didn't see the point in taking another snap.
"(Browns fans) are everywhere, and I just think it's special," he said. "I don't know how else to describe it, but it's unique. I felt like I was one of the Clevelanders."
Brennan knew exactly where he'd want to live once he retired. "The Land" was just too special for Brennan to leave for good, and he's currently an executive for KeyBank and a frequent watcher of Browns games.
He's always enjoyed hearing from fans who remember seeing him on the field. When they ask Brennan why he stayed in town, his answer is simple.
"I always felt like I was a part of Cleveland."