Daylon McCutcheon will never forget the scene from his first time in a Cleveland Browns uniform.
McCutcheon, a rookie defensive back for the Browns in their first season as an expansion team in 1999, played his first NFL reps against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. He was on the same field as Deion Sanders, his favorite NFL player. The opposing offense had three future Hall of Famers in Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.
McCutcheon was only a rookie. He was expecting to stay on the sidelines for the first few drives of the preseason game and watch the veteran stars perform first, and he was going to soak it all in.
"Walking out on the field was surreal," McCutcheon said in a recent Club 46 interview with Jay Crawford. "I'm warmed up, I'm feeling great and I'm feeling good about myself."
Then, McCutcheon heard his name called from the sidelines — he was asked to enter the game on the second play of the evening.
He jogged out on the field and lined up against … Irvin. McCutcheon's first NFL snaps were against a five-time Pro Bowler and NFL legend.
"It got real, real fast," McCutcheon said. "It just clicked like, 'Man, now it's business.'"
The Cleveland Browns Presents: Club 46 - player stories through generations of football
He didn't have to do much on his first play, which was a handoff to the running back, and didn't need to face Irvin all evening in the preseason scrimmage.
By the end of the game, though, McCutcheon was the biggest star.
He made two interceptions and helped the Browns to a 20-17 overtime win — and the start of a storied career in Cleveland was underway. McCutcheon made 12 interceptions throughout his seven-year career and became a prime player of the Browns' first seasons back as an expansion franchise, and his reliability hasn't been forgotten since he retired in 2005.
Before all the memorable moments, however, there was uncertainty.
McCutcheon's mind was buzzing because his phone was not. He was waiting for that special phone call in the NFL draft to find where his next home would be, and he expected to have the call by the end of the first round or early in the second. He had no takers, though, and the second round was about to finish.
"I was going crazy," McCutcheon said. "After the first round, I wasn't really disappointed but once the second round started going and I started seeing the names going by, it was frustrating."
Then, he got three calls at once. One ring was from the San Diego Chargers. The other was from the Denver Broncos.
The third and final call was from the Cleveland Browns.
Coach Chris Palmer was on the other end, and he was welcoming McCutcheon to Cleveland.
"I was going crazy," McCutcheon said again — but that time, it was from happiness. "My family was going crazy. It was a great memory."
Then, McCutcheon needed a map.
"I needed to find out where Cleveland was," he said with a chuckle. "I knew it was in Ohio but I honestly didn't know exactly where it was on the map. So, someone got a map for me and they showed me where Cleveland was and I was like, 'Wow, it's way over there.'"
For McCutcheon, Cleveland was far away. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and shined on the top West Coast football stages, which led him to a full-ride scholarship at USC. He earned a strong reputation with the Trojans immediately by locking down teammate Keyshawn Johnson in practice as a freshman.
If McCutcheon could hang around with Johnson, who later became an 11-year NFL veteran, then he believed he could cover anyone.
"I just started making plays and it just started clicking," McCutcheon said. "The game just started slowing down a little bit and I started having a little success. And then the confidence just came. I just felt like, man, if I can hang with this guy and he's the best in the country then it should make it a lot easier against anyone else I have to cover on Saturday."
McCutcheon was well prepared for the quick adjustment in talent every rookie faces when they reach the NFL. He could hang with the top players on Cleveland's roster, but he had to do it in the sweltering summer heat of training camp, which included three practices per day for rookie players.
Sure, he was a high draft pick, but McCutcheon still had to earn his way onto the roster. No workouts were tougher than that first week of camp, but McCutcheon was playing well — and his two interceptions in the Hall of Fame game proved it.
"You'd have your two main practices and then you'd have a special teams practice," he said "And so, I just sort of remember just it being so mentally and physically draining. You'd have to dig deep, and go out there and always give it your best."
What McCutcheon remembers most from training camp, however, is the fans. Thousands of fans were eager to catch the Browns finally back in town, and they always showed up for training camp practices no matter the conditions.
They showed up on Sundays, too — every Sunday. Even though the Browns struggled in their first two years back in the NFL and won only five games in their first two seasons, McCutcheon always remembered the rowdy atmosphere at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
It didn't matter what the record was. Cleveland was happy to have its football team back, and McCutcheon could always feel their energy.
"The one thing that really stood out about the city was just how excited about football they were," he said. "You could tell they had really missed their Browns and how excited they were about getting football started there again. Everywhere I went, it was just Browns crazy, and I love that. After especially spending my career, you just realize what a great football, and not just football, but what a great sports town it is."
Those are all memories McCutcheon has stashed away from a fabled tenure in Cleveland. It started on the field at the 1999 Hall of Fame game, when McCutcheon was surrounded by some of the game's greatest stars, and ended with McCutcheon proving that he could go toe-to-toe with anyone.
"It brings me great joy," he said. "I felt like I earned the respect of teammates and my peers around the NFL. I feel like I made the most of it."