Bob Golic's favorite day with the Cleveland Browns was his first day.
Golic, whom the Browns acquired from the waiver wire after three seasons with the New England Patriots, was playing for his hometown team. He grew up in Cleveland and idolized Browns football, so when he arrived back home with a chance to play with an orange helmet, he wanted to make the most of it.
But to make it last, he needed to switch positions.
With the Patriots, Golic was a linebacker. He underperformed, however, as a second-round pick in 1979 and didn't record a sack while only starting 12 games. The Patriots cut him, and the Browns picked him up with a vision for him to play another position: defensive tackle.
"As I said many times, once my hands hit the ground, the mud never got off of them," he said. "They just stayed down."
Golic learned the position in a hurry. After recording four sacks in only six games in his first season in Cleveland in 1982, Golic became a defensive star. He started 91 games with the Browns over the next six years, recorded 10 sacks and became a run-stuffing stalwart for one of the most successful eras of Browns football.
It was a dream come true for Golic, who had kept his Browns fandom even when he was with the Patriots — he admitted he was in attendance at Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the infamous "Red Right 88" playoff game even though he was still a member of the Patriots at the time.
Now, Golic was in Cleveland to carve a legacy for himself.
"I knew what Browns fans were like already," he said.
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Golic was willing to do anything to make it work. That was the mentality he learned from his father, Bob, who pushed his sons to thrive in football and always compete. He trained Bob and his younger brother, Mike, on the fields at Willoughby Junior High School to push sleds and work on technique against a worn-down tackling dummy. He wanted his sons to master their stance and hands, but Bob, the son, was always training as a linebacker.
"He just wanted to get the basics," Golic said. "All my buddies were on the baseball field playing deer softball. And I'm on the football field with my dad, drills, conditioning, doing all these things."
Golic didn't take his first snaps at defensive tackle until he joined the Browns, but he slowly — and unknowingly — began to learn the position in his youth. He was a high school and college wrestler and was equally talented on the mats as he was on the gridiron. Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia, Purdue, Alabama and Notre Dame were all recruiting Golic for their football programs, but he wanted to continue his wrestling career, too.
So he picked Notre Dame, where he built a formidable career as a linebacker and ascended to one of the best wrestlers in the country. His wrestling career, of course, came to an end when the Patriots selected him in the NFL draft. But the technique of the sport — using legs for solid leverage and mastering hand placement — is similar to how a defensive lineman operates at the line of scrimmage.
The correlation all came together for Golic when he arrived in Cleveland. A few coaching personnel remembered Golic as one of the state best wrestlers — he won a heavyweight state championship in 1975 at St. Joseph's High School — and wanted to try him out at the line of scrimmage.
Their prediction proved to be perfect.
"They said wrestling's strength and balance and leverage and control," he said, " which is, I guess, what a nose tackle does."
Golic was a natural at the defensive line for 11 seasons, seven of which were spent with the Browns and included five trips to the playoffs. His final four seasons were spent in Oakland before he retired in 1992, but Golic's legacy has always remained in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, where he lives today and is a talk show radio host and football analyst.
But as he looks back on his football career, no day was better than the first day. He was back home, and a bright, legendary career was ahead of him.
"Being born and raised in Cleveland and being a Browns fan all my life and then coming and playing for the Browns," he said, "It was nice."