Felix Wright's NFL dreams were an afterthought in the months after he finished his college football career at Drake in 1980.
Wright never received much NFL interest after college. His name wasn't called in the draft. He never received a phone call for a training camp invite. He was on his own.
And he was OK with that.
Wright, who is currently tied for eighth all-time in Browns history in interceptions, had an extraordinarily unique path to the NFL. His six-season career in Cleveland from 1985-1990 contained many memorable moments, but not before he fought his way to an active roster.
"I got one letter (before the draft), and that was from the Dallas Cowboys," Wright said. "That's when they were sending letters out to just about everybody in college ball, actually, and some basketball players at the time, too."
After finishing college, Wright became a high school coach in Joplin, Missouri, his home state. As a football, basketball and track coach, Wright frequently ran drills with his team to maintain his own athletic abilities.
He always kept the possibility of a professional career in the back of his mind, but it wasn't a priority. Wright had always wanted to be a coach if a professional career didn't work out, and not many players are fortunate to receive interest from professional teams after college careers.
But Wright realized he could still have a football future during one of his drills with his high school players. Playing as a defensive back, Wright shut down his top receivers during one-on-one drills.
The workout was so impressive that his other coaches recommended Wright continued a professional playing career.
"The coaches came up to me after practice, and we were in the locker room, and they were like, 'Wow, what are you doing here?'" Wright said. "I think we had five other coaches and they said, 'Man, you really should consider giving it a try somewhere.'"
So, he did. Wright attended a tryout for the Houston Oilers with about 300 participants. With so many people hoping to strike luck and make the team, Wright didn't think he had a chance.
When he saw the crowded competition, Wright turned to his uncle, who drove him to Texas for the tryout, and said he wanted to leave. It just didn't feel worth it.
"We should just probably just get on out of here," Wright said.
"Well, I took off work," his uncle replied. "You're going to work out."
Of the 300 people who showed up, only three had their names called for a contract and an extended look.
Wright was one of them.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said. "I looked at my uncle, ran over to him, gave him a hug and I said, 'Well this is an opportunity I've been waiting for.'"
Wright was cut from the Oilers after three preseason games, but he didn't wait long. His next opportunity came in Canada.
The Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League wanted Wright to play for them immediately. But it was a new game — the CFL contains different rules than American football — and Wright wasn't up for the difference in strategy and gameplay.
He originally quit. The Tiger Cats, however, needed Wright's talents, so coach Al Bruno called Wright and offered him a $5,000 check as soon as he stepped off the plane. That was enough to convince Wright to give the league a shot.
Soon enough, Wright was making plays and developing film that caught the eyes of NFL coaches. After three seasons and 15 interceptions with the Tiger Cats, Wright received offers from five teams in the NFL.
Wright fell in love with the coaching styles from Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer. The Browns were his selection, and it felt like an easy pick.
"The biggest reason I came in here was Marty Schottenheimer," Wright said. "Marty won out just because he said you're going to get an opportunity to play and if you're good enough to play, you're going to play for me."
Schottenheimer's decision helped the defense propel the Browns to one of their most successful periods in franchise history. Cleveland made the playoffs in five of the six seasons when Wright was on the team, and he led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1989.
His ball-hawking abilities also helped him secure an interception in the 1988 AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. Two seasons later, Wright also made a fumble recovery in another AFC Championship matchup against Denver.
Wright spent three more seasons in the NFL after his final Browns season in 1990, but his numbers were never as gaudy as his time in Cleveland. Part of that is because Schottenheimer allowed Wright to play with instinct.
"We were actually just going out playing and reacting versus just trying to watch the play develop," Wright said. "So I think that put me in good positions and then, when the ball was in the air, it's anybody's ball."
Wright, who currently works with the Browns as an official uniform inspector, has an eternal connection with Cleveland, but his path to the league is arguably as special as his career.
He can truly say that no one believed he'd make it.
"I don't think my mom or anybody in my family believed that this was the way that I was going to get back," Wright said. "It was pretty crazy, surreal. It's unexplainable how happy I was."