Webster Slaughter had only been playing football for four years when he was drafted by the Browns in the second round of the 1986 NFL draft, but that didn’t stop him from arriving in Cleveland with a heavy load of confidence.
In the first meeting with his new team, Slaughter took a seat in a chair.
Then, he was approached by a man with more bit more muscle — and a lot more seniority — than Slaughter.
“Hey rookie, this is my chair,” said Ozzie Newsome, a nine-year veteran tight end at the time.
"Well, there's a chair there, and there's a chair there,” Slaughter said pointing to the other empty seats around the room. “But I sat here first, and I'm not moving."
Slaughter’s NFL knowledge was minimal. He had never heard of Newsome, nor had he known about many other big name players.
As Slaughter put his feet up and got comfortable, a defensive player stood up and tried to put him in his place.
“Hey man, that’s Ozzie Newsome, man,” the player said.
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Slaughter, however, stayed put. Newsome found a new spot, but Slaughter later returned the seat to the future Hall of Famer after coach Marty Schottenheimer told Slaughter that the veterans pick their seats first.
After a 12-year career, that moment was one of Slaughter’s biggest regrets.
“I didn't know anybody playing football,” Slaughter said. “I didn’t know names because I never watched football.”
Slaughter’s story before he reached the NFL makes those sentiments understandable.
He didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school from his hometown in Stockton, California. He originally excelled at basketball and baseball, but his high school football coach believed his tall frame and speed would translate to success on the gridiron.
His coach was right. Slaughter was the only player on his team to be named an All-Star that season.
After spending two years playing junior college football — he was originally supposed to play baseball in college, but changed his mind after his senior high school season — Slaughter built a football career at San Diego State, where he was named Most Valuable Player for the Aztecs as a senior.
Slaughter knew his NFL prospects were high, but after no team selected him in the first round of the 1986 draft, he went to bed and called it a night.
Then, his mom woke him up. The Browns were on the phone. He was their next pick.
To Slaughter, that came as a surprise.
“When I had the visit with the Browns, they wanted to bring me down before the draft,” Slaughter said. “I missed the plane. I remember them calling me saying, ‘Did you really miss the plane, or did you just didn't want to be here?’ I said, ‘No, I really missed the plane.’ Anyway, I didn't know if I would end up here or not.”
He did. The Browns couldn’t pass up on Slaughter’s raw talent, and Cleveland selected a receiver that would finish as one of the best big-play wide receivers in franchise history.
With Bernie Kosar at quarterback and Slaughter at wide receiver, the Browns built four playoff-clinching seasons and basked in one of their most successful periods the franchise ever had.
Slaughter left the Browns as a free agent after the 1990 season, but not after creating some of the most memorable plays of the Kosar era.
His most memorable, perhaps, was his 36-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986.
A smooth pump fake from Kosar allowed Slaughter to find space downfield. Kosar unloaded, and Slaughter caught the ball at the Steelers’ 14 and ran free into the end zone as the Cleveland Municipal Stadium crowd erupted around him.
For Slaughter, it was literally a dream come true.
“I actually had a dream about that catch the night before,” Slaughter said, “and it actually happened exactly like it did in the dream.”
Slaughter also was the receiver in one of the longest Browns plays in NFL history.
On Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears in 1989, Slaughter reeled in a 40-yard pass from the Browns’ 3-yard line and outpaced the helpless Bears defensive backs to the end zone for a 97-yard touchdown, which was the longest passing touchdown in franchise history at the time.
“I was a competitor,” Slaughter said. “Maybe I didn’t know how to do certain things, but I knew that my competitiveness would overcome all of that eventually.”
Slaughter never wavered in confidence. That was evident from Day 1, when he sat in Newsome’s seat.
With a highlight reel bundled with an endless amount of big plays, it was evident for the rest of his career, too.