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Why do we get up? Josh McCown's emotional response resonates with Browns

In the moment, Josh McCown was speaking for himself. Through the power of social media, it soon became clear he was speaking for so many more players across the NFL, and they responded en masse to make it clear he wasn't alone.

His left shoulder in searing pain after a barrage of hits in Cleveland's heartbreaking, 25-20 loss to the Ravens, McCown stood behind a podium Sunday and faced the music. The Browns veteran quarterback answered a handful of standard questions about his health and the game before tackling one that hit close to home.

Essentially, it boiled down to this: Where does the ability he has to play through the pain of repeated hits to the same part of his body come from? After 14 years, why do you do it?

As his answer unfolded, McCown fought back the emotions that touched NFL players from Ravens safety Eric Weddle to New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the 50-plus players inside Cleveland's locker room.

"It think it is just not wanting to not be out there with your guys," McCown said. "I have a dad and an older brother who get up and go to work and sometimes they don't feel great and they go. They go and they grind. I have two little boys that are playing football now. They get hit and they get banged up, and I am trying to teach them what toughness means.

"For me, it is those things and just knowing the window for me right now and understanding that I don't want to miss snaps. I don't want to be out there without my guys. Unless it is going to fall off, let's try to make it work and make it go. That is my mentality."

The backstory is personal, but the overarching mentality behind it is shared by those closest to him in Berea. McCown's answer allowed many players this week to reflect on what drives them to get up, to keep playing when everything hurts, to keep coming back when every other instinct they have disagrees.

For each player, it's been present long before they arrived in Cleveland.

"It's just about having your why," running back Duke Johnson Jr. said. "Josh's why is having his family and kids and seeing his father and brother go to work when they don't want to. It's always about your why. A lot of people's whys are different and a lot of people have ultimate goals they want to complete in their lifetime."

The family

Johnson is roughly 15 years younger than McCown. He's two years removed from a three-year college career and doesn't have any children.

They're at different stages of their respective lives and NFL careers, but the people closest to them hold the biggest presence in their thoughts as they work through the everyday grind of a football season. For Johnson, it's his mother, Cassandra Mitchell, whom he's described as the reason why he plays football.

"I don't have it yet but I always look at the bigger picture to see later on down the road what's going to be important to me and nothing is going to be more important than my family," Johnson said. "My kids and making sure they have all the opportunities I didn't have growing up. I'm kind of in the same boat as him, looking down the road and seeing what's important in my life and that factor is the same for me."

Rookie safety Derrick Kindred knows firsthand what McCown experienced, and he used the same motivating factors to power through it.

In his senior season at TCU, Kindred played the entire year with a broken clavicle. He racked up 87 tackles and didn't miss a start. In his mind the entire time was his mother, Karen Randle, who has been "grinding ever since I was little" as a pharmacy technician at a San Antonio hospital, and the rest of his hardworking family.

"I play for my parents, my family, my two little sisters, I just want to set the example," Kindred said. "I feel like me leading by example, starting for my family and my future in football."

Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins grew up in what he describes as a football family. His older brother, Artrell, played 10 years in the NFL, and Andrew, whose unlikely rise as an undersized, off-the-radar prospect to NFL mainstay has been well-documented, is on his sixth in the league.

This is what Hawkins believes he was born to do.

"I'm going to dive for every ball so I'm going to get hit. It's because I don't go out of bounds so I'm going to get hit. It's because on an interception or a fumble I'm going to make a tackle and I'm going to get cracked back on," Hawkins said. "You can't change that. It's who you are, it's what you've known, it's the only way you know how to play the game.

"Coach (Hue) Jackson always says football players display courage at all times. I don't think there's a better way to sum that up. When you're out there, that's the kind of mentality you have to have, that's the effort you have to put in. Josh is a great example of that and hopefully when it's all said and done people will say the same thing about me."

The guys around you

At the end of Cleveland's Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, Robert Griffin III took a hard hit to his left shoulder. The hit was hard enough to break a bone, but Griffin pleaded with coaches to let him finish the game. He wanted to finish what he started, no matter how much it hurt.

Griffin returned to the field for the final series, handing the ball off three times to close out the 29-10 defeat. One day later, he was placed on injured reserve.

"It didn't matter what the score on the scoreboard was," Griffin said. "It was more about that moment and that desire to finish the battle with your teammates out there on the field."

McCown hit that point hard in his answer, and it was a sentiment echoed by his teammates this week.

"You play because you have a commitment to the men who play next to you, that bleed with you during the week, that sweat with you during the week, that you're going to do everything you can to be out there on Sunday to help them to the best of your ability to win the game," said veteran left tackle Joe Thomas, who has not missed an offensive snap since he entered the league in 2007.

"Everybody's counting on each other. I think there's a mindset that was instilled in me as a kid that you do your job. There's not even a consideration to should I get up, it's not even in your mentality. It's not something that goes through your brain. You just think about getting up and playing the next play.

Veteran offensive lineman John Greco said he knows whatever pain he's feeling in a given game or a given practice, he's not alone.

"You just want to represent yourself the best you can," Greco said. "It's about the guys across from you and next to you on this team. We talk about accountability. They're going to have to scrape me off the field to get me off. You play through nicks, everyone is playing through injuries, nicked up, banged up. That's what's special about this league. Guys just out there fighting for each other for one common goal."

The window

There's a commitment to the moment, something that resonates heavy with players such as Hawkins, Greco, Thomas and McCown. They've seen players throughout their careers play their last snaps and not even know it.

That's the "window" McCown discussed. The more experience a player gains, the more the future comes into focus.

Terrelle Pryor has felt that window close before. The former Ohio State star broke into the league as a quarterback with the Oakland Raiders but saw that path to a living in the NFL close in the spring of 2015. He was released by the Bengals, his fourth team in as many years, and faced a crossroads.

Pryor switched to wide receiver and spent the following summer in camp with the Browns. Released by the Browns before the start of 2015, Pryor was a free agent for months before he rejoined the team. Now, nearly a year later, he's a starter.

"I play for the love of the game," Pryor said. "I'd play it for free and I feel like Josh is the same way. He's just a guy you want to play with every game. There's no other way to really explain it."

At 30 years old, Hawkins remains an "emotional wreck" on game days. Tears stream down his face, he said, because he's experiencing what he dreamt of for decades.

The last thing he wants whenever his career comes to an end are regrets about what more he could have done.

"I literally prayed for this every single day for a long period of time," Hawkins said. "I fought for this and relationships were ruined over this. I missed out on other opportunities chasing this. It's not something I take for granted. I play because this is what I asked for, this is what I prayed for every day when people told me it wasn't going to happen. That's what keeps me going. That's what kind of gives me an edge.

"That's what motivates me to give everything I have and play every game as if it's my last because it could be my last. I never want to walk away thinking 'what if?' I'm here and I'm grateful and I'm blessed to be here. That's what keeps me going."

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