EDITOR’S NOTES: The following article is a special supplement to the Top 20 Browns NFL Draft Classes. Today, we take a look at the Browns and the Supplemental Drafts of 1984 and 1985.
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In early spring 1984, Browns fans had never even heard of it.
But by late spring 1985, they not only had heard of it, but knew it inside and out and loved it, thinking it was better than shutting out the Steelers or having season tickets in the Dawg Pound.
We’re talking about the NFL Supplemental Draft, which, when it was held twice, in 1984 and then again in ’85, did as much as anything to help build the Browns for their great run through the last half of the 1980s.
The 1984 Supplemental Draft, which was held June 5, or a month after the regular college draft, was for players from the USFL, which had ceased operations that spring. They couldn’t be in the college draft because they were obviously no longer college players. They were pros. Thus, the only way they could be absorbed into the NFL was through the Supplemental Draft.
After having had an extremely successful college draft that year, getting the likes of safeties Don Rogers and Chris Rockins, running back Earnest Byner, wide receiver Brian Brennan and left tackle Rickey Bolden, the Browns really did their homework again in preparing for the Supplemental Draft.
They had two picks in the first round, first taking running back Kevin Mack from Clemson and the Los Angeles Express, and then getting inside linebacker Mike Johnson from Virginia Tech and the Philadelphia Stars. In the second round came wide receiver/returner Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil from Baylor and the Houston Gamblers.
Mack made a big impact in his first season in 1985 and just kept going, turning into one of the best runners in Browns history and making it to two Pro Bowls. He rushed for a team-high 1,104 yards that first year, and Byner added 1,002, thus becoming only the third set of players from the same team in NFL history to both rush for 1,000 yards in the same year.
He played nine years for the Browns, through 1993, and is fifth on their career rushing yards list with 5,123. His 46 rushing touchdowns rank fourth.
Mack’s best game was the 1989 regular-season finale at Houston, when he almost single-handedly led the Browns down the field late in the game and then carried several Oilers into the end zone to score the deciding touchdown in a 24-20 win that clinched the AFC Central title.
Johnson played for eight seasons, from 1986 through ’93, and was named All-NFL once in addition to being selected for two Pro Bowls. While official statistics were not kept on such at the time, he was annually at, or near, the top of the team’s tackles charts.
McNeil was just 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, but he played much bigger than that, excelling as a punt and kickoff returner. He returned both a punt and kickoff for a TD in 1986, the first of his four years with the team. His kickoff score, a 100-yarder at Pittsburgh, was key in a 27-24 win over the Steelers, the Browns’ first triumph at Three Rivers Stadium after 16 straight defeats dating back to 1970.
The Browns drafted just one player in the 1985 Supplemental Draft, but he was the most impactful of the bunch, providing the club with the one thing it didn’t have, a franchise quarterback.
It was Bernie Kosar from Miami (Fla.), a Youngstown, Ohio native and Boardman High School product who grew up a big Browns fan and wanted to play for the team.
There was a rule at the time that a college player couldn’t be drafted before his senior year unless he had already graduated. After being redshirted as a freshman, Kosar played in 1983, leading the Hurricanes to the national championship with a dramatic upset victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, and then played again in ’84. An outstanding student who really hit the books, taking heavy course loads, he graduated in 1985 after the college draft had been held, making him available for the Supplemental Draft, which was conducted a month later.
The Browns took full advantage of Kosar’s availability, and his desire to play for them. They opened the vault to acquire the rights to draft him, trading to the Bills, who had the No. 1 overall pick, their first-round picks in the college draft in both 1985 and ’86, a third-rounder in ’85 and a sixth-rounder in ’86.
A hefty price tag to be sure, but it was worth it, for Kosar helped guide the Browns from 1985-89 to five straight playoff appearances, four Central Division titles and three trips to the AFC Championship Game. He made it to one Pro Bowl, something a Browns quarterback would not do again for 20 years.
His finest moment came in the 1986 divisional playoffs against the Jets when he threw for 489 yards as the Browns rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game. They eventually won 23-20 in two overtimes.