Under different circumstances, it is a story people around here might really love; the kind of story that might be a Disney movie. The undrafted quarterback, who was cut five times during his rookie year alone, keeps plugging away at his NFL dream. Stuck behind a number one overall pick, he follows the one coach who believes in him to a new city, only to find himself once again sitting behind a number one overall pick. Still, he does not quit and believes in his heart he can be a starter. When the top quarterback goes down, he not only has the chance to shine, but he has a chance to shine in the playoffs against his team's longtime division rival. The backup leaves everything he has on the field, passing for over 400 yards, and even though his team came up short, he made a believer of the fans, the press, the players, and the coaches. Now, he goes into the next year with a chance to take out the starter, the number one overall pick who has not fulfilled expectations, and once again out performs him. A great story, with one minor problem for the citizens of Kentucky. The backup's name is Kelly Holcomb and the number one overall pick who he beat out in competition is Tim Couch.
What happened Timmy C? It was just 1999 when you and Akili Smith appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with "Big Dawg," the quintessential Cleveland Brown fan. One of these guys was going to lead the reborn Browns back to prominence. One of these guys was going to be the quarterback of the future. The Browns picked Couch and the Cincinnati Bengals picked Smith, and what looked like the beginning of a quarterback rivalry was born. Fast forward to 2003 where Smith was cut by the Bengals and Couch is holding a clipboard for a guy who was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State. Once again, what happened?
University of Kentucky fans who have followed Couch's career into the NFL know that he has had some rough times in Cleveland. As an expansion team in 1999, Couch had to endure years of a porous offensive line and absolutely no running game, giving him a number of excuses for why he was not putting up numbers similar to his SEC colleague Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts. His problems began when Holcomb started the first game against the Kansas City Chiefs and put up 326 yards and three touchdowns. When Couch returned from injury, he found himself out of excuses. All of a sudden the criticisms that followed Couch from UK, namely that he was a "dink and dunk" passer with little arm strength, began to resurface. All of a sudden, the fans in Cleveland were not willing to be patient any longer. They had seen Holcomb make use of the speed of receivers like Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt, while Couch continued to look toward his safety blanket, the reliable, if not that fast, Kevin Johnson. It all came to a head during a nationally televised game with the Baltimore Ravens during week 5 of the NFL season. Couch struggled at Pittsburgh and was struggling again at home. He began to hear the boo birds , but he was not prepared for the reaction when he went down on the field with an injury. As he laid there and Holcomb began warming up to come in, the crowd began to cheer. The Cleveland crowd, one of the most die hard in the league, was actually cheering the injury of their former savior. Although Holcomb did not win the game, the choice was loud and clear.
Couch's reaction to this did not go very well either. Still feeling the effects of a slight concussion, he insisted on talking to the press following the game. Obviously upset by the reaction of the home crowd to one of their own being injured he voiced his complaints andhe cried. Cried. Tears. On national television. A professional football player cried due to the crowd reaction. It is hard to be a leader of men, to instill confidence in those around you, when you cry because your feelings were hurt. The team and the city probably would have had more respect for him if he had just come out and ripped them a new one. Tom Hanks said, "There's no crying in baseball." Well, that goes double for football.
Although the crying hurt, the most important factor in Couch's demotion from savior to old news is that he was outplayed. Reaction to the naming of Holcomb as starter drew no surprised across the nation. Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Bill Livingston said, "The Browns' quarterback controversy ended in a surprise only if you hadn't watched the games. Holcomb made better decisions quicker, threw downfield with more accuracy and power, took fewer sacks and created more confidence in his offensive teammates." Sports Illustrated's Peter King praised Head Coach Butch Davis's choice, "He couldn't in any way justify saying Couch was the best guy after he had a lousy preseason while Holcomb was coming off a rip-roaring end of last season and summer. I saw it. The players saw it. The fans saw it." Even Browns' wide receiver Quincy Morgan's comments can be read as a slight dig at Couch, "He (Holcomb) is so in tune with what's going on in a game, it's ridiculous. That makes you have to be so much focused. He sees everything. He's great at reading the defense."
Although he lost this quarterback battle, Couch's NFL career is far from over. Unlike his former covermate Smith, he has not been a total flame out. He has shown the ability to be a serviceable, average starter in the NFL. Not exactly what you want or expect from a number one overall pick, but solid none the less. Provided Holcomb succeeds, this is probably Couch's last year in Cleveland. The next stop in his NFL career will become his most important. If he has the choice, he needs to find a situation where he can compete for a starter's job immediately. Physically he is a known commodity, but what will be watched now is his mettle. Does Couch, who to this point in his career has never known individual failure, have the mental strength to suffer this setback and come back stronger? Only time will tell, but for the first time the lights have dimmed and the shine is off the golden boy from Hyden, Kentucky. Not since Billy Jack Haskins ran the option has Couch held a clipboard for another quarterback, but you cannot blame Holcomb. He is just living a dream.
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