The Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL with a decent amount of fanfare in 1999.
The league, still spooked by the early success of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers after they entered the NFL in 1995, did the Browns no favors as an expansion team, but they did grant the Browns the No. 1 overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft.
The Browns used that selection on quarterback Tim Couch, who would go on play five seasons in Cleveland and claim the spot as the best player to wear uniform No. 2 in franchise history.
With the first pick in his first draft in charge of the Browns, team President Carmen Policy was determined to select a player at the most important position, he said in Terry Pluto’s 2004 book, False Start:
“We knew we were going to take a quarterback. Because if you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you take it.”
Couch had the game to back up the selection after being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and finishing his collegiate career as Kentucky’s all-time leading passer. In his three seasons with the Wildcats, Couch completed 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 8,772 yards and 76 touchdowns.
The plan was to let Couch sit on the bench while veteran quarterback Ty Detmer took a beating behind an expansion offensive line. But, like most plans the Browns have hatched over the past two decades, head coach Chris Palmer blew it up at halftime of the very first game and turned the team over to Couch.
It should come as no surprise that Couch ended up being sacked 56 times his rookie year and took an average of 3.1 sacks per game during his first three seasons.
Despite the difficulty of trying to lead an expansion team to relevancy, Couch was better than many might remember. He finished his career with a completion percentage of 59.8 and threw for 11,131 yards — still fifth-best on the franchise’s all-time list.
As hard as it is to believe, Couch still remains the last Cleveland quarterback to win a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers — a 33-13 victory 2003 — and helped lead the team to its last playoff appearance, which came in 2002.
The Browns approached Couch about taking a pay cut following the 2003 season and released Couch when he declined. He went to training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 2004, but a torn labrum, torn rotator cuff and torn bicep in his right arm led to Couch not making the roster as he needed surgery.
He had a second surgery on his right rotator cuff in 2006, and after one final attempt at a comeback in 2008 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Couch retired from the NFL.
“My only regret is the injuries. I’m really proud of being able to take that franchise, starting day one to (the playoffs) before the injuries started to set in. It was just a really tough situation for a young quarterback and I look back at it now and it was really kind of a no-win situation.”
Couch has spent the past two seasons as a broadcaster on Cleveland’s local broadcast of the Browns preseason games.
Honorable mention: Reggie Hodges, who was Cleveland’s punter from 2009 through 2012. During that time, Hodges averaged 42.2 yards per punt and never had a punt blocked. His biggest highlight was a fake punt against the New Orleans Saints in a 2010 game where he ran for 68 yards.
What? You thought we were going to say Johnny Manziel?
Who was the best player to wear No. 2 in Browns history?
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