The Cleveland Browns of the 1980s were all very good teams that came very close to going to the Super Bowl, but for different reasons failed to get past the AFC Championship Game. Correction: failed to get past John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
Tight end and long snapper Brian Kinchen was part of some of those talented rosters. He played 13 years in the NFL including the Browns from 1991 to 1995.
After a stellar career at LSU where he played in 33 games and was named First Team All-SEC, he was drafted in the 12th round by the Miami Dolphins, his favorite team growing up. There he played three seasons mainly as the long snapper and had just two catches.
This was during the early days of free agency in the NFL, and at the time it was called “Plan B.” This meant each season each club could protect so many players while the unprotected athletes were able to sign with another team even if they still had a valid contract.
After the 1990 season, Kinchen was left unprotected by Miami. He was signed by Cleveland to play mainly long snapper despite being a very good tight end. The new Browns’ head coach was Bill Belichick. He did not want his long snapper to become injured playing offensive snaps, so Kinchen waited for his time to go back to catching passes.
In 1993, Kinchen became the starting tight end for Cleveland. He endured the move to Baltimore, then played for the Carolina Panthers for two seasons, retired, and then came back three years later to long snap for Belichick and the New England Patriots just prior to Super Bowl 38.
For his NFL career, Kinchen played in 193 games starting 66 during his 13-year career. As a receiver, he had 160 receptions for 1,648 yards, 238 targets, scored seven touchdowns, and had a 10.3 average yards per reception. But being a long snapper was his specialty.
Kinchen is a devout Christian and has appeared on the 700 Club.
But there is more to Kinchen than just catching passes and snapping to punters. A lot more.
At Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge, Brian Kinchen was quizzing the seventh graders in his second-period Bible class when his phone buzzed. It was a Massachusetts area code.
The Patriots had lost their second long-snapper due to injury as they were heading into the playoffs. The call was from New England Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli. Both Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Pioli knew Kinchen from their employment days with the Browns. The problem was, since the year was now 2003, Kinchen hadn’t taken any long snaps in three years. They asked him to come long snap.
At first, Kinchen was apprehensive about playing again, after all, he was now 38 years old and the father of four. After he made his decision to suit up again, in an AFC semi-final matchup at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts against the Tennessee Titans, the wind chill was minus 12. It was the first time that Kinchen wore tights during a game and hindered him in the first half. In his entire 13-year career, he had only placed one snap on the ground. His second snap to punter Ken Walter one-hopped to the punter.
In the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, one of his passes for an Adam Vinatieri kick was slightly high. In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 38 against his former team the Carolina Panthers, Kinchen was high-balling a lot of practice snaps. He told Pioli to send him home, which his request was rebuffed with the game just days away. To make things worse, at the pregame meal, Kinchen sliced his pointer finger on his right hand trying to slice open a dinner roll. The rolls seemed hard and a butter knife wasn’t going to open one, so he reached for a serrated knife that sliced through the soft center and into his finger.
Belichick’s reaction? Tape it up and play in the Super Bowl. Kinchen placed two balls on the ground in the first half.
With 1:16 left in the game, the score was tied 29-29. New England had the ball at their own 40 with all three-time outs remaining. After a short drive, the Patriots lined up for a 41-yard field goal attempt with seconds remaining. The Halo Rule which was adopted to protect the long snapper did not become a rule until 2010, seven years later, so the rusher in front of Kinchen had one job: smash the long snapper to intimidate him.
Nine seconds left, 29-29, all eyes were on Adam Vinatieri as he took two steps back then two steps left, lining up a 41-yard attempt from the right hash.
TV analyst Phil Simms stated to the 90 million viewers as Vinatieri lined up, “When it comes to big moments like this, there just cannot be any more pressure on a football player.”
This one play would define Brian Kinchen’s NFL career.
The holder was the punter, Walter. As soon as he showed Kinchen an open hand, the snap was released. Perfectly. The last-second field goal was good, and the Patriots had won their second Super Bowl in three years. For Kinchen, it was his first.
Sometime during the post-game festivities, he was handed the Lombardi Trophy. What did he do? The same thing we all would do when given the opportunity: he kissed it.
There was a book written in 2009 about his Patriots escapade entitled “The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, A Super Bowl” written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marx.
Today, Kinchen, age 57, lives in Metairie, Louisiana with his wife of 34 years Lori. The Christian couple have four sons: Austin age 33, Hunter 31, Logan 27, and McKane 24. There are eight grandchildren with another one on the way. Kinchen’s favorite player growing up was Larry Csonka who played for his beloved Dolphins.
Dawgs By Nature caught up with Kinchen to find out what gesture Bill Belichick gave him, how he dealt with the Browns’ move to Baltimore, and exactly what the process is to long snap a ball 15 yards looking upside down.
DBN: At 1-A University High School did you play any other sports?
Kinchen: I played basketball up until my senior year. My uncle talked me out of it because he wanted me to get ready for my senior year of football. He played at LSU. Then the basketball team won the state championship so I missed out on that. I also ran track and played tennis. I did the shot put, javelin, discus, and high jump. I was really good at the shot put. Went to the state finals in doubles in tennis but got beat.
DBN: Your dad was a member of the “Chinese Bandits.” Is that like some sort of Asian Mafia?
Kinchen: When Paul Dietzel was the head coach at LSU, he had this idea to do a full substitution where all 11 guys would play together and then go off and another full unit would come in. The Chinese Bandits would all come in on third down on defense to make the stop. The idea was he would put 11 fresh bodies in there. And sometimes if they made the stop, they would stay in and then play offense. My dad was a defensive end, and then play tight end. The Bandits could go both ways. Even today when LSU makes a stop on third down, they play the Chinese Bandits theme song. They have been glorified in LSU lore with that song to honor them. But what people don’t realize is, according to my dad, is that they were a bunch of third string guys who would never have gotten to play. And Dietzel just put together this group of misfits who were just crazy guys, but were fresh. The concept of that 11-man substitution didn’t catch on. Sports Illustrated did a feature on the Chinese Bandits. In the photo, it’s all 11 of them wearing Chinese masks. You don’t actually see their faces. My dad was 81 wearing his number and this mask.
DBN: You played tight end at LSU. Your dad and brother played there. Two of your sons were LSU long snappers. Your mom was a cheerleader and so was your wife. You were a volunteer coach on the 2004 National Championship team under Nick Saban. Could your family fill a room with all the LSU stuff y’all have?
Kinchen: Plus, the three daughters-in-law I have were all LSU cheerleaders. We have five cheerleaders in the family. My mom was the Darling of LSU twice, which is like the homecoming queen. She is the only repeat Darling. So, we have quite a bit of LSU stuff, mementos, and things to remember our time there. We had three generations of brothers that played there.
DBN: The NFL draft is a big deal now on TV. In 1988, it was just worded in the newspaper the following day. You were drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 12th round. How did you find out you were drafted, who was the first person you told, and how much was your first contract?
Kinchen: Back then on the first day it was very tough to find out what was going on. I had pulled a hamstring during the off-season while I was working out for the Combine. I ran anyways, because back then you didn’t say what you were or were not doing. Obviously, my time in the 40 was terrible. At the Combine, I did some long snaps so teams knew I could do it, too. After the first day of the draft, I didn’t get a call which was frustrating. Every player expects to go high. The second day I did my workout in the morning then went to my grandmother’s house and sat by the phone. I got a call from Kurt Schottenheimer whose brother Marty was the head coach of the Browns. He told me they were thinking about taking me and to sit tight. Which was weird because the Browns had never been on my radar. And he never called back. And then a scout of the Dallas Cowboys showed up as the last rounds were going on. He said he wanted to sign me after the draft had finished. I was frustrated and went to the golf course and take my mind off all this. I was in the middle of a par 5 and heard somebody yelling coming from the clubhouse. It was my oldest brother saying, “You got drafted.” I asked him what round. And he said “12th.” I said, “Man…..” I asked what team, and he said the Miami Dolphins. I said you got to be kidding. The Dolphins were my childhood team. You would think I would be elated, but it was tough going so late in the draft. I made $55,000 that first year.
DBN: After three seasons in Miami, you signed with the Browns under head coach Bill Belichick. How did this come about?
Kinchen: First season in Miami I blew my hamstring out and was on IR for the year. I only caught two passes and after the third season, the league had “Plan B” free agency which means they can only protect so many players. (Don) Shula told me they had left me unprotected because they thought I would never be a starting tight end in the league. I said, screw you, I’m going to be a starter in the NFL. He said I was more of a second-team guy or a guy who would come in only on some packages. I signed with Green Bay who had six tight ends in camp. They released three of them on the first cut. Then I was cut on the last cutdown. I had an agent who was trying to find me a job and my wife was pregnant with our second child. I was a 12th-rounder who only caught two balls in three years. Belichick called me and said their first long snapper had a bad first game and they cut him. After the second game, their long snapper blew out his knee in practice. So, they brought me in to work out on Thursday with two other guys. They were just building the indoor facility in Berea but just had sand down and the roof wasn’t finished and it had rained. And back then there wasn’t the halo rule so you had to block after the snap. They had me in a training room after my tryout, and Belichick comes in. No hello, no handshake. He just said, “We need to work on your short snaps.” That’s how I found out I had the job. I got to practice on Friday and met the field goal kicker Matt Stover and punter Brian Hansen who was also the holder. It was Stover’s first year. When Belichick came from the Giants, he brought Matt over with him. I must have done 150 snaps in that practice. So, we play the Bengals in the third game, and Matt kicks the game-winner from my snap in the third game of his career. That was our first game working together.
DBN: In your final three seasons in Cleveland, you had 73 receptions for 795 yards with three touchdowns all while still with the duties of the long snapper. Was this Belichick’s idea?
Kinchen: Belichick hired and fired at least eight tight ends that year, but wouldn’t let me play at that position. He had it in his mind that he wanted his long snapper to be healthy at all times. I would grind it out every day with the tight end group, but he would not let me on the field and play. I was better than most of the tight ends we had that year and we were playing a two-tight end offense. In the next training camp, our starter Scott Galbraith was cut and they signed Mark Bavaro from the Giants. I would practice every day. Mark one day asked me why I wasn’t playing at tight end and was a good player, and I told him I didn’t know. Vinny Testaverde was our quarterback, roommate, and best friend on the team. In my third year with the Browns, I was told I had the possibility of being able to give me a shot at tight end in addition to my long snapping duties. I said, good. I remember before practice one day we were stretching and Bill comes over to me, stands there with his arms folded, and said, “Well, you got what you wanted.” That’s how I was congratulated for doing a good job in a position I should have been playing two years ago. So, I was on the field more than any other player for the Browns. When everyone else went off on fourth down, that was my time to be on the punt team. If we scored a touchdown, I was on the extra-point team. If we were attempting a field goal, I was snapping for that. On offense, I just never came off.
DBN: What was your relationship with former Browns owner Art Modell?
Kinchen: I was kinda one of those guys who was the grunt. I was part of the 95 percenters that nobody knows their name. We just kinda make up the NFL. The five percenters are whom everyone knows on every team. I knew his son David more than I knew Art obviously. My wife was the Wives Club President for the last 3-4 years we were there. She had more contact with the executives than I had. She came home one day and said, “Bill is such a nice guy.” I said, “Bill who?” She said, “Bill Belichick. I had a great conversation with him. He’s so nice.” Which can be true. When I see Bill today, we can talk like two guys and just hang out because he is no longer my boss. For some reason, he enjoys that grumpy persona. I don’t know why; I don’t get it. I always wanted to be known at work for being a grinder but a happy guy. As far as Modell, I didn’t see much of him but David was a character rubbing elbows with us. He was more of our age. I loved David. He was a great guy. He was a typical owner’s child. When I was in Miami, I never saw the owner. But Modell would be around and was involved with the team.
DBN: Every former Browns player has a Municipal Stadium story. What’s yours?
Kinchen: I will never forget we were about to play the Pittsburgh Steelers when everyone now knew we leaving for Baltimore. And when we came out of the tunnel onto the field, everyone was booing us. I know that was directed toward Modell, but they were booing all the players. And that crowd cheered the Steelers the entire game. I couldn’t believe it. So basically, for the rest of the season, we did not have a home stadium. They cheered for the other team and booed us. We were still part of the community and wasn’t anything we had done. Cleveland was still our home, and the stadium was our home venue. That was the most painful thing ever. Here I was trying to prove to the world I was a starting tight end in the league, and finally get my opportunity and have a good season, and was just a little sensitive to all that. All that frustration was towards Modell and Bill, but we were the ones who got the negative attention instead. I don’t hold any of that on any Browns fans today, but that was just a miserable time. I couldn’t believe an owner would let it be known what he was going to do while the season was going on. We as players had to exist in circumstances like that. So that’s my memory.
DBN: So, give us a bit of instruction when you snap it long to the punter. You are upside down, then do you look back between your legs or snap it blindly to a spot?
Kinchen: Every long snapper looks back before the actual snap even though it is upside down. You square your feet up to the ball to the lines on the field, you establish your grip and make sure you are the right distance from the ball, and for me, I always put the punter’s head on the bottom of my legs. That’s how low my butt would go and level it out. My eyes are on him until the snap. Once I decided to throw the ball, I never saw the ball released - ever. Because I had to come up so fast since back then the defender could hit you and you were then in blocking mode. I was never put on my back. We were either sliding right or left to block whatever was called. I am looking at him until I get the hand from the holder. A lot of times I was on my own and could throw it whenever I wanted to. Some teams wanted it thrown when you saw the hand which I thought was silly because you are cueing the defense. On the short snaps for field goals, I was a little lower because I didn’t come up because the guys in front of me would be a foot off the ground.
DBN: Cleveland is a difficult place to play. Had you snapped before in snow, rain, and sleet? If not, how did you prepare to get consistent snaps in that weather?
Kinchen: Miami was the only place I had long snapped. And did not have to snap in any cold, snowy games while I was there. I played tight end with my gloves off but would use them in practice. I thought gloves were cheating as a receiver. But I started to get calluses on my hands and decided to try it out in games to protect my hands especially when blocking where I was cramming my hands into shoulder pads. When I got to Cleveland to long snap, I realized that in cold weather you had to wet your fingers to get some tackiness to them. But those gloves already had a tacky texture to them so I started using them in practice to catch and long snap. And that worked out pretty well.
DBN: Is the Browns’ rivalry with the Steelers that real? What was it like playing them, especially on the road?
Kinchen: I hated Pittsburgh as a child because they were the nemesis of the Dolphins. I just never liked them. After retirement, I calculated that I had played them 21 times and had beaten them twice. A lot of those games were my time in Cleveland. The one time we went to the playoffs under Bill we beat New England and then had to play Pittsburgh. They torched us and sent us home. We had a fumble on the goal line and they ran it back 99 yards. I didn’t have the angle on him but still tried to get to him. I didn’t like Kevin Greene. Their fans were terrible. We would get on the bus after the game and their fans would moon us and flip us off. At least be cordial after you beat us. I was shocked that everywhere we played, the Browns fans would show up. It was an unbelievable following. The loyalty was real. But playing Pittsburgh was a different game and when a game goes south there it is impossible to overcome.
DBN: Where were you when you heard that the rumors of the Browns moving to Baltimore were true?
Kinchen: I remember lots of articles about the possibility. One day I woke up and found out it was for real. And the morning they released Bernie Kosar are the two mornings I remember waking up and all the news was about that. And even after I heard the news about the move, you weren’t really sure it was real because almost every day there was something about it and just got used to it. Modell then had a meeting and told us. He said Bill Belichick would still be the head coach in Baltimore. Obviously, he didn’t survive that move.
DBN: Take us through the transition of relocating to a new city all of a sudden.
Kinchen: That was unique. We got there for a mini-camp and afterward, we drove around the city and looked around. Normally when you join a team you can ask about neighborhoods and schools and what was close by like grocery stores. But nobody in the organization knew anything about this city. And most players like me had kids and had to figure all that out about their new school. Where were we going to live? It was difficult. But it was still wives trying to find things you don’t think about like new doctors.
DBN: You played for three head coaches who have won Super Bowls. How was Don Shula (Dolphins) different than Bill Belichick (Browns) than George Siefert (Panthers)?
Kinchen: Don and Bill are cut from the same cloth. Both were hard-nosed, demanding, and hard to please. They were A-typical coaches from that time period. Siefert was different in the sense that he was more human. He was relatable and you could actually have a conversation with him. I thought he was the only coach in my life that liked me and cared about me. Of course, he eventually cut me.
DBN: You played long snapper in a day when any specialist had to play other positions. How is the position of the long snapper different today than when you played?
Kinchen: Today it’s all they do. When I played, I only thought about snapping when it was fourth down. Even in practice. I was trying to do my job as a tight end and get my blocking assignments right and run good routes. I was totally focused on that. When I went to New England for those seven weeks, I got to experience what it was like to be just a long snapper. Really, it was just weird to me. Too much standing around. I didn’t enjoy it and felt that I was cheating since they were paying me just to wait. But when the time came around, I was focused on that part of the game.
DBN: So, you put two balls on the ground in the first half of Super Bowl 38. After the second one, Belichick wanted a word with you. What did he say?
Kinchen: So, Belichick is viewed as the greatest coach ever in the NFL and he walks down the sideline to tell me two things. Both of which I already know. The first thing he said to me was to remind me that they were in the Super Bowl. And the second thing was that I wasn’t playing very well. So, it was like Captain Obvious strikes again. On the second ball snapped on the ground on a PAT, I came off the field and could see him in the corner of my eye moving down the boundary. So here I am trying to move as far legally from him as I could so that maybe he wouldn’t come all the way. But he made it all the way down there and that was the two things he told me. Humanly he could have walked up to me, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Brian, you got this. It’s why we brought you in. We’re a team.” But instead, he says the two things I don’t need to hear. I know where I am, and I know what I am not doing right. Get the hell away from me and leave me alone. But instead, that was the thing he felt he needed to say to me. Tell me where greatness was at that moment.
DBN: You made a great pass and the field goal won Super Bowl 38 in front of 89.8 million viewers. From such a gap of disparity working with an injury to your hand and praying all game, was this the longest seven weeks of your life?
Kinchen: When I first got to New England, I was excited. I felt I should have never left and didn’t realize that age was that big of a deal and being away from the game for three years. We played against Tennessee and it was the coldest game ever for a Patriots game. It was minus 15. I put my second punt snap on the ground and in the AFC Championship Game I had a little bit of a high snap. When we got back from our break to get ready for the Super Bowl, my position coach got in my face about paying attention to where those balls were going. But all the other snaps were on target so I thought I had played really well considering the weather conditions. So, after getting chewed out, I was ticked. I told my wife we should just go home. I don’t need this. They called me out of desperation. If they didn’t want me here, then send me home. I told Pioli to send me home because I didn’t want to ruin the season for them. The second week of practice I had only one bad ball. On Thursday, teams go through the punt team drills. After we were done for the day, I look over at Belichick and he gave me a thumbs up. And he wasn’t checking the wind. It was Bill’s way of encouraging me. I wish I had a picture for verification. But that one gesture meant something to me. It wasn’t monumental, but it helped.
DBN: How often do you wear your Super Bowl ring in public, and does this give you a platform to share your faith?
Kinchen: I don’t wear it hardly ever. I am just way too pretentious to wear it. I have many opportunities to wear it and show it off, but I don’t. If I even wanted to take any credit for winning that Super Bowl it is impossible for me to do because I had such awful practices leading up to the game. It was strictly in God’s hands during the game as well as that last kick that won the game. The night before the game I went to a chapel and the guy was preaching about Ecclesiastes and talking about how everything is meaningless except for knowing and loving and serving your God. That was simple to me because I have known that my whole life. I had consigned myself that I was going to give it my best effort and not be the Bill Buckner of New England Patriots football. I just surrendered it to Him.
DBN: Did you ever feel a conflict between your faith and playing a violent sport?
Kinchen: No, I never did. I just used the skills God had given me and it just seemed like glory and honor. I had moments that I am not proud of on a football field, which is what happens when you are in a constant all-out struggle among human beings. That has never been a conflict for me. I think it is the greatest way to shape a young man in the history of life. Football and two-a-days under Don Shula and Bill Belichick is where you find out what you are made of.
DBN: You went into broadcasting for ESPN as an analyst for college football games. How did you get this gig?
Kinchen: I had known a friend who is now with CBS Sports. He connected me with a guy named Ed Placey with ESPN Sports. He interviewed me over the phone and then did a couple of games for them in 2005. There were opportunities for guys on ESPN Classic to test their skills and did three games. Ed came to Louisiana to do an LSU game and we got together. He plugged my tape in and enjoyed what he saw and how natural doing a game seemed to come to me. So, he gave me a gig on ESPNU which was just starting up. We had a regular crew all year. I got suspended for the remainder of the year and had to decide if I wanted to go back. My oldest son had just finished his junior year of high school and I had missed almost every game. I decided not to go back for his senior year and they won a state championship. They asked me to come back and when my youngest son became a senior the same thing happened where I wanted to see his games and took a hiatus again. I got asked to come back a third time and do a few games on ESPN+. I enjoy keeping connected to the game.
DBN: In 2011 you were the head football coach at Ascension Christian High School. How are high school athletes different today than when we played?
Kinchen: It is not as tough and everything is more specialized where athletes only play one sport. I always thought the skills I learned in the other sports only helped me.
DBN: Your generation of NFL players set up today’s group to make bank. In 1988 you made $88,000 which was a great salary for the time, but it didn’t set you up for life. Your thoughts?
Kinchen: I was fortunate to make what I did make. At times, you weren’t thinking about Super Bowls but trying to stay on the roster. Most of my contracts aren’t even mentioned in today’s world. But that is part of the process of any sports system where it’s built on the backs of those who came before you. I don’t have any qualms about player salaries today. I would still do it tomorrow. It was always a part of you to make enough money to where you didn’t have to work during the off-season, but it never entered your mind that you had any opportunity to where you would never have to work. I was thankful for being a part of something truly unique.
DBN: There was a documentary called, “Before the Kick – The Brian Kinchen Story.” Where did the idea for this come from, and what was the message?
Kinchen: When I saw the ball go through the uprights in the Super Bowl, I had the idea that this had to be a Disney movie. Because where I was seven weeks prior to where I ended up on February 2, 2004, the story just seemed too good. I thought it could be a feature film and had Hollywood written all over it. We pushed hard to get it done, but became a documentary instead which was an extension of the book. I was fortunate to have some guys who really wanted to get it done. The book was my story but written by somebody else, whereas the documentary allowed for things that couldn’t be done in the book. My whole life is built on the foundation of Christ and so for me, this was the opportunity to share that in a more direct format.
DBN: Other than money, how is the NFL different from when you played?
Kinchen: Playing tight end you always end up on kickoff return. It’s a given. And we would build a wall depending on which direction the return was called. And so, you just stand there and take on the guys coming down full speed. And so early on they were DBs, they were linebackers. They were like 230, 240 tops. And towards the end of my career, the guys coming down were 270, 275. What happened to the DBs? Now they have small defensive linemen running down the field on kickoffs. And I haven’t gained much weight from 230 to maybe 244. And they are fast. I saw this evolve right in front of me. Every position in the league has gotten bigger and heavier. I was 6’-3” for a tight end, and I don’t even think that is manageable for the position today.
DBN: What is your fondest moment of being a Cleveland Brown?
Kinchen: It was the day Belichick came out on the practice field when we were stretching and told me I was going to be the starting tight end. When you become a starter in the NFL you are one of 32. I knew I was always capable of being that guy, but had been told by one of the greatest coaches (Don Shula) in the history of the NFL that I would never become a starting tight end. I remember that more vividly than anything else in the stretching line. Because I wasn’t really fast, I had to do everything really well. That may seem like a trivial thing, and the delivery from Belichick wasn’t the prettiest, but none of that mattered. I had worked hard to get a starting position, and now I had it. Who doesn’t want that?
Jared Mueller and Steven McCrane contributed to this article