Marty Schottenheimer got to talking about things the other day and may have forgotten that the team he coaches comes out of Cleveland, goes by the name Browns and brings a wishy-washy 8-8 record into the Orange Bowl Saturday at 12:30 p.m. to play the Miami Dolphins, the defending AFC champions and the same bunch that has lost only one game at home in the last two years.
After one full season on the job, Schottenheimer still is very much a newborn and given to innocent declarations. The last time the Browns and Dolphins (12-4) met in a playoff game, Schottenheimer was living in Miami and selling real estate. He remembers listening to the game on the radio while painting his house.
"Everybody is 0-and-0 when you get to the playoffs," he said. "There were 28 of us even at the start of training camp. When you get to the playoffs, 18 teams are home and 10 are even again and still playing. We have the opportunity to reach the goal we started last summer. It's the Super Bowl championship. Anything less will not be satisfying. Simply making the playoffs is not enough for us."
The Super Bowl truly was the goal of the perennial AFC Central also-ran, and the man chosen to lead Schottenheimer and the Browns came to them fresh out of college.
Quarterback Bernie Kosar may sometimes run like a winged marsh hen trying to get off the ground, but he's fast enough to own a big future with the club that acquired his services in a supplemental draft last spring. He signed a contract worth millions with two years of eligibility remaining at the University of Miami, where he led the 1983 team to a national championship. A native of Ohio, Kosar signed hoping to lead his beloved Browns into contention for something other than an early Christmas vacation.
"The one thing about Bernie that continues to amaze me is that he's unflappable," Schottenheimer said. "He does some great things, then he does some things you wish he didn't do. But it never bothers him either way."
Kosar said he's felt progressively better each week. "I've gotten myself in trouble a little this year with my foot mechanics and inability to get my body in proper position to throw," he said. "My strength has been to understand what the defenses are trying to do to me and read the coverages."
Though celebrated as the player the Browns needed to return them to a position of prominence in the league, Kosar played behind Gary Danielson until the former Detroit Lions quarterback hurt his shoulder against New England in the fifth game of the season.
As a starter, Kosar won four games and lost six and performed well below the expectations of the many who hoped for early greatness. Carrying the load for the Browns were a pair of 23-year-olds, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner, who became the third running back tandem in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season for the same team. Mack had 1,104 yards, Byner 1,002.
After Mack broke Jim Brown's rookie rushing record, he said, "I didn't even know how many yards he had as a rookie. But it's a great accomplishment to break his record. When I was growing up, that's all I ever heard -- Jim Brown, Jim Brown, Jim Brown . . . the greatest running back ever. Did I really break his record? It's something for me to think about when the season's over."
One wonders if the Dolphins' defense, ranked 23rd in the league, can stop Cleveland's running game. The Dolphins traded future draft choices for former Tampa Bay linebacker Hugh Green, hoping to strengthen a young and largely ineffective linebacker corps.
But the Miami defense, plagued with injuries to key players such as Bob Baumhower and Charles Bowser, continued to struggle, giving up more than 360 yards a game and 20 points. Said Schottenheimer, "I hear people say you can run on them and that the defense is not that good. Hey, they're 12-4. They're solid in every aspect of the game."
Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino finished as the league leader in completions (336), passing yards (4,137) and touchdown passes (30) but did not match his record-breaking performance of 1984. He also established a team record for interceptions in a season with 21.
To stop Marino and the Miami passing attack, Schottenheimer said he plans to "mix the defenses and try to get Marino to hesitate. However, he's like the great scorer in basketball -- he's going to get his points. We just have to make sure he earns every one of them."
Miami, a 10 1/2-point favorite, is enjoying a seven-game winning streak, dating back to its 21-17 victory over the New York Jets in early November. In games against common opponents, the Browns went 5-2, averaging 18 points and allowing 15, and the Dolphins were 5-3, scoring 21 and giving up 18.
"I don't feel we've backed into the playoffs," Schottenheimer said. "We won down the stretch when we had to win. We lost four in a row and fell to 4-6, but came back to win four of the next five. We won the (AFC Central) division because we did what we had to do to when we needed it."
The local television blackout of Saturday's Dolphins-Browns game was lifted less than 24 hours after the game sold out, said an NFL official.
Dolphins and NFL officials had previously said the game would not be shown in the Miami area because tickets remained unsold by the blackout deadline Wednesday. In order for a game to be televised, tickets must be sold out 72 hours before game time. The final tickets were sold today.