“I feel like I have to earn my respect every day. Earn my respect every week. Earn my respect every game. It’s not always pretty — that’s the nature of what we do, the nature of special teams. When you go out there it’s a fight. You have to just claw your way into position to make a play.”
Johnson Bademosi is a defensive back, but you probably know him better for his special teams play. Among other things, Johnson is a gunner, one of those dudes who goes flying down the field to cover punts. It's a job that requires a little bit of crazy — there are no rules for blocking a gunner, or at least none that are usually enforced. It's a street fight. Anything goes.
Johnson learned how to grapple playing another sport; he was one of the best high school rugby players in the country. But with a scholarship to Stanford, it was an easy choice to pursue football instead. Things got harder once he graduated and arrived in Cleveland. An undrafted free agent, Johnson hadn't even been invited to the 2012 combine. But he knew he could play in the NFL. And he knew his best chance to catch the coaches' eye was to excel on special teams. Many who watched him that first training camp say they have never seen a rookie play harder.
Four years later, Johnson was just voted as a special teams alternate to the Pro Bowl.
His effort also extends far beyond the field. Johnson is the Browns' player representative, a liaison between his teammates and the league. And as you'll hear in this week's episode, he brings just as much passion to that job as he does to covering punts.
We've got a special episode this week, a two-part conversation with cornerback Joe Haden. Part 1 was taped way back in September, the day after the Browns' first game of the season. Joe talked about his connection to the fans, how getting married had improved his play on the field, and his goal for the 2015 season: to prove he's the best corner in the league.
But Joe never got the chance. He missed most of this year with a slew of injuries, including a pair of concussions. This week the team placed him on injured reserve, ending his season. The day after that announcement, Joe came back on Brownscast to talk about how difficult, both emotionally and physically, these last few months have been. Part 2 begins at 26:10.
But slowly, over the course of his four years, Danny Shelton came to find himself. He adopted a rescue dog. He connected with his Polynesian heritage. He became the first Washington player in more than 20 years to earn first-team Academic All-American honors. And he excelled on the field, finishing his senior season as one of the best defensive linemen in the country.
The 12th pick in this year's NFL Draft, Danny has used the maturation he found in college to quickly establish himself as a leader on the Browns. And while his first NFL season hasn't gone perfectly — this interview was recorded the day after last week's heartbreaking loss to the Ravens — Danny refuses to let negativity back into his life. The stakes are too high. "A great season," he says, "is right around the corner."
For four years in the NFL, Gary Barnidge was a backup, playing behind Pro Bowlers. It wasn't clear when, or even if, he would ever get a chance to start. But that opportunity finally came this year, and Barnidge has made the most of it: his dominant breakout season is one of the most surprising stories in the NFL.
He's already got 7 touchdowns in 2015 — his previous career total was 3 — and he's near the top in every statistical category. He also made the play of the season, an unforgettable, between-the-legs catch that helped the Browns beat the Ravens in Baltimore for the first time since 2007.
But as you'll hear, Barnidge isn't just making the most of his opportunity on the field. The co-founder of American Football Without Barriers, Barnidge has spent years funding football camps around the world to help spread the sport and give kids outside the U.S. a shot of their own. "We have such a platform as athletes," Gary says. "And we have that platform for such a short window. You have to take advantage of it to help others."
“My dad would always tell me, ‘Joel, give everything you can. I’ll carry you off the field if I need to. Just give me everything you’ve got.’ That’s how I want to play the game. It’s how I was brought up.”
Last month marked the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable fights in MMA history: Bart Vale vs. Mike Bitonio. The match, which has been watched more than two million times on YouTube, is famous not because of who won or lost. What people remember is the superhuman courage of Bitonio, who weighed 50 pounds less than his opponent. For nearly 8 minutes, despite taking a beating so brutal that it would lead to several rule changes, despite the announcers begging for the fight to stop, Bitonio refused to tap out.
Mike's son Joel was just 4 years old when his dad fought Bart Vale. But the lessons he learned from that night gave him an edge. Under-recruited out of high school, underestimated in college, Joel willed himself to become a second round pick for the Browns and one of the top young lineman in the NFL.
As you'll hear, Joel makes the most of his time off the field as well.
“Our goal is to get the player feeling the best that he can. If they don’t feel good, if they don’t feel like they look good, it has an effect on them on game day. And I don’t want that.”
The Browns facility in Berea has a pretty open feel. The offices are all glass, the locker room is right in the middle of things, everyone eats in the same cafeteria. But down at the end of a hallway on the first floor, there's a door that is almost always closed. It has no sign. Just a doorbell.
For this week's episode, Max rang the doorbell. And what he found was Brad Melland, the Browns equipment manager, and his byzantine world of helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys, and everything else it takes to outfit an NFL team every week.
Listen to learn about how Brad and his crew get 17,000 pounds of gear to road games, the special requests players make about their uniforms, and what an equipment manager thought of Deflategate.
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Andrew Hawkins wasn't supposed to make the NFL. When he played his final game at the University of Toledo, he was 5'6" and 160 lbs. Not even his coaches thought he had a chance in the pros. But Andrew disagreed. And over the course of several years, he did everything he could — trying out for a reality show, sleeping on couches, even creating a fake identity — to make his dream a reality. Last season, he led the Browns in receptions.
“I’m one in a million. At 5’6”, I’m probably more like one in 20 million. ... But I was also desperate. And I wanted to make sure I gave myself every opportunity to make it.”
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Welcome to Brownscast! For our first episode, Max talked to veteran left tackle Joe Thomas. This is Joe's ninth season on the Browns, he's made the Pro Bowl every year, but every game is still stressful. Because as Joe explains, despite all his success, it still feels like he only gets noticed when he makes a mistake.
“As lineman, we’re judged not by the number of good plays we have but by the number of bad plays. We get all blame and no credit. But that’s why there’s such a close brotherhood among offensive lineman across the league. We go out there, we do everything we possibly we can, and the best thing we can do is help our team win the game.”
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