HOWLAND - As the NFL Draft takes place and Cleveland Browns fans across the state question every move general manager Mike Lombardi makes, one former Brown isn't worried.
Eric Metcalf is on the Lombardi bandwagon - even if he's riding solo - and for good reason. Metcalf, who became one of the team's most popular players during his six-year stint in Cleveland, was drafted by the Browns in 1989, and Lombardi played a big role in the decision to select the University of Texas star with the No. 13 overall pick.
"My freshman year (at Texas) when Mike was still with San Francisco, he was like, 'When you're a senior, I'm going to draft you,' " recalled Metcalf, who was at the Wing Warehouse on Elm Road as part of the Growlin Howland Browns Backers draft party on Thursday. "I thought, 'Yeah, whatever.' "
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Cleveland Browns fan Steve Moss of Niles, left, shakes hands with former Cleveland Brown Eric Metcalf at at draft party at Wing Warehouse in Howland before the start of the draft on Thursday night.
A few years later, with Lombardi part of Cleveland's upper management as pro personnel director, he did just that. Metcalf lived up to expectations as he became a premier running back/receiver and return specialist for the Browns. His 10 punt returns for touchdowns were an NFL record until Oct. 2, 2011, when Devin Hester broke the mark.
As Metcalf, who retired after the 2002 season, sat back and watched the 2013 NFL Draft, he remembered spending his "on pins and needles" with his family in his hometown of Seattle. He wasn't expecting the Browns to choose him because a few days before the draft, Cleveland sent scouts to see Metcalf, unexpectedly, and asked him to run a few drills. Metcalf said he just finished playing basketball and refused to perform the drills.
"In fact it was Mike Lombardi," laughed Metcalf, referring to one of the scouts who visited. "My thinking was, if I do these drills, and I don't run as fast as I should, then you probably won't draft me. I figured I did everything I could, previously, to be drafted in the first round."
Metcalf's thinking was spot on. The Browns moved up a few picks via a trade with Denver to choose the speedy Metcalf, and he ended up having a great career with Cleveland.
The 45-year-old said he's still a Cleveland fan and always considers himself a Brown. He admitted having more interest in NCAA football than the NFL because "they play for the love of the game" in college, but he always roots for the Browns. That's part of the reason he said people need to forget about Lombardi's past (he released popular Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and suffered draft failures with Oakland from 1998-2007) and realize Lombardi possesses good characteristics and football smarts.
"You never know what's going on behind close doors," he said of Lombardi's role in letting Kosar go. "It's a business. In the end, he knows what he's doing in this business and he's proven that over the years, so people should not worry about what happened with Bernie because that doesn't really matter right now. It's about what happens as far as making the team better and moving forward.
"He's always been a straight-forward guy and told me, 'This is how it's going to be or this is how it's not going to be,' " he added. "He's been a winner, and he knows what he's doing in football, so I think with him being back with the Browns, he'll turn it around."
These days Metcalf is living back in Seattle, where he's an assistant coach for track and field at the University of Washington. He also coached football at Rainier Beach High School for a few years. He currently runs a track and field club called the Seatown Express and is a consultant to Nike track and field.
Metcalf said he still speaks to former Browns players Kevin Mack and Reggie Langhorne on a regular basis. Attending events like the draft party, which he flew in from Seattle to be part of, is something he enjoys because of the passion shown from Cleveland fans.
"The fans are always behind the team no matter what," he said. "It was never a just-because-they're-winning thing - it's not a bandwagon fan base. Everybody wants to win here, but at the same time, the Browns fans will always be behind the Browns no matter what happens, and that's what I've always loved the most about the Browns."