Ohio native son Bernie Kosar has been one of the most revered players in Cleveland Browns franchise history.
Kosar helped the Miami Hurricanes win their first national title in 1983. Fast forward two years later, he entered the National Football League in controversial fashion.
Nonetheless, Kosar got what he had always wanted since he was a child growing up in Northeast Ohio: to play quarterback for the Browns.
Kosar was as good as advertised.
He led the Browns to five postseason appearances in his first five years in the NFL. He also earned two Pro Bowl berths along the way.
Unfortunately, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway repeatedly tormented Kosar’s Browns back in the day.
Despite never having won a Super Bowl for Cleveland, Bernie Kosar remains one of the faces of the Browns franchise to this day.
Bernard Joseph “Bernie” Kosar, Jr. was born to parents Bernie Sr. and Geri in Youngstown, OH on November 25, 1963.
He is the oldest in a brood of three siblings that included sister Beth and brother Brian who grew up in a Catholic household in Boardman, OH.
Bernie Sr. had an engineering background and sold Ingersoll-Rand compressors to help support his family.
Geri Kosar told Sports Illustrated‘s Rick Telander in 1988 that she and her husband gave their kids the freedom to blaze their own trails in life. The only thing they wanted was they stay out of trouble.
They always did. Their parents found them asleep by ten o’clock every night.
As for Bernie Jr., the only trail he wanted to blaze was on the football field.
The Childhood Dream
He told “The Cleveland Browns Present: Club 46” video interview (via ClevelandBrowns.com’s Anthony Poisal) in December 2019 that he had aspirations of quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns as a child.
In fact, Kosar regularly ran around his yard and imagined himself turning that dream into a reality.
When Kosar played in the National Football League from 1985 to 1986, he had a remarkable passing repertoire. He could throw accurately from every conceivable angle. Remarkably, Kosar could also throw underhanded.
Apparently, the secret lay in his Little League background while he was growing up in the Buckeye State, according to his father.
“We worked and worked on it when he was a pitcher in Little League, trying to stretch that long body over the top,” Bernie Kosar, Sr. told Telander.
The elder Kosar also recalled a time when his nine-year-old son played second base in a game against kids who were two or three years older than he was.
— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) June 19, 2022
Bernie Jr.’s manager pulled him from second base so he could play as the closing pitcher in the ninth inning.
To everyone’s astonishment, the do-it-all Kosar struck out the side to preserve his team’s victory.
Kosar had always loved baseball. His passion for the game continued well into his National Football League career when he cheered passionately for the Cleveland Indians.
Bernie Kosar attended Boardman High School. He excelled in baseball, basketball, and football for the Boardman Spartans.
Unfortunately, the Ohio State Buckeyes, Pitt Panthers, and Penn State Nittany Lions passed up on Kozar. He did not get the opportunity to spend his college days near his home state.
Instead, Kozar took his act some 1,200 miles south to Miami where he would become one of the pillars of “Quarterback U” from 1983 to 1984.
College Days with the Miami Hurricanes
Bernie Kosar attended the University of Miami from 1982 to 1984. He majored in finance.
Kosar starred at quarterback for head football coaches Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson.
Ironically, Kosar contemplated transferring because of the fierce competition at quarterback, which also included Vinny Testaverde and Jim Kelly.
Kosar thought about transferring to a school closer to home such as the Ohio State Buckeyes or Notre Dame Fighting Irish, per Poisal.
Bernie eventually remained at Miami and redshirted his true freshman year in 1982. He had a decent redshirt freshman season with the Hurricanes a year later. He had 2,329 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in eleven games.
Behind Kosar’s exploits, Miami won a school record eleven games in the 1983 NCAA season. This would be Schnellenberger’s last as Hurricanes head football coach.
With Kosar at quarterback, the Hurricanes won their first national title in 1983. Fifth-ranked Miami beat the top-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl, 31-30.
Kosar’s 300 passing yards and two touchdown passes to tight end Glenn Dennison helped the former clinch Orange Bowl Offensive MVP honors.
Bernie picked up where he left off and upped the ante in his sophomore campaign in 1984. He had 3,642 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in twelve games for Miami that year.
Kosar didn’t just excel on the college gridiron. He also exceeded expectations in the classroom. He earned First-Team CoSIDA Academic All-American honors after earning an overall 3.27 GPA in 1984.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for Kosar and Company that year on the gridiron.
Kosar endured one of the most painful losses of his college football career on November 23, 1984. On that day, eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass in the waning moments lifted his Boston College Eagles over the Hurricanes, 47-45.
The Hurricanes had an 8-5 win-loss record in Jimmy Johnson’s first year at the helm. Thirteenth-ranked Miami lost to the 14th-ranked UCLA Bruins in the 1984 Fiesta Bowl, 39-37.
It turned out to be Bernie Kosar’s final game with the Hurricanes.
Time to Move On
Kosar decided to leave school early and turn professional in 1985. Although he looked like a fragile 21-year-old signal caller, he was actually a quarterback who was mature beyond his years.
According to Sports Illustrated, Kosar had grown bored with college football after just two seasons with the Hurricanes.
“College football was not challenging,” Kosar told Telander some four years later. “With our passing system at Miami, which was head and shoulders above any other college’s, after a while it was just too easy.”
Kosar regularly saw defenses throw just one or two coverages his way during games. He felt it was pointless to mature as a quarterback at that sluggish pace.
Bernie set school records in career completions (463), career passing yardage (5,971), and touchdown passes (40) at the time he left school early to declare for the 1985 NFL Supplemental Draft.
While other Hurricanes players have eclipsed all of those records in the years since, Kosar still has the highest career passing completion percentage (62.3) among Miami quarterbacks, per the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame’s official website.
Bernie Kosar was one of the reasons the University of Miami was known as “Quarterback U.”
In 1988, Kosar told Sports Illustrated that he’d observed Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino during his college days with the Hurricanes.
While Kosar paid attention to Marino’s mechanics on the gridiron, Bernie claimed he learned more from Dan and other signal-callers by observing their off-the-field conduct.
“I like to be the third-person observer, to have that vantage point,” Kosar told Telander. “That’s how I learn.”
Although Kosar’s drafting became a controversial hot-button topic, he became one of the most revered quarterbacks in Cleveland Browns franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Cleveland Browns made Bernie Kosar the first overall selection of the 1985 NFL Supplemental Draft.
Kosar took the unconventional route so he could play for the Cleveland Browns—the team he had always wanted to play for since his childhood days in Northeast Ohio.
A Complicated Journey
Unfortunately, he had a huge stumbling block: the league allowed only college seniors and graduates to participate in its regular and supplemental drafts at the time.
Kosar was in a bind. He’d skipped his final two years of eligibility at Miami. Kosar had to complete a combined 24 credit hours in 1985 so he could become eligible for the supplemental draft, per BrownsNation.com’s Ben Donahue.
While all this was going on, the NFL announced it hadn’t received his documents for the regular draft.
The Minnesota Vikings had Kosar on their radar. They even traded up with the Houston Oilers so they could select him second overall in the regular draft.
When the Vikings learned Kosar was ineligible for the regular draft, they pointed an accusing finger at Kosar and his agent for allegedly rigging the regular draft setup.
The Oilers were also in the mix. They threatened to file a lawsuit against the league if Kosar didn’t participate in the regular draft.
If the NFL somehow coerced Kosar to enter the regular draft, his agent threatened to sue the league, per Donahue.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle acted as an intermediary among the involved parties. He ultimately gave Bernie Kosar the freedom to decide the outcome.
It was a decision that altered the course of Cleveland Browns football forever.
Kosar, who had always wanted to play quarterback for the Browns, reached out to Cleveland general manager Ernie Accorsi and owner Art Modell. He informed them he was more keen on the supplemental draft, per Poisal.
Consequently, Modell and Co. traded up with the Buffalo Bills so they could snag the supplemental draft’s No. 1 overall pick.
July 2, 1985: #Browns draft Bernie Kosar 1st pick of #NFL Supplemental draft after trade w/ Bills (Chip Banks refused). 21 yr old BK: "I've been a fan of Browns ever since I was a kid, now's my chance to help my favorite team" The rest is CLE history #BernieBernie #QB1 #Acorsi pic.twitter.com/CaKzPI5TYP
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) July 2, 2021
A Dream Come True
Before long, Bernie Kosar was decked out in Cleveland’s Brown and Orange.
Kosar officially got his wish. He signed a five-year, $5.2 million deal with the Browns on July 3, 1985.
Bernie Kosar was one of the centerpieces during the Marty Schottenheimer era in ClevelBeforeor to Schottenheimer’s first full year at the helm in 1985, the Browns had made the postseason just twice in the previous twelve seasons.
The 21-year-old rookie played behind Gary Danielson through Week 4 of the 1985 NFL season. When Danielson sustained a shoulder injury the following week, Kosar took over at quarterback for Cleveland’s remaining twelve games.
Bernie finished his rookie season with 1,578 passing yards, eight touchdown passes, and seven interceptions.
With Kosar under center, Cleveland won eight games and squeaked into the postseason. Unfortunately, they lost to Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional Round, 24-21.
Danielson sustained another injury the following season. By the time he returned, Schottenheimer had firmly entrenched Bernie Kosar as his starter.
No Love from College
Kosar experienced heartache during his second year in the pro football ranks. It had something to do with his college roots.
It all started when Miami Hurricanes head football coach Jimmy Johnson retired Vinny Testaverde’s jersey during the 1986 NCAA season.
Johnson made Testaverde his starting signal caller in 1985 after Kosar left school early. When reporters asked Johnson why he didn’t retire Kosar’s Hurricanes jersey, the former told them Kosar didn’t finish the Miami program.
According to Telander, Johnson’s response hurt Kosar.
Johnson and Kosar patched things up before the latter’s fourth pro football season. Ironically, Kosar played for Johnson as Troy Aikman’s backup with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993.
Kosar began clicking on all cylinders in his second year in the NFL in 1986. He racked up 3,854 yards and 17 touchdowns that season.
Kosar got into a groove in the 1986 NFL campaign. At one point, he made 171 completions without a single interception. He finished the year with 10 picks.
Bernie Kosar told Telander his philosophy was simple. He would adjust to the coverage thrown at him rather than scouring downfield for the open receiver.
Kosar also preferred stretching the field vertically. That way, his receivers will have a greater chance of catching his passes. He said his height of 6’5″ gives him a unique advantage over other quarterbacks.
Kosar’s rise in the National Football League paved the way for a memorable postseason showdown against John Elway’s Denver Broncos in 1986 and 1987.
Cleveland won twelve games in 1986. This was the team’s best showing since 1948. The Browns eventually advanced to the 1986 AFC title game against Elway and the Broncos after defeating the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Round, 23-20.
— TodayInSports (@TodayInSportsCo) January 11, 2022
Denver Broncos fans will forever remember the 1986 AFC title game as “The Drive.”
On the other hand, it was a game the Brown Bombers would rather forget.
Kosar had thrown two touchdown passes to put the Browns up 20-13 with 5:43 remaining in the game.
Somehow, Elway orchestrated an improbable 98-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Jackson with 37 seconds left.
Jackson’s touchdown catch forced the game into overtime. Broncos kicker Rich Karlis’s 33-yard field goal in the extra session sent Kosar and the Browns home for the offseason.
A dejected Kosar found solace from Browns fans. Instead of crying and moping after the loss, those fans gave the Browns a standing ovation, per the team’s official website.
John Elway broke the hearts of thousands of Cleveland Browns fans that day. History would repeat itself the following year.
A Shot at Redemption
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Bernie Kosar continued shredding defenses with his arm.
In the midst of Kosar’s two Pro Bowl seasons in 1987 and 1989 when he had 6,566 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes, he told Telander the secret to his accuracy: He seldom aimed for a wideout’s chest.
Kosar said if he threw that high, defensive backs can deflect his passes. He also said finding wide-open receivers is a rarity in the National Football League.
Kosar certainly put his approach to good use in 1987 when he had 3,033 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, and nine interceptions.
The Browns won ten games that year and faced a familiar nemesis in the 1987 AFC Championship Game: John Elway.
This time around, the Browns had to face Elway and Co. in the high altitude of Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.
The game lived up to the hype. It was a see-saw affair that could’ve gone either way in the fourth quarter.
For his part, Bernie Kosar showed he was a clutch quarterback. He had 246 yards, three touchdown passes, and zero picks in the second half alone.
With Cleveland trailing 38-31 late in the fourth quarter, Kosar handed the pigskin off to running back Earnest Byner on 2nd down at Denver’s eight-yard line.
Byner took off running and went past the first down marker, intending to score the game-tying touchdown. However, Broncos cornerback Jeremiah Castille knocked the football loose from Byner’s grasp.
Jan. 17 is a HUGE day in Broncos history.
2016: A 23-16 divisional-round win over PIT;
1998: A 23-10 AFC CG win over NYJ in Elway’s last home game;
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 17, 2022
Denver recovered the football and went on to win, 38-33. Thus, the game became known as “The Fumble” in pro football history.
Despite finishing with 356 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and one interception, Bernie Kosar couldn’t make it to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
Worse, John Elway tormented Kosar, Schottenheimer, and the rest of the Browns yet again.
Love and Life
On the bright side, Kosar’s personal life had never been better. At that point in his NFL career, he was dating Babette Ferre, who went to Florida International University. The couple eventually married in the summer of 1990.
Kosar wasn’t the type of quarterback who craved the spotlight. He loved visiting his family in Boardman, OH, hanging out with his teammates, watching hockey games from the stands, and visiting sick kids at the hospital.
He also loved playing golf. His Browns teammate, Brian Brennan, observed Kosar also hated losing on the green.
“Ever seen his golf swing?” Brennan asked Telander in 1988. “It’s the ugliest thing in the world. But it’s accurate.”
On the home front, Bernie Sr. and Geri always gave their children equal attention. For instance, Bernie and his brother Brian, a college baseball player, had games on the same day in the fall of 1987.
Bernie Sr. wound up attending Bernie Jr.’s NFL game while Geri was up in the stands cheering Brian on. Geri also did Bernie Sr. a favor by recording Brian’s baseball game so he could watch it later, per Telander.
Bernie Jr. rented a skybox at Cleveland Stadium for his parents so they could watch the Browns in style every year.
He was an ardent supporter of the Cleveland Indians. According to Telander, he attended as many games as he could.
Kosar typically showed up and left in the middle innings so he could avoid getting mobbed by the fans.
Here We Go Again
After John Elway tormented the Browns for the second straight year, Bernie Kosar took the field just nine times in his injury-riddled 1988 NFL season. Nonetheless, he managed to throw for 1,890 passing yards.
The 1988 NFL campaign was also Marty Schottenheimer’s last in Cleveland. He was Kosar’s first head coach in the pro football ranks.
Kosar bounced back with the second Pro Bowl season of his twelve-year NFL career. He had 3,533 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes, and 14 interceptions in 1989.
The Browns won nine games in the first year of the Bud Carson era. They faced a familiar foe in the 1989 AFC Championship Game: the Denver Broncos.
Elway’s 385 passing yards and three touchdown passes led the Broncos to a resounding 37-21 win over the Browns, who just couldn’t get past Denver during the pinnacle of Bernie Kosar’s pro football career.
John Elway denied Bernie Kosar a trip to the Super Bowl three times while the latter suited up for Cleveland.
Time to Move On
The Browns went through some lean years in Kosar’s last four seasons in Northeast Ohio. Cleveland averaged just six wins per year from 1990 to 1993.
Just as Kosar’s entry into the NFL was shrouded in controversy, his exit from Cleveland was just as contentious.
Browns head coach Bill Belichick released Kosar in the middle of the 1993 NFL campaign so he could appoint Vinny Testaverde as Cleveland’s starting quarterback, per Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto.
Alas, Testaverde had a separated shoulder when Belichick decided to waive Kosar.
Testaverde was the same quarterback who took over starting duties with the Miami Hurricanes in 1985 after Kosar left for the NFL.
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— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) October 25, 2019
Backing Up Some Legends
Kosar’s release from the Browns became a blessing in disguise. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
Kosar earned his first and only Super Bowl ring following the 1993 NFL season playing behind starter Troy Aikman.
Bernie Kosarspent the last three years of his pro football career from 1994 to 1996 backing up Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins.
Kosar had followed Marino closely during his college days with the Miami Hurricanes. More than a decade earlier, Bernie had officially come full circle.
The University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame inducted Bernie Kosar in 1995—his second season with the Miami Dolphins and eleventh overall in the National Football League.
The Dolphins averaged nine wins per year with Kosar as their backup quarterback. Regrettably, Miami never made it past the AFC Divisional Round from 1994 to 1996.
Bernie Kosar retired following the 1996 NFL season. He had 23,301 passing yards, 124 touchdown passes, and 87 interceptions during his twelve-year pro football career.
Kosar admitted to Cleveland.com that he sustained a lot of concussions during his time on the gridiron—so many that he had lost count.
Kosar said the initial hit was bearable. It was his head making hard contact with the artificial turf that felt like cement in Cincinnati, Houston, and Pittsburgh that felt worse.
Fortunately, Kosar hasn’t experienced short-term memory loss.
Bernie Kosar and his ex-wife Babette Ferre have three daughters: Sara, Rachel, and Becky, and a son, Joe. They divorced in 2007.
When Kosar’s kids were younger, they lived in Florida but also spent time with him in Ohio. He also coached Joe’s flag football team.
He became a member of the University of Miami’s Football Ring of Honor in 1999.
Kosar and Bill Belichick, the former Browns head coach who released him midseason in 1993, buried the hatchet in 2000.
“Bill and I made up not long after he got the New England job,” Kosar told Pluto in 2010. “I have never been one to carry grudges for long.”
In fact, Kosar told Cleveland.com he even recommended Belichick for the new Browns’ head coaching vacancy in 1999. It had been three years since the original Browns left Cleveland and became the Baltimore Ravens.
When Kosar, who served as a Browns consultant, mentioned Belichick’s name to Browns owner Al Lerner and team president Carmen Policy, they laughed and thought Kosar had lost his marbles.
Turning the Page
Kosar has also kept in touch with Elway, the Broncos quarterback who repeatedly broke the Browns’ hearts in the late 1980s.
Bernie told Cleveland.com he and Elway never discuss “The Drive” and “The Fumble” games because the latter knows those two games still left a bitter taste in Kosar’s mouth.
Kosar invested in Florida’s real estate industry and dated businesswoman Tami Longaberger following his divorce from Ferre, per Cleveland.com.
Bernie Kosar has had some lingering health issues during his retirement years. According to Pluto, Kosar has trouble standing up from a low chair. Right elbow surgery in 2010 also limited movement in his right arm.
Kosar has also been dealing with the lingering effects of concussions he had sustained during his playing days.
Kosar, who earned an estimated $20 million during his twelve-year NFL career, had $44 left in his checking account after filing for bankruptcy in 2009.
He joined the Browns’ preseason television broadcast team in the summer of 2018.
Kosar currently hosts his own podcast entitled “Journey With Bernie.”