Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seven Crazy Days on the Cleveland Sports Beat With the AP's Tom Withers

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 1:14 PM

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Starting last Thursday with the first round of the NFL draft, it's been seven crazy days in Cleveland sports. You could well say that about most weeks on the shores of Lake Erie, but you'd be hard pressed to find more news squeezed into seven days encompassing the highest highs and, because this is Cleveland, the lowest lows.

Beat writers have it easy compared to Tom Withers, the Associated Press's man in the Forest City. We asked him to run through the last week for us and to let us know whether he got any sleep. Keep in mind, this is all while the Indians were on a road trip, otherwise Withers might have collapsed by now.

Thursday:

"I got to Berea at about 5:30 after a workout to try and clear my head and mentally prepare for the day. You try to tune out the noise, but you had a feeling how things were going to go down even though no one really knew. The other thing that drove everyone crazy was the buildup — you add the three weeks before the draft and the countdown and it was really nauseating, to be quite honest."

"But you begin with the expectation that it might be the most important draft in Browns history, or at least that's how some people labeled it. There was speculation about the Browns and Johnny. And we all thought they'd take a QB at some point. But as the first round evolved and they became the busiest team on the draft board, and once it got past Dallas at 16, I had a pretty strong inkling it would be Johnny's name that would be called. I was mentally preparing myself for the moment but when it came, you immediately shift right into, 'I have to come up with a great lede.' You try to wrap up all that Johnny Football is and where the Browns are and what the Browns mean and all those things. So I came up with something like, 'Johnny kept falling and falling and landed in the dawg pound.' It's a big story, there's no denying that, and I think we might be getting over our skis early here, but it has the possibility to the biggest thing since LeBron left town."

"I wrapped up at about 1 a.m. and finally got to bed at about 4.a.m."

Friday:

"I got up at about 9:30 and was writing by 10. I turned on the radio and immediately got the pulse of the town. I called the Browns and found out they'd sold something like 1,300 new season ticket packages overnight. So I immediately went into, 'Now it's time to write the Manziel mania story.' I got to work on that and the Browns had a press conference for Johnny and Gilbert. Before that, I called the Browns PR and asked what it was like in headquarters. The guy said, 'I can't hear you. The bell keeps ringing.' I don't know if you know this, but in Berea, they ring a bell and everyone applauds after every sale. The guy said it hadn't stopped all morning."

"So then there's the 1 p.m. press conference and Manziel was great and very humble. I think he handled the conference well and I sort of felt bad for Gilbert sitting next to him, but Johnny deflected some questions to his teammate, and I think that was good."

"We get through that and I'm trying to digest all that is Johnny Football. Then we get whacked with the Josh Gordon news and however that's going to play out. You wanna talk about a cold Gatorade bath. I was still in Berea — the second and third rounds were still going to happen that night — and we're all sitting there and there was a gasp in the room, basically, because you understood the severity of arguably the best player on the roster maybe getting suspended. You could just sense the whole town going from elation to deflation. The Browns staff was around, and they couldn't acknowledge anything, but you could see it on their faces. Everyone went from bouncing around to, 'Here we go again.'"

"I wrapped it all up, did a story for that day about celebration turning to disappointment in a flash, and I walked out of the building shaking my head. I got out of there around 1 a.m. again."

Saturday:

"I was back in Berea around 10:30 a.m. for day three, which turned out to be a normal day. The interesting thing was that they made a couple of moves and they picked a guy — Pierre Desir — who turned out to be an unbelievable story in his own right. It's straight out of a Hollywood screenplay. He leaves Haiti when he's four, his family goes to Missouri, his parents bounce around jobs, the kid doesn't have scores to go to a big school, goes to two smaller schools, has his first kid when he's 16, has a second one in college. It's a terrific story, but you can only do so much in one day."

Sunday:

"I took Mother's Day off, ha. I think my wife was pleased with that."

Monday:

"We had Jimmy Haslam availability down in Canton at a speech he was giving as well as the Browns holding their charity golf tournament down in Aurora. I decided to skip the tournament and go to Canton. Jimmy gets there a little late. The room is packed with hardcore Browns fans. It's a luncheon and everybody eats and they ask a priest to do the invocation. He gets up there and blesses the food and then he adds a special line about Johnny Manziel. Everybody chuckles. And then Jimmy gets up to the podium and turns to the priest and says something like, 'I've never heard a prayer like that, and I'm not sure what Brian Hoyer would think of it either.' And then Jimmy goes into the thing about telling Johnny he's the backup."

"Meanwhile, this comes on the footnote of a report that says that the Browns on that first day of the draft had originally handed in the card with Bridgewater's name on it rather than Manziel. So Haslam says he wants to address it in his speech and dispel the rumors but he never really dispels the rumors. So, there are like 10 media members there, and we're clamoring after the speech for more and the Browns are saying he's not doing any interviews. So I just go out a side door and I waited for Jimmy by his car. He comes out and he has this big smile and I say, 'You didn't really dispel any of the rumors. What are you comments about Bridgewater?' He says, 'That's crazy, that's nuts.' And then the Browns media relations comes running over and I just say, 'Thanks, Jimmy.' I got the quote I needed."

"So then I head over to McDonald's to do a couple of write-thrus on the Haslam story. And keep in mind, Haslam broke some news during his speech — he announced Vince Young had been released. That's a big story for me, that's national news. So I file two quick stories and I'm packing up to go to the charity golf thing because players would be available for interviews. I get out and my phone buzzes: the Cavs named Griffin as GM and, oh by the way, fired Mike Brown. Needless to say, I went through the drive-thru backwards and went back inside to start working on those stories."

Tuesday:

"There's the press conference in Independence around lunch with David Griffin. No sooner am I done with that then there's a report from Pro Football Talk that Joe Haden has signed this historic contract. So, fortunately, I texted Drew Rosenhaus, Haden's agent, and he got right back to me with the particulars of the contract so I was able to get out a little more information than other people, which was nice. And then I dealt with the Griffin story and did a write through and drove back to my house hoping that Godzilla wasn't going to walk out of Lake Erie or something."

Wednesday:

"And now I'm on my way to Berea for the Joe Haden press conference. The next two days should be a break and we need it because Johnny gets here on Friday."

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