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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Interview with Buckeye Legend Cornelius Green, Part One

On Tuesday night, Cornelius Green spoke about what it meant to be part of the greatest rivalry in all of sport at the 3rd Annual John Hicks Unlimited Love Event to benefit the Unverferth House, which houses families of  heart transplant surgeries. I caught up with Cornelius by phone where he discussed the rivalry, breaking the color barrier as the 1st African-American QB at Ohio State, and much more.

Q:  Talk about your upbringing in DC and your childhood.

A:  I was adopted and my biological father’s oldest sister, she and her husband raised me; which I ended up calling them my mom and dad, so it was actually my aunt and uncle that raised me from six months until I was a grown man. They passed on now, but they were pretty much my everything.

Q:  Did you have any role models growing up?

A: One of our neighbor’s nephews happened to be Willie Wood, who ended up being in the Hall of fame and was a DB for the Green Bay Packers. This neighbor used to always tell me as a kid that I reminded me of his nephew Willie Wood, so that was pretty inspiring.

Q:  Did Woody recruit you specifically as a QB?

A:  Yes, QB only. That’s what I wanted too. That was probably what I was a little nervous about because I was good on both sides of the ball, but my love was quarterbacking. Back in the day they didn’t have many black quarterbacks at all in college, so what was happening a lot of times was that once an African-American would go to a major big school, they ended up changing their positions to defensive back, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.

Q: What did being the QB at OSU teach you about leadership and life in general?

A: I was the pitcher of my baseball team, point guard on my basketball team and was the quarterback on my football team, so being a great leader was already instilled in me. I think that if you are going to be a good leader then show good leadership skills by being at practice and not missing practice. No matter what happened during that game on Saturday and no matter how beat up I was, Monday morning I was out there with my lineman and my team practicing. We used to tease Archie a lot because the difference between Archie and I, is that we were both beat up, but Coach Hayes would tell Archie that he needed to rest to recover. He’d tell me that I needed to go out there and I needed to work.

Q:  Being the first African-American QB at OSU, did you think about the significance of this at the time?

A:  One of my reasons for going there was that I could become the first African-American QB at Ohio State. I always thought about it and then once I got here it wasn’t a big deal until I think the town made it a big deal. I was receiving letters from the Klan and would get death threat calls over the phone my freshman year, so it was pretty devastating. It was tough but I persevered and survived. Once I started against Minnesota, and we won 56-7 the calls and all the letters just stopped all of a sudden. It’s amazing what winning can do.

Q:  Talk about your relationship with Archie when you were at OSU and what he meant to you?

A:  He meant the world to me. I was from Washington, DC being in Ohio, and here was Archie from Columbus, and I ended up being a member of his family and just like a brother. His mom and dad kind of adopted me as a son. What a great joy that was. My dad had drinking problems and stuff and then my uncle that raised me was blind when I was in the 8th grade so neither one had come to see me play a game.  Mr. Griffin would always be there for me after every game. I’d look up and he’d have his arm around me as well as having his arm around Archie, telling us both how great we did.

Q: What did the Team Up North rivalry mean to you?

A:  I got here my freshman year and I couldn’t believe we were practicing for Michigan during the summer and we didn’t play them until November; so I knew how this was a little different than anything I had ever experienced in my life before. We were practicing against the Michigan defense and we would go so far that the scout squad had to actually wear Michigan uniforms. It was everything. I never lost to them. 

Q: What are some other tactics that Woody used to get you guys ready for Michigan?

A:   His main tactic was that each week we were concerned about Michigan. If we thought a team was weak, like Indiana back in the day; I hate to talk about Lee Corso in this manner, but we would practice for Michigan Monday and Tuesday, and then practice for Indiana Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Q: Talk about your experience against the Team Up North your freshman year?

A: We beat them 14-11. I was watching the game and I was dressed, but of course I didn’t get in the game.  That was probably one of the greatest games because my freshman year we had four different goal line stances with Bo refusing to kick a field goal. If they kick four field goals they win the game, but he refused to kick and we stopped him four times. It was insane what he was doing.

Q: Talk about the tie game your sophomore year.

A: My sophomore year we played Iowa at home and when I was pitching the ball on an option the defensive end jammed my right thumb. My thumb was so swollen all week that I really couldn’t pass much all week in practice; so, the 10-10 tie game my sophomore year Woody didn’t attempt any passes the whole game but one time. He took me out of the game with three minutes left, and put in Greg Hare who was our captain; and then he tried to pass and the first pass Greg threw was an interception.

Q: What were your feelings after the tie game, did you think you would get the nod?

A: I didn’t know how that worked. I was just so upset that it was a tie game. They were jumping up and down like they won the game. In my mind, I was thinking we had just gone to the Rose Bowl the prior year and I said wow I’m thinking that they were going to get the nod automatically. I didn’t know there was a vote that went on with all the athletic directors from all the Big Ten teams. I just knew we were going to the Rose Bowl and I didn’t know how it happened until 40 years later when they did the documentary. We always said the right team went because we went out there and won. When we had our reunion, we made sure that was stated.

Q: When did Woody start trusting your arm more?

A:  Things changed in the Rose Bowl. I redeemed myself and I was MVP in the Rose Bowl as a sophomore. I hit some key plays and then all of a sudden that next year there was a big trust factor.

Q: What was your most memorable Michigan game?

A: My senior year, that’s probably my most memorable Michigan game. They kicked off to us and we went right down and scored a touchdown, and we went up 7-0.  They stopped us from getting a first down from mid first quarter to the end of the first quarter. The second quarter we were stopped. The whole third quarter we didn’t get a first down. Now, we are going into the fourth quarter down 14-7 with seven minutes left and it was a 3rd and 18 on the twenty-yard line. I got the team together and said, “Hey I’m going to say a prayer,” not for us to win, but because we kept coming up like 4th and 1.

Q: You were in your own territory at that point?

A: Yep, 3rd and 18 and backs against the wall and I was shocked we called a pass play.  For me to throw a perfect pass and the pass was completed after I said the prayer, it was amazing, and then we got four first downs right in a row. I completed two more passes for first downs. It was 4th and goal at the one and we finally scored. We tied the game up, then Ray Griffin intercepts the pass with about two minutes left and we ended up winning 21-14.  I ended up being the game’s most valuable player.  I can just remember so vividly when the interviewer was congratulating me for a great game, I said no we’ve got to give the Lord the credit because I told him about this prayer I said. The first down prayer was answered and it was just an amazing feeling.

Q:  Talk about some of the friendships you developed at OSU and how they impacted you.

A: My friendships at OSU have changed my life because when I grew up here in D.C it was 98 percent African-American.  Going to Ohio State was my first experience of having predominantly white friends. Brian Baschnagel was my roommate and ended up being my best friend. I think Brian changed my life by being such a great friend and teaching me that everyone was the same. You just had to get to know folks, you couldn’t stereotype someone. He made me a better person and made me the person I am today.

Q:  Do you have a favorite memory of Woody?

A: My favorite memory now is probably one of the last memories I have, because I started my career against Minnesota.  My first home game was against Minnesota my sophomore year, and my last home game as a senior was against Minnesota. Right at the end, Coach Hayes took a penalty for too much time. He took the penalty so that the fans could give me a round of applause, thanking me for my four years I had at Ohio State; and then he came to greet me on the field and shake my hand. That was overwhelming.  Right after that he substituted for Archie. It was just so uncommon of Coach Hayes. You never thought he would do something like that. Man was that showing you how much he loved you and appreciated you.

Interview with Buckeye Legend Cornelius Green, Part Two.

Nicholas Jackson

Copyright 2017 Nicholas Jackson - All rights reserved.

Nick is a 1997 graduate of Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio where he received his B.S in Biological Sciences. He went on to receive his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy at Andrews University in Dayton, Ohio and then his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. He has been published in the Newark Advocate, The Granville Sentinel, and the St. Louis Metro Voice; and professionally in the Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy. Nick has also been a guest host on 88.9 WLRY and 880AM WRFD

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Nick’s email:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Earnest Byner Gives Back to Cleveland Veterans Through Healing Dawg's Organization

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

As we reflect back on this past Veteran’s Day weekend, no scripture embodies the sacrifice our veterans have made to preserve our freedoms more than John 15:13.

The Greek translation for love in this instance is the term “agape.”

Agape is the highest form of love and is different from brotherly or romantic love because it is unconditional, sacrificial and volitional (an act of the will); it doesn’t fluctuate when circumstances or people change.

It is this very agape love, a love that starts in the inside, that serves as the foundation of former Cleveland Brown Earnest Byner’s nonprofit organization Healing Dawgs.  Byner wants to bring this message of love to our nation's veterans, who are hurting and often in need of great healing.

Byner shared his heart on why he started Healing Dawg’s, “To me, the healing process is always happening, whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual. We go about teaching love, what we call agape love, which is part of the healing process. That’s the first love, the love of self; the God love that everybody has.”

He reiterated that healing is available to everyone, not just veterans. “Whatever the experience there is always healing available. We heal mind, body and spirit, but we focus on the youth (juveniles), the homeless and veterans.”

Since the founding of the Healing Dawgs, Earnest has noticed that a lot of the issues that veterans are having are similar to those of former NFL Players.

The response has been so great and humbling that the organization has partnered with the VA Medical Center in Cleveland to help deal with issues such as suicide, drug use and concussions and to help raise awareness to the veterans who may be in need.

Reggie Langhorne, Kevin Mack, Felix Wright and Earnest Byner. Photo from

Byner’s message of healing from the inside out resonates because he speaks from personal experience; he had to undergo his own struggle, and personal journey to find healing.

His journey began in Milledgeville, Georgia where he was raised by his beloved grandmother.
Byner credits his grandmother for laying a foundation of humility and personal responsibility.

“It was critical to my development. Granny was my first love. Taking us to church every Sunday gave us a really solid foundation to live life. Those values that she taught me were the values that I go back to whenever struggle comes and struggle will come.”

Football was always there for Byner. He developed a love for the game at an early age, whether it was in front of his grandmother’s house, or through his local sports team. 

Throughout his career, he would go always back to his foundation in Milledgeville. Every off-season he would run the same hills he grew up on, and to run intervals on his old high school track.

After a standout prep career, Byner attended East Carolina where he went on to gain 2,049 yards on 378 carries after which he entered the 1984 draft.

He described those tense moments in the 1984 draft waiting to be called, “I was sitting in a dorm room waiting to see if the phone would ring.  The phone rang late that day. It was the tenth round and I spoke to then Head Coach Sam Rutigliano and Mr. Modell. I could go home and let my wife know the good news.” Byner became a Cleveland Brown.

In training camp, Byner had a little bit of trepidation about making the team. He described his feelings on the last night before final cuts.

“I’ve been balling from the beginning, so I haven’t had an uneasy feeling about being cut, but tonight is a little different. I slept well after I finally fell asleep, while half expecting a knock on the door. I wake up to sunshine and no knock. I pop up and run to the door to peak out. Quiet. It was almost spooky. I call home to tell Granny and then call my wife. I made it!” (Earnest Byner, Everybody Fumbles)

Now that Byner had made the team, it was time to start preparing for the season and the individual games ahead.  In the fall of 1984, it was Byner’s job to help get the starting defense ready.  He enjoyed playing fullback the most, going against guys like Clay Matthews, Eddie Johnson, Chip Banks and Tom Cousineau.

His scout team efforts, however, did not go unnoticed as he caught the eye of defensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer who would then become the head coach part way through the 1984 season.

Byner became Schottenheimer’s guy. “I’m convinced that a large part of that decision was made when I played the role of scout team player. If I hadn’t done that job the way it was supposed to, then my role may have been to exit the NFL in short time.” (Earnest Byner, Everybody Fumbles)

Byner took this same ferocious approach that he displayed on the scout team towards changing the culture of the Browns team as a whole. Byner made up part of the group called “Ernie’s group” which according to assistant coach Howard Mudd, “was composed of some tough guys who would thrash around and cause havoc in the game.” 

Prior to the 1985 season, the Cleveland Browns were a divided team; offense vs. defense.  The defense considered the offense soft, so much so that the offense and defense road their own separate bus.

Along came Byner in his second year as he almost single-handedly changed the culture of the team, a feat the coaching staff couldn’t accomplish on their own.

Mudd described this culture shift, “He boldly got onto the defense's bus and declared, ‘There’ll be no more offense vs defense.’ He stood up and the Browns became one. He would openly call out his teammates if they didn’t perform with toughness and perseverance.”

Photo courtesy of

It was also in 1985 that Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack reached the heights of on field success.  The Browns became only the third team in NFL history to have two 1000 yards rushers in a season along with the 1972 Dolphins and the 1976 Steelers.

In these times we live in, however, our failures are often magnified more than our successes. The media and fans will look for a scapegoat or someone that they can blame for a team’s loss.
Cleveland particularly has had a long-suffering fan base, as the media has encapsulated many of their sports failures down to single word moments such as “The Drive” or “The Shot.”

Fair or not, Earnest Byner will be forever linked with Cleveland’s excruciating and tortured history. In the 1987 playoff game against Denver, the Browns had the ball with 1:12 left in the game on the eight-yard line trailing 38-31 when the unthinkable happened.

“The play is designed to get inside, but the tight end has collapsed the end man of the line of scrimmage. The guard bounces, so I bounce. I take a look outside and see 85 running off but decide to get vertical…I’m scoring! They haven’t stopped me all day and not now but…I’m on the ground without the ball. Dead tired and exhausted while knowing I’ve let my guys down.” (Earnest Byner, Everybody Fumbles)

Photo courtesy of

The play became known as “The Fumble” to the national sports media. Earnest took it very hard and described his struggle, “I was the next day’s news all over the country, perhaps the world, and I was the next week’s talk show joke. The travesty was that I let it stay with me based on what others thought instead of how my true friends thought. It took me about three years before I finally forgave myself and moved on.” (Earnest Byner, Everybody Fumbles)

A lot of time has passed from that fateful day and much like the city of Cleveland, Earnest had to go through healing too. Rather than let a moment like this destroy him, Earnest eventually embraced “The Fumble” and turned what others viewed as his greatest failure into an instrument to help others.

“My book is called, ‘Everybody Fumbles,’ and it’s an analogy that everyone makes mistakes, everybody stumbles and has difficulties. There is much more to me than just the fumble.”

Byner played one more season for the Browns before being traded to the Washington Redskins before the 1989 season. In 1993, he went on to win the Super Bowl in Washington that had eluded him in Cleveland.

Photo courtesy of

Byner did not view his Super Bowl win in Washington as some sort of redemption for “The Fumble.” “In my mind the Super Bowl, just like the fumble, was just part of the story of Earnest Byner that could be used in the healing process of other people.  I was thrilled that we won, but I was still thinking about developing. It was part of the story that I now use to teach about successes and failures and how you live and learn through both of them.”

After his stint in Washington, Byner then returned to Cleveland for the 1994-1995 season before ultimately finishing his career in Baltimore. He then went on to coach with multiple NFL teams and picked up another Super Bowl ring with the Ravens as Director of Player Development.

Byner working as RB coach for the Jaguars.  Photo courtesy of

Byner will always have a special place in his heart for Cleveland.  He talked about how much the city of Cleveland has meant to him throughout the years.

“The fan support has been magnificent. The mid 80’s team is a team that really galvanized the Brown’s fans and created an excitement that was electric. It’s something that has tied together the fans and that team in such a way that I don’t know if that will ever be supplanted, unless of course they win a Super Bowl.”

Byner described Cleveland fans as blue collar, hardworking and no nonsense. “The type of fans that are in Cleveland, they have shown the loyalty that has been different than the other places that I have been.”

It’s those endearing qualities that have continued to draw him back to Cleveland to help the city heal. Just like the hills and track in Milledgeville, Georgia, Cleveland is also a big part of Byner’s foundation.

“It’s a generational thing.  If they love you, they love you. The Browns are part of my life foundation, and that foundation has been solid because of the things we’ve been through. When Believeland came about, that was the thing that really solidified in my mind and in a lot of fans minds that relationship that the mid 80’s team had.”

Watching the Cavs win it all provided him with a greater sense of peace and continued healing, “I was really at peace, I felt it coming. I could almost sense it. I was actually at home watching the game by myself. I was happy, but I wasn’t surprised. When you saw the reaction of Lebron, Kyrie, Tristan, and Tyronn Lue running around like a little boy, when I saw that, that really reminded me of winning the championship when I was at Washington, it was just a peace that was prevalent.”

Earnest Byner has experienced much in his life; both the peaks of success and the depths of struggle. One thing that has remained consistent for his entire life is his love for God and love for others. To borrow the words of his assistant Howard Mudd, Byner epitomizes the phrase “say what you do and do what you say.”

Byner embodies the very agape love that serves as the foundation of his Healing Dawgs organization. His relationship with Cleveland serves as a living parable that demonstrates this very love.

After the fumble, some fans sent him hate mail which hurt Byner a great deal. He was humble and forgiving enough, however, to return to Cleveland for a few more years before eventually retiring with the Baltimore Ravens.

In the 2016 ESPN documentary Believeland, Byner sacrificed himself by apologizing for "The Fumble" in order to help the city of Cleveland heal.

It’s also this same agape love that is drawing him back to Cleveland after all these years to serve the city’s veterans, children and homeless; teaching them to love themselves.

As the next chapters in Earnest Byner’s life are written, there will likely still be some people from Cleveland and in the sports media who will always associate him with “The Fumble.”

Those who know him, however, will remember him for his love; and in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Nicholas Jackson

Copyright 2017 Nicholas Jackson - All rights reserved.

Nick is a 1997 graduate of Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio where he received his B.S in Biological Sciences. He went on to receive his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy at Andrews University in Dayton, Ohio and then his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. He has been published in the Newark Advocate, The Granville Sentinel, and the St. Louis Metro Voice; and professionally in the Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy. Nick has also been a guest host on 88.9 WLRY and 880AM WRFD

Permission to reprint article required from author
Nick’s email: