Billick’s comments infuriate Browns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 1999

The Associated Press

Billick, who earlier this week said he thought the NFL wanted the Browns to beat the Ravens and that the officiating might be influenced by that, apologized profusely for his comments on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 04, 1999

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Billick, who earlier this week said he thought the NFL wanted the Browns to beat the Ravens and that the officiating might be influenced by that, apologized profusely for his comments on Wednesday. He said he was sorry for saying the league has given the expansion Browns preferential treatment.

It was all a mistake, he said.

”It was not meant to come out that way,” said Billick, whose comments are being reviewed by the NFL. ”There was a linkage of terms that I apologize for. That was not my intent. I misspoke. I apologize. If anybody takes offense to it, I apologize.”

Sorry, Brian, but Cleveland fans might not be very forgiving.

Not when Ravens owner Art Modell, who took the old Browns to Baltimore in 1995, isn’t coming back for the game.

Billick may have only been trying to deflect attention from Modell and the Ravens to himself. But that’s probably not going to be the case. If anything, Billick has made it worse for his team.

During a news conference Monday in Baltimore, Billick inflamed the emotional fires of this week’s game by among other things, claiming the league was hoping Cleveland would win.

”I know darn well we’re not going to get a (referee’s) call in Cleveland, no way, no shape, no form, no how,” he said. ”The league would really like to see Cleveland beat us.”

Billick’s statement initially infuriated Browns president Carmen Policy, who was handed a copy of Billick’s comments Tuesday in Chicago while attending an NFL meeting with Cleveland owner Al Lerner.

”It was quite disturbing,” Policy told the Associated Press Wednesday. ”Because when you analyze what he’s saying, he’s calling into question the integrity and the very substance of our league and our game. I think that’s irresponsible.

”Maybe he is suffering from the stress and pressure of being 2-5. Maybe he was trying to engage in reverse psychology and engage the officials. It doesn’t make sense.”

Later, after being told of Billick’s remorse, Policy softened.

”We should acknowledge coach Billick’s reversal,” Policy said. ”Maybe we should cut him some slack.”

Billick, who was the Browns’ top coaching candidate until he refused to cancel an interview with Modell, went on the defensive during a 20-minute teleconference with Cleveland reporters Wednesday.

As questions were fired at him, Billick backpedaled like a quarterback about to be sacked for a 20-yard loss.

He never denied saying what he did. He explained, though, that his comments about two separate issues later were jumbled together in a newspaper article following a wide-ranging interview.

”I said what I said, but it was a disjointed thought process on my part to link the two together about the difficulties of playing on the road and thinking we’re going to get a break on the road in Cleveland,” he said.

”To link those two things together in a sentence, about the difficulty of getting a break on the road, so to speak, and combining it with anything that would implicate the officials or the league, was an improper linkage and an improper use of words on my part.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Billick received a letter from George Young, the league’s senior vice president of football operations, on Tuesday asking for an explanation.

”He provided a written explanation and that will be reviewed,” Aiello said.

Upon learning of Billick’s comments, some Browns players, who have been on the wrong side of some questionable officiating, wondered what the Baltimore coach was trying to accomplish.

”I’m a little confused. If anybody should feel that way, we should feel that way,” offensive tackle Lomas Browns said. ”We have a history of not getting calls. I don’t know why he would say something like that. Maybe he’s trying to find something to motivate his team.

”They’re kind of on the slide right now. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be an emotional game, an emotional week.”