Closing A Deal From The Beach

In the blur of free-agent deals over the first couple of weeks, there was a little-publicized note that the Browns had reached an agreement with linebacker David Bowens, who played last season for the New York Jets. Bowens became the fourth Jets player signed by the Browns since Eric Mangini became coach and moved his operation – and a few of his players – from New Jersey to Cleveland.

I am pleasantly surprised that Bowens is still in the NFL and apparently thriving, having received a decent free-agent contract to be a rotational player on the Browns’ defensive line. I will always remember David from his time in Green Bay, although it was brief. His file was thick, full of unpaid bills and repossessed cars, but behind that carelessness appeared to be a good person who had the smarts to get his act together -- and has evidently done so.

I still recall the day we traded Bowens. After signing all our draft picks, I usually took off for a couple of days to a local beach north of Green Bay on Lake Michigan. I was doing just that when a call came in as I was on a remote beach with my son. It was Mike Sherman – our head coach and general manager – and the late Mark Hatley, our vice president of player personnel. We’d had a couple of tight ends go down in the first few practices and needed to get another tight end in camp. We had a tentative deal with the Buffalo Bills to bring in a tight end named Bobby Collins in exchange for, yes, David Bowens. They needed me to write up the language and confirm the deal with the league, which was my responsibility. Although not the ideal place for this to occur, I could handle it with my cell phone as I walked along the sandy dunes of Lake Michigan. Until my cell phone died. No service, no bars, nothing.

I was dripping wet in my trunks and had my toddler son Sam with me. I looked around and saw no public phones in sight. The only hope I had was the small ranger shack in the state park we were in. That was sure to have a phone, I thought. I gathered Sam and trudged up to the shack. I walked in and saw was an official-looking park ranger sitting at his desk with, yes, a phone. He looked at me -- standing there in my wet trunks with Sam -- with some skepticism, which was only raised by my request to use his phone. He barely gave me a look; I couldn’t use the phone, he said. I then took a deep breath and said, “I’m with the Green Bay Packers and we’re about to make a trade. My phone died and I really need to use a phone to complete this trade.”

The park ranger looked at me and my son in our dripping bathing suits and no shirts and treated my statement with the kind of reaction you would expect -- a sort of “Sure you are!” and waived me off.

This was going nowhere, and the clock was ticking on the trade. So I looked the park ranger dead in the eye and said, “Listen, I am with the Packers. We are trading David Bowens to the Buffalo Bills, and this trade won’t happen unless I can use your phone right now!” I prayed this would have some kind of impact.

It did. I knew I had an opening when he looked at me, looked at Sam, then looked back at me, squinted and said, “We’re trading Bowens?”

I pounced. “Yes, but only if I can use your phone!”

“Why are we trading Bowens?” he asked.

“I’d be happy to tell you after I use your phone!” I told him. He then mumbled something about trading Bowens and slowly pushed his old rotary-dial phone toward me. I called the Packers, called the league, called the Bills and consummated the trade of Bowens. The Ranger sat there watching with an obvious satisfaction of being involved, although he was skeptical about our decision to trade Bowens.

The deal went through and was published in the paper the next day. I thought I would stop by the ranger hut and show him the headline. It turned out he had it sitting on his desk, telling his colleagues and visiting beachgoers that he had been part of the trade. Indeed, he was.

There are no fans – or park rangers, for that matter – like Packers fans.

David Bowens has come a long way, and through a lot of teams, in signing his free agent deal last week. Glad to see he’s doing well; his story might have been different if not for the ranger that day at the beach.

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