The man in the middle of Cleveland’s defense [1975-83], after an eight-year absence, you helped the “Kardiac Kids” return to prominence and the playoffs in 1980. How?
“We got some good veteran talent (in the offseason) that helped give us a little bit more of a mental state, helped us be ready for situations that come during the course of the season. No matter what it is.
“And, of course, our coach, Sam Rutigliano, always kept us believing in ourselves. That really helped carry us through that year. We came together as a team. It was one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on why. It was just the right combination of personalities and the work that we did.”
The team’s leading tackler for five consecutive seasons [1977-81], what makes you most proud of your Browns career?
“I’m just proud of the fact that I had the opportunity to play and contribute to this team and this city, and basically made it a part of my life. I’ve stayed here since my playing days. It’s part of me as much as if I was born and raised here. And I’m just proud of the fact that I saw this through and that I played for one team and one team only.”
As your career was winding down, you began to look at life after football. What led you to decide to earn a law degree?
“I realized that this is not a game that you can play forever. I needed to start making some contingency plans. So I did decide to explore some options. Law was one of the careers that was recommended to me.
“I eventually took the entrance examination and got accepted into law school. And while we were on strike in 1982, I actually started going to classes. I stayed with the classes even while we went back to work. I went to a night schedule and did it that way until I was released by the team. Then I went fulltime and finished my degree.”
After practicing law for 17 years, in 2004, you became a judge serving on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Why did you want to become a judge?
“I obviously had a lot of experience coming before judges, so I knew what they did; I respected what they did, and respected the rule of the law. And actually, (if the opportunity) had come up sooner I might not have accepted it, but I figured it was time to give that a try. So I did and it turns out that it is something that I enjoy very much.”
What’s the most important aspect of your job?
“The most difficult thing for me as a judge is sentencing. Determining who should go to prison and who should have an opportunity possibly on probation to work out the areas of their lives where they’re lacking. It’s always difficult to make those decisions. We do have other cases that have gone before us as guidance, but it’s still a very individual determination, very subjective.
“It’s tough sometimes. I’ve had to deal with a couple death penalty cases where I’ve had to issue a sentence of death. You don’t do that without some serious thought and consideration before you go out there.”
Browns fans are nothing if not loyal. Has the fact that you were a fan favorite ever come up in your courtroom?
“Yes. I’ve had people call me Judge ‘Bam Bam.’ That was my nickname with the Browns. People are still respectful and most of the time they ask permission if they want to do something like that or ask for an autograph. But it has happened. Infrequently, but it has happened.”
You were asked for an autograph in court?
“[Laughs] Actually, a guy I had just sentenced to prison asked me for an autograph before he left the courtroom. There are some people that just know they’re going to prison before they even start the sentencing hearing, so he wasn’t taken aback by the sentence or upset by the sentence. He was just a big football fan.”
I asked before what made you most proud of your Browns career. What makes you most proud of your judicial career?
“I’m most proud of the fact that when I run for election I do get high ratings from the Bar Association, which is the lawyers that come before the court. The respect that I get from my peers is very important to me.
“Everybody just wants to do a good job, whether it’s football or whether it’s selling cars or whether it’s being a judge. I want to do a good job and do it the best I can. And to get people’s acknowledgement that you are doing a good job certainly is one of my proudest moments.”