Ten years later, he’s a seasoned veteran attempting to lead the Dallas Cowboys to their first win of the season when they host the Browns at Texas Stadium.
After six miserable seasons as Tampa Bay’s supposed savior, Testaverde, the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner, joined Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent in 1993 and had what then was considered the best year of his NFL career. Taking over for fellow Miami alum Bernie Kosar, Testaverde threw more touchdown passes (14) than interceptions (nine) for the first time in his career.
The next season, Testaverde helped guide the Browns to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth for the first time in five years. The 11 victories included a 19-14 win at Dallas, which had a defensive coordinator named Butch Davis, now the Browns’ head coach.
So it’s no coincidence that Testaverde credits his time in Cleveland for reshaping his career.
“I think that 1994 season has had a big effect on why I’m still here,” Testaverde said. “My stay in Tampa was kind of a rocky road. Then I came to Cleveland and we made the playoffs in ’94. Being there with the Browns allowed me to be more consistent as a quarterback.”
Now installed as Dallas’ starter, the 40-year-old Testaverde showed that he still has plenty left in the tank. He completed 29-of-50 passes for 355 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys’ season-opening 35-17 loss at Minnesota last Sunday.
Dallas coach Bill Parcells said Monday he was “hard-pressed to find one guy who played up to his potential on defense” in the loss to the Vikings.
Harsh words for a defense that was the NFL’s top-ranked unit last season.
“I don’t know what it was,” Parcells said, “but that wasn’t the same group I’ve seen out there in the past.”
Missing the leadership of injured safety Darren Woodson, desperately thin at cornerback and weakened on the line by the suspension of Leonardo Carson, who will return this week, Dallas allowed five touchdowns, their most under Parcells.
In sharp contrast, Cleveland’s season opener was a coming out party of sorts as the Browns won their first season opener since rejoining the league in 1999 with a convincing 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
“It’s a great feeling,” defensive tackle Orpheus Roye said. “Hopefully, we can keep this going.”
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who ran for 500 yards in two games against Cleveland in 2003, was held to just 57 on 20 carries Sunday.
Wherever Lewis went, orange helmets were there, too. Sometimes by the half dozen.
“Everybody to the ball, that was our motto all week,” Roye said.