WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2011: #10 – The Colt Concussion

As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last three years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from 10 to one. Just missing this year’s cut were the Dan Gilbert/Chris Paul trade reaction, the Ohio State Basketball Seniors getting their diplomas on the same day they thrashed George Mason in round two of the NCAA tournament, and the Browns actually winning on a goal-line stand against Jacksonville. 

So with that said, let the countdown begin….

#10 Colt McCoy’s Concussion against Pittsburgh leads to a national controversy

To steal a line from our good friend Les Levine – of all of the key sports moments we have discussed, this is the most recent. Just 13 days ago on a Thursday night in Pittsburgh, Browns QB Colt McCoy, who has been battered behind a mediocre offensive line all year, was again running for his life during a big fourth quarter drive. The Browns trailed the rival Steelers just 7-3 and McCoy had moved the team to within striking distance of taking the lead.

It was 2nd and 5 at the Steelers 39 yard line with just over five minutes to play. McCoy was flushed out of the pocket and just after he let go of the ball (a pass to Montario Hardesty), Steelers headhunter Linebacker James Harrison lit him up like a Christmas tree with a blow to the head. Colt lay on the ground motionless for a little, before wobbling off the field. It was clear he had his bell rung. In came backup QB Seneca Wallace who hit Evan Moore with a beautiful throw to put the Browns first and goal the the Pittsburgh 5 yard line.

Then, inexplicably, McCoy came back onto the field. His first play was a handoff. His second play saw him again run for his life and get flagged for intentional grounding. It was clear there Colt wasn’t ready to be back on the field. On third and goal, he literally just flung a pas up for grabs in the end zone to avoid a Steeler blitz, and was picked off.

The real story was not how the game essentially ended right there, it was how could McCoy have come back onto the field that quickly after such a vicious shot to his head.

Colt met with the media after the game, but the Browns PR people asked that the lights be turned down a little as to not be so bright in his face. Wasn’t that a sign right there that something was wrong? Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur was asked if bringing Colt right back into the game was the right thing to do, and he responded by saying that Colt went through the proper test before going back in. We would later find out that this was in fact not true. The trainers were looking at his hand the entire time.

The next day, Colt’s father, Brad McCoy, made national headlines when he told the PD’s Mary Kay Cabot that his son had no business being out back into the game:

“I talked to Colt this morning and he said ‘dad, I don’t know what happened,” Brad McCoy said.

“He never should’ve gone back in the game. He was basically out (cold) after the hit. You could tell by the ridigity of his body as he was laying there. There were a lot of easy symptoms that should’ve told them he had a concussion. He was nauseated and he didn’t know who he was. From what I could see, they didn’t test him for a concussion on the sidelines. They looked at his (left) hand.”

“After the game, the (public relations staff) made sure Colt’s interview was brief and he couldn’t face the lights in his press conference,” said Brad. “The TV lights and the Stadium lights were killing him. Why would you say he was fine? That makes it even worse.”

These quotes brought everyone out of the woodwork. Did the Browns really botch an obvious player-safety situation this badly? How could they have put their QB at risk like this? They were getting killed locally and nationally, and the NFL decided to come to Cleveland to review the situation themselves.  Finally, somebody had to do something.

That’s when “The Big Show” decided to make an appearance.

In rode Mike Holmgren on his white horse to save the day. His press conference revealed a lot. The Browns training staff indeed did not administer the proper concussion tests before sending McCoy back into the game. The (lame) excuse that was given was that the trainers were attending to both Alex Smith and Owen Marecic on the sidelines, and therefore didn’t see the play. Holmgren then went on the defensive saying his training staff was “the best in the league.” That may be the case, but the fact remains that there were plenty of others who saw the play go down, including Shurmur, and none of them stopped McCoy from going back on the field.

To make matters worse, Holmgren’s arrogance got the best of him when he let off the now infamous “don’t call me when you need extra playoff tickets, you are either with us, or against us” blast. It didn’t serve him well.

In the meantime, two weeks later, Colt is “progressing” but still isn’t ready to play. The Browns were put under the microscope, and rightfully so, by the NFL for their handling of McCoy, and they are staring at a 4-12 season.


  • Harv 21

    not to split hairs, but Holms didn’t exactly say that. What he said was: “you’re either with us or … you’re not.” The presser was bad but just trying to give him credit for the couple of times he clearly knew he was going too far and attempted to control himself. He also barely stopped himself from blurting something about some in the press. Whatever, it was still pretty awful.

  • humboldt

    @Harv – Semantics aside, the general thrust of Holmgren’s comment was reactive, arrogant, and simple-minded. Just a bad look all the way around, and I’m sure he’d like to have it back.

    He doesn’t strike me as someone who is tone-deaf or dense – just got caught up in the heat of the moment, I suppose.

  • MrCleaveland

    The Browns have received way more public criticism that has James Harrison. Harrison is a dangerous thug, and he should have received a harsher penalty than a one-game suspension.

    If he keeps this up, Goodell should throw him out of the league. Let him sue if he wants. The NFL’s got plenty of legal clout.

  • Harv 21

    @Humboldt: I agree. Wondering whether, like Parcells, he’s a very good coach but a bad wizard and that the x-and-o intellect and passion he infused in his players and his assistants as a coach has no application to this executive position. It’s like he’s noodling, trying to figure out how to not interfere, but then getting sulky and defensive when he has to explain the underlings’ mess. The one guy – Heckert – who has successfully done his current duties before is doing fine, imo.

  • mgbode

    the NFL always should have had independent trainers on every sideline to evaluate concussions. now, because of this controversy, it is happening. that is a good thing even if the Browns miscommunications set it up.

    same thing happened to Colston back in October (and likely elsewhere), but it didn’t become a huge controversy because it wasn’t the Thursday night game in December with not much else to talk about on Friday (and didn’t have Colston’s dad lambasting the Saints about it either). Plus, he isn’t a QB. And, the hit didn’t end up in the first player suspension for head-hunting.

  • Chris

    Thank you for not calling it “concussion-gate”.

  • Wheel

    I’ve always been a Holmgren guy, but his handling of the McCoy concussion has made me question my support. HIs reaction was defensive, immature, and most importantly, showed questionable leadership.

  • mgbode

    @chris – but they missed out on an extra alliteration score by passing on “Colt Concussion Controversy”

  • cuzon steve

    yknow, the difference between the browns and the steelers can be summed up by mr. cribbs’ comments that harrison didn’t have to hit mccoy like he did…wow. no wonder we don’t win. this is football. colt wanted back in and they let him back in. mistake all around, but he wanted back in. next time we play the steelers, we should all wear skirts and have a tea and crumpets contest. as bobby layne once said, you got milk drinkers and whiskey drinkers…i’ll take the whiskey drinkers every time. thanks md.

  • humboldt

    @cuzon steve – feel free to join us in the 21st century at any point. You’ll love it here…this thing called “science” has shown us that multiple hits to the head result in neuropathological damage that increases risk for dementia. You’ll never believe this: NFL players have been found to be 19x more likely to suffer from young onset dementia than the general population! Science taught us that!

    Now, people in our era who don’t like science so much say things like “NFL players should wear skirts” or “just give them flags” or “I like my NFL players to drink whiskey and concuss other players”. But they just look like idiots. When you join our century, don’t be like those people. Ok?

  • Pat

    Another thing science has given us now, is better padding in helmets to deal with blows to the head and try to lessen the force. Player safety is why all of these hit rules showed up, and the knowledge of concussion effects later in life is why any blow to the head will get a flag. We all know James Harrison needs to learn how to tackle, i know a bunch of steeler fans who agree with that statement, but players who havent been concussed could also follow the ones who have, like DeSean Jackson in Philly. After he got drilled last year, he decided to use a different type of padding in his helmet to help reduce the force received and possibly prevent another concussion, or at least make one less severe than it would be if he got another one during a game.

  • cuzon steve

    humboldt, you are a kick in the ass. i was just funnin with ya. i’m way out in colorado for decades, and just like to travel this website. thanks for the laughs. dont forget what my kids always tell me…safety third, dad.