Lakewood High Graduate Marks 43 Years in NFL Front Office
Chuck Cusick, 1969 Lakewood High School graduate, will call it quits after a career in the National Football League that began 43 years ago. Cusick, currently Vice President of Operations for the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, began his career as a summer intern with the Browns in 1970.
“I contacted the Cleveland Browns while a freshman student at the University of Tennessee inquiring about an internship which were uncommon at the time, a real shot in the dark. The Browns asked me to come in for an interview when I was home for the summer. I was hired to assist answering telephones at training camp and for general PR assignments under the direction of Nate Wallack the V.P. for Public Relations,” Cusick said.
Browns training camp in 1970 was located at rural Hiram College in Portage County. “In order to beat the boredom of Hiram, Ohio, I would assist the trainer, Leo Murphy and Equipment Manager Morrie Kono after hours. Long story short, I did enough to impress and was asked if I would consider transferring to a local school to allow me to continue to assist Leo and Morrie during the 1970 season,” Cusick continued.
Kono, an original hire of Paul Brown, was getting up in age, Cusick said. “I worked for Morrie primarily for three years and then became the head equipment manager in 1973. I transitioned to facilities manager in 1990 when the facility in Berea came online.”
Cusick remained with the team as it relocated to Baltimore and eventually took an executive position with the Detroit Lions.
“My role on game day (in Detroit) is as the overall choreographer of the actions outside of the actual game throughout the weekend. It includes safety and security, all stadium operations, traffic and parking, the fan experience, network and television facilities, concessions, etc.” said Cusick.
Cusick has a stockpile of NFL memories and observations to relate. When asked who were the five best athletes he ever saw in the NFL, Cusick responded, “John Elway, Joe Green, Lynn Swann, Lawrence Taylor and Deion Sanders, in particular order due to the fact each changed how the opposition played them on either offense or defense.”
Commenting on various NFL venues, Cusick observed, “Dallas, everything is over the top. Truly the best in the world. Seattle, the fans make this an exciting venue, walk to restaurants and the city center, lots of fun things to do before and after the game. Ford Field, the 'Camden Yard' of football. The warehouse designed within the stadium is unique and useful. Ravens Stadium, great fans tailgating experience, Lambeau Field, history, tailgating, enthusiastic fans, and the Old Cleveland Stadium, not the prettiest, but the tradition and fans are not rivaled.”
Cusick, as an insider, witnessed many rare and funny moments. “The Thanksgiving Turkey list was a locker room staple where the rookies were required by the veteran players to go to the end of the world to find an address published on official-looking yet phony stationery. Sometimes the media was in on the gag and showed up to get the rookies’ reaction video documented. One year a player actually drove out and back four times believing or led to believe he had the wrong directions. On the fourth attempt, he was arrested as a suspicious character.”
Another popular rookie prank, according to Cusick, was when the veteran players took the rookies who officially made the team and were invited to join the vets for dinner at an expensive restaurant. The rookies would show up not finding the vets who would call indicating they were just leaving and to go ahead and order whatever the rookies desired starting with cocktails. Still running late the vets would continue calling and stating they were on their way and to keep ordering. The vets would never show up, leaving the rookies and the restaurant owner to work out the tab.
Cusick said many players had good senses of humor but some of the funniest included “Erich Barnes, Dave Puzzouli, Matt Miller, Joe DeLamelliure, Mike St. Clair…and Doug Dieken may have been the biggest joker.”
Cusick worked under all the Browns coaches from Blanton Collier through Bill Belichick including Nick Skorich, Forrest Gregg, Sam Rutigliano, “Marty” and Bud Carson. “It’s too difficult to rate coaches as all were good leaders, fair and honest to work for,” said Cusick.
Cusick has many great and some not so great memories of his years with the Browns. The highs were the Championship games versus Denver, beating Pittsburgh after 17 consecutive losses, the double overtime playoff victory against the Jets, and the first Monday Night game, Cusick recalled.
The lowest times were the “Red Right 88” playoff loss in 1980 and “the last home game before the move to Baltimore was absolutely surreal.”
“I will always hold a place in my heart for Art Modell. Art was like a second father to me. We all know he has his faults but those of us who had the privilege to work for him will say the same. He truly cared for this players and employees. His fault, in my opinion, was he thought too often from his heart instead of his head. He truly cared for the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland fans and tried to do too much, at the same time extended himself financially to a point he could not continue. I won’t attempt to judge the outcome of his ownership but those of us who worked for him at the time know the end crushed him,” Cusick said.
As far as the current Browns Cusick says he is “really not qualified to judge the new team. I will say until you have quarterback, you will not accomplish higher goals. Still true today as it was for decades before. All great Browns teams had QBs who won. In my time there, Bill Nelson, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar.”
Cusick and his family took a circuitous route to Lakewood. “My parents met while both worked for the F.B.I. in the Los Angeles office. They later married and moved to San Bernardino where my father was the resident agent,” Cusick said.
Cusick, his parents and two younger brothers, Pete and Marty, moved every few years as his father moved up the ranks with the F.B.I, finally arriving in greater Cleveland. Cusick’s father, named Special Agent in Charge of the F.B.I. Cleveland office, asked fellow agents for a recommendation as to where to live. The agents in the Cleveland F.B.I. office recommended Lakewood.
The family lived on Bunts Road near Lakewood High where Cusick transferred and graduated in 1969. Cusick’s younger brother Pete, also a Lakewood Ranger, went on to distinguish himself as an All-American football player and team captain at Ohio State and as an NFL defensive lineman for the Patriots. Cusick’s brother Marty attended St. Edward High School where he excelled.
“Whenever we go back to Cleveland we make at least a drive through Lakewood. I married a Lakewood girl, Patti Schwartz, whose family home was on Woodward Avenue in Lakewood. (Her neighbor Anne Kelly married former Brown Jerry Sherk.) We maintain lifelong friendships with Lakewood and St. Edwards friends and classmates. Patti and I have many fond memories of LHS school days, classes of ’69 and ’74. We met at the Tam O’Shanter (Bonnieview and Detroit) in the days when Jim Stamper was proprietor. We have many fond memories at both Around the Corner and the West End Tavern in the 70s and 80s," Cusick recalled.
“I have been very fortunate to have been able to work for a number of NFL teams and coaches and the players. Every day was an adventure with extreme highs and lows you do not soon forget. The 2013 Detroit Lions season will be my last after 43 years,” Cusick said.
Cusick conveys his special thanks to many including “Morrie Kono, Leo Murphy, Blanton Collier, Jim Bailey, and last but not least, Art and his family.”
“My brothers Pete and Marty who played football at Lakewood and St. Edward respectively learned our fundamentals for success from our parents and from the coaches growing up in Lakewood….a place you never forget.”
Tom George can be reached at (440)734-8177 or TJGeorge1369@msn.com
50+ years proud Lakewood resident BA Journalism, THE Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, general assignment reporter Ohio State Lantern daily newspaper active in civic and community affairs in Lakewood for many years