"To quote Buddy Ryan, if you listen to the fans, you'll be sitting up there with them," said Belichick, who returned to Cleveland Stadium for the first time since cutting popular veteran quarterback Bernie Kosar on Nov. 8.
They don't want Belichick in the stands at Cleveland. They don't want him in Ohio, period. After the Browns gave up the first 13 points of the second half and lost, 27-20, to the Houston Oilers in an AFC Central game yesterday, a small, angry crowd gathered outside the Browns locker room and media areas.
For almost an hour, they chanted, "Bill must go" and "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie," among other things. The rest were unprintable.
"We are going to be OK, and I am confident in the long run we are going to be OK," said Belichick, formerly of Annapolis. "I think the team is playing better. I know this team is headed in the right direction."
It's tough to tell. The Browns (5-5) have lost two straight since Belichick created one of the biggest quarterback controversies in NFL history by dropping Kosar.
Belichick said he thought Kosar's physical skills had diminished, but Kosar had signed and played for the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys before the week had ended.
But there was never any doubt that he was one of Cleveland's most revered players since Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.
The reminders of the controversy were everywhere yesterday. "Billvis [Belichick] and Bart-head [Browns owner Art Modell]" T-shirts were being sold for $8 outside the stadium. Bernie masks were sold for $5. Kosar fans wore No. 19 Cleveland jerseys or No. 18 Cowboys jerseys (Kosar's current number).
A protest was held at Public Square, and signs such as "Can the Little Man," "Don't Jump, Art, Dive" and "NAFTA -- Need Another Football Team Art" were posted all over the stadium.
Few ballparks have as intimidating an area as the "Dawg Pound," the raucous Cleveland fans in the bleachers, but the Kosar decision even left some of them howling.
"Bernie gave me some of my most exciting times in 1986 and 1987," said John Tyler, 32, the "Big Dawg." "But obviously there was something there between Bernie and Belichick, and the two other coaches that were let go before Bill. I'm a die-hard Browns fan, and I wish Bernie well, but Bernie may have gotten bigger than the game here."
Two television polls were split about the Kosar decision. Radio and newspaper polls were supportive of Kosar, who had been the Browns quarterback since 1985.
Sixteen members of the Dawg Pound took off their shirts, and each had a letter, spelling out "diminished skills." A 17th had a sign that said "Not."
"Hoosier Dawg" Tyler Hill, 40, said: "When I first heard the news, I was so doggone mad [pun intended] that I almost ran into a telephone pole. Couldn't believe it. Maybe Bernie's skills may have diminished, but they did him wrong. It should have been handled better. He deserved more respect."
Kosar's replacement, Todd Philcox, didn't get much respect from the Oilers yesterday. They ran an eight-man line to slow down halfback Eric Metcalf (no carries, no yards) and blitz Philcox. It worked.
Philcox completed 22 of 47 passes for 316 yards, but had four interceptions.
"We've got 45 guys out there playing their butts off, and I keep turning the ball over too many times," said Philcox, who was intercepted twice, lost two fumbles and was sacked twice in last Sunday's 22-5 loss to Seattle. "It's simple. It's the game of football, and you're not going to win that way."
A Philcox interception that was returned to the Browns' 5 led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Warren Moon (19 of 40, 187 yards, two interceptions) to wide receiver Curtis Duncan with 9:17 left in the second quarter as Houston took a 14-3 lead.
Houston safety Bubba McDowell also blocked a Brian Hansen punt that led to a 30-yard field goal by Al Del Greco, pushing Houston's lead to 27-10 with 10:32 remaining.
But Houston took control of the game in the third quarter with two long drives.
The first, which went for 18 plays and 70 yards and lasted 8:09, ended with a 28-yard field goal by Del Greco. The second -- 15 plays and 80 yards -- took 6:59 and was finished by a 4-yard touchdown run by Moon.
"We wanted to try to run the ball, and it was our day and they couldn't stop us," said Houston coach Jack Pardee, who got a 194-yard rushing effort from halfback Gary Brown, who started his second straight game in place of Lorenzo White (hamstring ** injury). "That first drive of the third quarter helped us establish the momentum we needed in the second half."
Moon's touchdown run, which gave the Oilers a 24-10 lead, re-started the boos and chants against Belichick.
The fans had booed Belichick during pre-game introductions, and the booing lasted through the first two series.
They booed him again when he ran onto the field to check the condition of cornerback Najee Mustafaa 5:34 left in the first period. Mustafaa was diagnosed with a mild concussion.