Browns' Brandon in Right Spot to Be Hero

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He lurked in the background, watching Charger quarterback John Friesz search for a target. He saw the ball, and he saw nothing else but end zone.

As quickly as he was released by the Chargers after last season, Cleveland Browns linebacker David Brandon struck, driving a 30-yard stake through the collective heart of his former teammates.

Brandon's interception of a Friesz pass with 7 minutes 20 seconds left in overtime Sunday gave the Browns a come-from-behind 30-24 victory at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Brandon was one of a handful of Browns players savoring a victory made sweeter by a San Diego connection.

Brandon spent four seasons with the Chargers, though most of his action came on special teams and he was on injured reserve the entire 1990 campaign. He didn't figure in the Chargers' plans for this year, but he certainly figured in their pain.

Signed as an unprotected free agent by the Browns, Brandon had one of his most active days of the year, rotating with several teammates at linebacker and showing up in the right place for the game's decisive play.

On Sunday's final play, three Charger receivers were downfield and Brandon was in the left flat near two of them, keeping an eye on Friesz, who was under pressure and scrambling to his right.

Friesz tried to get a pass to Nate Lewis, but Brandon stepped in front, easily picked off the ball at the 30-yard line, and headed down the left sideline, holding the ball up in triumph for the final 10 yards. He was unaware Lewis was chasing him from behind. Lewis got a hand on him but never slowed Brandon down.

"Once I caught the ball, nobody was gonna catch me," Brandon said. "It came straight to me. Once I got my hands on it, I knew it was six."

He added sheepishly, "I guess I started my celebration a little early. I wasn't aware Nate was behind me."

But he wasn't apologizing. It was his first career interception, and it carried a little extra weight.

"Yeah, it was a big one," he said with a smile. "Any time you can come back (against) a team where you've been let go (and play well) it's a great feeling. It's kind of like a slap in the face. But I'm not saying anything bad about the (Charger) organization."

Brandon had reconstructive knee surgery after a 1990 minicamp injury and never saw action during the season. Charger Coach Dan Henning said afterward the team wasn't sure Brandon would play again, so the organization couldn't include him in its plans or risk a roster spot on him.

"We didn't think he'd fit, or be able to compete," Henning said.

Of Brandon's interception, Henning said: "He made an outstanding play."

Friesz said if he had it to do over again, he would not have made the pass. But he also credited Brandon, saying, "I saw him and tried to make a perfect pass. David made a good play."

Brandon said the young quarterback played into Cleveland's defensive plans.

"We did a pretty decent job of stopping the run," he said. "We wanted the get the ball in Friesz's hands, and make him start passing. During overtime they were trying to get the ball out into the flat. We knew sooner or later he'd make a mistake."

Friesz said he saw Brandon, but thought he could sneak one past him.

"I was trying to hide back there so he wouldn't see me," Brandon said. "I really didn't think he was gonna throw that ball."

The overtime situation also benefited Brandon. Browns Coach Bill Belichick said he was rotating more players into the defense because of the length of the game, one reason Brandon played a great deal.

"We were out there a lot on defense, so we tried to rotate our people and put in fresher people," Belichick said. "David had good coverage and he made an unbelievable play."

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