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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Browns' Baxter puts return on hold

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Baxter Baxter
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BEREA, Ohio - Gary Baxter finally spent an Oct. 24 upright, anesthesia-free and not eating hospital food.

His amazing comeback is on hold, but Baxter had plenty to be thankful for on a date that has haunted him.

While deeply disappointed, Cleveland's cornerback was upbeat on yesterday, one day after his courageous fight to overcome two freak knee injuries ended for this season when the Browns placed him on injured reserve.

The team signed defensive back Nick Sorensen, a six-year veteran most recently with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Sorensen signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent in 2001. He has played in 75 career games, mostly on special teams, with St. Louis and Jacksonville

"I just ran out of time," Baxter said.

Standing in front of his locker, Baxter looked up at a clock on the wall and noted when times were much tougher for the 28-year-old, who horrifically tore both patellar tendons on the same play against the Denver Broncos last Oct. 22.

Two days later, he had surgery to repair both knees and spent 61 more days in the Cleveland Clinic.

One year earlier - also on Oct. 24 - he had an operation to fix a torn pectoral muscle.

"A year ago, I was really low," he said. "I was in pain right now around this time. Two years ago, on this same date, same time, everything. I was coming out of surgery. Today, I'm good."

Baxter then smiled.

"I'm going to go home and get into bed," he said. "I'm going to drive slow. I'm going to make sure I'm not in the hospital again."

The Browns waited as long as they could before placing Baxter on IR. Vowing "to make history," he had defied doctor's predictions that he would never play again, and joined his teammates in time for training camp in July.

Each day he made progress, but Baxter admitted he was never able to get to the point where he could play in a game and be competitive. Earlier this week, he and the Browns mutually decided it was time to freeze his comeback.

"I don't want to feel like I'm holding a roster spot up, when they could use it and help better the team," he said. "The problem for me is not my knee, it's the muscles that I have to continue to build strength. I'm getting strength in them everyday, it's just not going as fast as I would like it to."

Baxter said he wasn't inhibited on the field.

"I was able to do everything," he said. "I can plant. I can run. I wasn't limited in anything. My power level wasn't right like I needed it to be for me to compete out on the field during a game."

His comeback has inspired Baxter's teammates, who wondered if they would ever see him in pads again. They marveled at his determination to become the first player in NFL history to come back from two torn patellars.

"He worked hard and he tried as hard as he could," said tight end Kellen Winslow, who missed nearly two entire seasons because of injuries. "He'll come back next year. It's not the end of his career or anything. If anything, it will motivate him more to come back. I was out two years. It just takes time."

Baxter had initially resisted the club's plans to move him from cornerback to safety, a position that doesn't require as much speed.

Now, Baxter embraces the switch.

"When I come back, I don't think I'll be a safety," he said. "I know I'll be a safety. I look forward to coming back and being a Hall of Fame safety."

Baxter has played in just eight games since signing a five-year, $30 million contract with the Browns in 2005. It's not what he planned, but he couldn't have imagined ripping a chest muscle while making a tackle or having both knees give out at the same time while defending a pass.

He refuses to give up.

"My passion and my love is playing football, and right now I'm not able to do that and it hurts," he said. "But I'm on the right pace. It's just not the right time for me to play."

Browns rookie quarterback Brady Quinn reached into the back of his locker, pulled out the cardinal-and-gold No. 10 jersey and gritted his teeth.

"This," he said, "is going to hurt."

Quinn, the former Notre Dame star, then slipped the Southern California jersey over his head and felt his skin crawl.

"That's why I've got extra layers on," he said. "So it doesn't actually touch any part of my body."

Quinn had to wear USC's colors yesterday after losing a bet with former Trojans quarterback Rodney Peete over last week's game between Notre Dame and Southern Cal.

USC trounced Notre Dame 38-0, the Trojans' largest margin of victory in the 79-game history between the bitter rivals.

Quinn and Peete met last year at an awards banquet and have kept in touch since.

"We made a little friendly bet," Quinn said. "We [Notre Dame] didn't pull it out last Saturday, so I'm owning up to it."

Surely, Quinn got some points in the wager. After all, Notre Dame is 1-7 and USC is 6-1.

"It's a pride bet," Quinn said. "C'mon now. You don't bet points. I got faith in my guys."

Quinn, who is from Dublin, Ohio, said he was briefly recruited by USC but never considered going there.

"I really had no desire whatsoever," he said. "They recruited me a little bit. I committed earlier in the process."

When he finished with his interview, Quinn quickly ripped off the jersey and slam dunked it into a nearby garbage can.

A few minutes later, Browns linebacker Willie McGinest, a former USC All-American, confronted Quinn in front of his locker. McGinest wanted to know what Quinn had done with the jersey.

"You acting up?" McGinest said.

"I didn't make the bet with you," Quinn said.



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