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Published: Thursday, 10/28/2010

Graying Bowens still making plays

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEREA, Ohio - Before Cleveland Browns linebacker David Bowens returned two interceptions for touchdowns on Sunday in New Orleans, the last time a Cleveland player had two picks for TDs was way back in 1960.

"When David was a teenager," cracked Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Ba dum bum.

With patches of gray streaking through his hair and beard, Bowens is an easy target for his teammates. They pick on his age and his speed. On his second TD against the Saints, a 64-yard jaunt he capped with a clumsy somersault into the end zone, Bowens covered the final 50 yards so slowly he could have been timed with a calendar.

"We told him thanks for wasting the clock out for us," Pro Bowl return specialist Joshua Cribbs said.

The Browns may tease Bowens, but they do it with love and respect for the 33-year-old, who aspires to coach in the NFL once his playing days are over.

And although there was talk that he might get cut after training camp, Bowens isn't ready to trade in his orange helmet for a whistle just yet.

Wednesday, Bowens was selected as the AFC's defensive player of the week for his two interception returns in the Browns' shocking 30-17 upset of the Super Bowl champion Saints. It was the first award for Bowens, who signed with the Browns as a free agent before last season.

"It's probably overdue and well deserved," said Mangini, who coached Bowens in New York and brought him to Cleveland. "We're all really happy for him."

Bowens twice picked off Saints QB Drew Brees, who matched a career high with four interceptions against a Browns defense that confused him with a variety of looks. Bowens joined Ken Norton (1995) and Derrick Johnson (2010) as the only linebackers since the 1970 merger to record two interception-return touchdowns in a game.

Even a few days later, Bowens is still stunned by what happened inside the Superdome.

Bowens, a popular player with the Jets and before that with the Miami Dolphins, was astounded by the number of congratulatory phone calls, e-mails, and tweets he received from family, friends, and complete strangers all across the country.

"It wasn't anybody in particular, it was just the volume," Bowens said. "Usually on my Facebook, I might have four or five friends requests every couple days. I had like 100. Then I had 67 (voice mail) messages, and on Twitter I had like 300 new followers. It was crazy. It was very overwhelming, but I greatly appreciate it."

The feeling is mutual. To a man, the Browns have a reverence for Bowens. Ask any of them what he means to the team, and you hear the same words: Leader. Selfless. Smart. Enthusiastic.

"He's like another coach," fellow linebacker Matt Roth said. "He's been doing it for a long time. Smart dude. His cerebral part of the game is second to none. He's the old, wise guy. You go to him for information. He's good with everybody, young and old."

Mangini has been watching Bowens use his smarts - and skills - to make plays for a long time.

He recalled a game the Jets played against Arizona when Bowens sniffed out a play late in the game.

"There were 12 seconds left and they were on their own 20," Mangini said. "We were rushing three guys and he figured out, kind of creatively, how to beat the tackle, got a strip sack and we kicked a field goal with 2 seconds left on the clock. That was just a play that he made."

As training camp dwindled to its final days this summer, there was speculation the Browns would waive Bowens. During the offseason, the team had signed free agents Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, and with youngsters such as Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune still on the roster, it appeared Bowens might be the odd, old man out.

But a strong performance in the final exhibition game against Chicago helped Bowens secure a spot that was never guaranteed.

Bowens understood the situation, yet he survived it.

A father of two, Bowens, whose father Frank Williams was a professional bowler, has contemplated his future after football.

He knows he can't live without it.

Bowens has already spoken to Mangini about becoming an assistant coach. During the summer, he enjoyed helping coach Cleveland's linebackers and intends to pursue a coaching career once he retires as a player - a few more gray hairs down the line.

Football is in his blood.

"I can have all the money in the world, I can have jobs waiting for me," he said. "But being around these guys and the camaraderie we have, that's priceless. You can't put a price tag on that. I'd rather be around here and be miserable with the long coaching hours and have fun with these guys than be at home and doing nothing during football season."



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