Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett going home to Cleveland, where he grew up rooting for Browns

These days he’s the leader of the Dallas Cowboys, but coach Jason Garrett spent several formative years in Cleveland, growing up a fan of quarterback Brian Sipe and the Browns.
These days he’s the leader of the Dallas Cowboys, but coach Jason Garrett spent several formative years in Cleveland, growing up a fan of quarterback Brian Sipe and the Browns.

Jason Garrett grew up in Cleveland wanting to be just like Brian Sipe. Garrett picked No. 17 as a player, because that’s the number Sipe wore for the Browns from 1974-83.

He practiced throwing like Sipe and even imitated his walk.

“He used to wear this rubber arm sleeve on [his throwing elbow], so I started wearing a rubber arm sleeve,” Garrett said. “I’m 15 years old, and they’re like, ‘Why are you wearing that? Well, Brian wears it.’ I had the whole thing down.”

The Garrett family lived in Cleveland from 1978-84 while Jim served as an assistant coach on the Browns staff.

Last week, Judd Garrett, Jason’s brother and the Cowboys director of pro scouting, returned to Cleveland to scout the Browns. Although the stadium has changed, the memories came flooding back of family trips to Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Jason gets to relive the past Sunday when the Cowboys visit the Browns.

“I was driving on the same roads I used to drive on with my dad when we went to the stadium on game day,” Judd said. “I remember he would pull to the left and park by the docks. All these memories came back. I think Jason is going to have a similar experience.”

Jim and Jane Garrett had eight children – Jim III, Jane, Jennifer, Janine, Jill, John, Jason and Judd. Although the Garretts are associated with New Jersey, where Jim and Jane still live in the 11-bedroom family home purchased in 1970, they also identify with Cleveland.

“Being the kids of a coach, it’s a little bit hard to identify where we’re from,” Judd said. “There’s a really strong tie to New Jersey, but an equally strong tie to Cleveland. The other places we lived, it was a year here or two years there, so it was really hard to get roots. But seven years in the NFL is a pretty long time in one place.”

Jim III, Jennifer and Jane still make their homes in Cleveland and are expected to attend Sunday’s game.

Jason attended junior high and high school there. Jim III coached all three of his brothers in high school at University School, a private boys school in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

You move somewhere when you’re 13 years old and live there until you’re 19 or 20, those are important years of your life. …We still have a presence there and go back there and all of that. They were fun times. Lifelong friends were made there and great memories.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on his years living in Cleveland

“Those are formative years of your life,” Jason said. “You move somewhere when you’re 13 years old and live there until you’re 19 or 20, those are important years of your life. …We still have a presence there and go back there and all of that. They were fun times. Lifelong friends were made there and great memories.”

The family lived on Berkshire Road in Cleveland Heights, where the neighborhood kids gathered often for pickup football or whiffle ball.

“It was a great house,” said John, a former Cowboys tight ends coach and now the offensive coordinator at Richmond. “You’ve heard about the yard and the house in New Jersey, but this house is probably bigger. It didn’t have as big a yard, but it was probably 35 to 40 yards deep and probably 20 yards across. We had a great field, and what was unique about it was they had this little cement path that went around the perimeter of the backyard, and it was only about 15 to 18 inches wide, and it served as a natural out of bounds for the football field. When it snowed, we had to go out there and kind of dig through the snow to find the cement and put up cones to mark the out of bounds. We had many games back there with us and neighborhood kids.”

Jim III created a Garrett Backyard Hall of Fame several years ago, listing lifetime achievement or memorable game accolades for the kids who joined the games.

Family memories of those days included Thanksgiving Day when Jim invited his running backs, and Greg Pruitt, Calvin Hill and Cleo Miller were among those to attend.

The Garretts attended all the Browns’ games during Jim’s time there, sitting in the baseball press box in the end zone so the family could remain together. The boys arrived early, riding with their father, so they could take in the sights and sounds of game day.

The Browns’ 1980 season stands out in the family’s memories, with Cleveland becoming known as the “Kardiac Kids” for their penchant for comeback victories. Sipe won the MVP award, and the Browns finished 11-5, but lost to Oakland in the divisional round.

“There were so many great games,” Jason said. “…It was a really exciting time to be a football fan and to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.”

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

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