Religion shapes Savage’s vision for the Browns… reprinted without permission…

A smirking fellow was walking out of the Northeast Ohio Celebrity Luncheon Club the other day.

He had just heard Browns General Manager Phil Savage present this idealistic vision:

“I really believe that if we can get enough people on board — and I think we’re well on our way to doing that — we’re not only going to win, but we’re going to win in the right way, the way that the fans want us to win.

“And that is with dignity, with class, with true professionalism. That’s really what we’re striving to get to.”

As Savage greeted audience members nearby, the smirking man said, “Nobody cares how they do it. Just win, baby.”

There was some truth in this. When the Indians were winning with world-class sourpuss Albert Belle in the mid-1990s, no one seemed to be boycotting Jacobs Field.

Given a choice between winning with creeps and doing so with decent men, though, only creeps would really believe it’s all the same. Don’t you think?

There is little question Savage thinks he’s trying to build a winner with his version of good players who are good people.

If you want to know Savage and want him to work for you, it is important to know his view of goodness is through the lens of Christianity.

Owner Randy Lerner, who is Jewish, surely knows.

Since Savage joined the Browns last year, he hasn’t worn his religion on his sleeve, but he isn’t acting like a government official afraid to cross the line between church and state, either.

At the luncheon, from a perch overlooking the Prestwick Country Club practice tee, he said: “I’m not an overly spiritual person. If I was to go play golf with you guys, I’m sure I’d hit a few shots and probably say a couple cuss words. We’re all human.

“But I have found through the years that having that relationship with Christ on a consistent basis helps you to remain calm in a storm. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year and five months.”

Savage said his faith steered him through the late-season mess in which it appeared he had been fired by President John Collins.

“When you are a Christian leader, you can provide an effective, positive and reassuring leadership,” he said. “I went through that situation there at the end of the year, and I think I emerged really being a stronger leader, not only inside the organization, but outside as well.

“People saw that, hey, there’s no wavering there. He’s just doing his job and going forward and … he’s got someone who’s on the attack, and on the offensive, but it’s just bouncing off, and it had no impact at the end of the day whatsoever.”

Savage understands the risk of public expressions of religion, as he did in an understated but direct way at the luncheon.

“People say, ‘Phil, you’re a Christian G.M. Does that mean we’re only going to have all Christian players on the team?’ Absolutely not,” he said. “We want Christian players who can play football well.

“We want guys who can play football in a good way. If they happen to be a Christian, I think it’s a positive.

“The teams I’ve been associated with that were really big winners … there was always a core group of guys who were somewhat the foundational strength of the team. Not necessarily in an outward way, but in a core, quiet, humble way.

“We have a number of players like that right now, Phil Dawson being one. He’s a kicker, yet he has great respect in that locker room because of the man that he is.

“I think Charlie Frye is going to emerge that way after he becomes more acclimated and actually gets on the field and plays, but we have a number of guys that are that way.”

A certain bad-boy thread snaked through Baltimore’s Super Bowl season of 2000, Savage’s former team.

Now, with the Browns, Savage is dealing with an embarrassing situation involving Reuben Droughns, a running back he traded for last year. Droughns was arrested on a domestic violence charge three days after being acquitted in a drunk-driving case.

Perhaps there are times when Savage is conflicted, praying through real-life episodes of “Playmakers.”

“There are storms out there brewing, and you don’t know where they’re gonna come from,” Savage said. “But they certainly can be overcome by just the attitude and the presence and the belief that God is with me, so … I’m gonna be OK through this situation.”

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail: steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com.

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