Andy Janovich wants to kick your ass

Look out. The Cleveland Browns are a force once again. And the guy who may be the difference is this Busch Light-loving, facemask-shattering "hammerhead" fullback wrecking everything in his path.

This conversation should be had over beers. It’s a crisp autumn day so, right about now, we should be at least four cold ones deep. Because this is Andy Janovich and that’s his style.

The Cleveland Browns fullback is a simple man, too. He doesn’t experiment with stouts or sours or seltzers or IPAs. He’s disgusted at the suggestion of an IPA, honestly. Janovich pounds Busch Lights and Busch Lights only.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “that’s the only beer.”

They are tasty, sure, but also quite functional.

“You might get drunk by the end of the night,” Janovich says, “but you can drink ‘em all damn day.”

If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.

Which begs the question: How is Andy Janovich not a spokesman for Busch Light yet? He hunts. He fishes. He chops trees down. He builds houses and decks and can grow a beard on demand. Not just any beard, either. If Janovich told you he was just living in the Appalachians for a month off bear meat and puddle water, you’d believe him. On Sundays, he mashes 238 pounds of muscle into other humans. And when the day’s work is done you can almost picture him lumbering to the fridge, reaching for a beer and.... Ksshh!

What a beautiful commercial that’d be.

Not that Janovich is holding his breath. He can’t see a beer company wasting its money on a guy like him and he’s sure the last thing the NFL wants is to see a player glorifying alcohol.

And yet…  

“I love to drink it. If they sponsored me, I’d still do it. I don’t care.”

Because this is who Andy Janovich is.

A certified American badass who worked 12-plus-hour days building things as a kid.

A “hammerhead” (yes, that’s a real nickname he’s had) who didn’t idolize Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith or LaDainian Tomlinson. No, he looked up to the immortal… Cory Schlesinger, the hammerhead fullback blocking for Sanders. Because it’s simple, really: There’s nothing in sports quite like the fullback position to him. Janovich gets to tee off on fools with a five- or 10-yard running start all game and does it with more blunt force than any other fullback in the league as the pair of busted-up facemasks stored somewhere in his new home will attest. (The Broncos literally did not have equipment that could handle Janovich’s physicality his first NFL game.)

He’s someone who sincerely does not care if he damages any part of his body between the lines because he enjoys the pain. When his elbow bent out of place last season, Janovich even tried to pop it back in himself. (Not a finger, an elbow.)

He’s a hunter who’ll shoot whitetail and turkey and, well, yeah, “anything that moves” in the woods. He didn’t have his own bachelor party in Vegas or South Beach. You kidding? Janovich brought his crew to the party-rockin’ village of Taylor, Neb., population: 186, right in his home state, to hunt prairie dogs. How does that go down exactly? Easy. “You just go out there,” he explains, “get a case of beer, wait for prairie dogs to show up and just shoot ‘em. It’s awesome.”

He’s a throwback who sees a general lack of toughness at his position.

A Nebraska wrestler who relishes 1-on-1 combat.

A new Dad, too. A newborn daughter will, no doubt, bring out his softer side.

There isn’t anyone like Andy Janovich who’s precisely what the Cleveland Browns — an abomination for 20 years — need if they’re going to, once and for all, contend. This week will be telling. The 8-3 Browns travel to the 8-3 Tennessee Titans. Both teams want to bludgeon you over the head with a hammer. Both teams may run the ball 40-plus times apiece. Our grandfathers will absolutely want to watch this game. And after missing two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Janovich is back in the nick of time to pave the way for Cleveland’s 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

He can help forever change the narrative of Browns football with a mentality that’s as straightforward as a six-pack of Busch Lattes.   

Andy Janovich wants to break you.

“I’ll tell ya, that’s why I pride myself in what I do,” Janovich says. “Being able to say ‘I kicked your ass. And there is nothing you can do about.’ There isn’t a better feeling, to say ‘We both had the same head start and I moved you out of the hole two or three yards. I kicked your ass.’ It’s a damn good feeling.

“Kicking somebody else’s ass makes you feel good about yourself.”

So, that’s the plan: keep kicking ass.

A calling

Working with your hands is rapidly becoming a novel concept. Such is the world in which we live — everything is automated. Need a ride? Fire up Uber. Food? Hello, Grubhub. Need anything, at all, fixed around the house? Outsource it through this app, that service and go back to mindlessly scrolling through social media all day. The ramifications are sad. Permanent. An extremely regulated environment turns us all into sedentary blobs.

Unless, of course, you’ve been actively fighting against this your entire life.

Like Janovich.

He needs to be working, fixing, building. It’s innate. It’s hard for him to explain but he’s always gotten a very real satisfaction out of hard labor. A pride. Maybe because there’s a science to this. As Adam Carolla often discusses on his podcast —  most recently here — there’s proven biochemical value to voluntarily pushing your body to its physical limits. To, for example, plunge into ice water or hike on a 110-degree day. The body intrinsically needs resistance against something to flourish instead of being doused in Purell within a climate-controlled society 24/7.

If you need to pop some sound into your ears for an hour, this conversation between Carolla and anthropologist Scott Carney, author of “The Wedge,” is truly worth your time. As Carney explains, think back to our Paleolithic ancestors. They’ve got spears on their back. They’ve got a lion charging against them. They, then, release a flood of “stress hormones” because a lion is trying to tear their head off.

In the real world, that lion doesn’t exist. But working with your hands — “physical problem solving,” as Carolla adds — helps scratch this very primitive itch. It’s essentially the longer version of that cold shower. For whatever reason, work has a negative connotation when such work is so primitive to our species.

Janovich hasn’t heard of this mind-body-soul connection but, as we talk, the more he couldn’t agree more with this all.

This has been his life since he remembers.

He needs that pain.

No wonder he felt so useless upon returning home to Gretna, Neb., last offseason to work on decks and houses with his brothers like old times. He had done this from seventh grade on through college, was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and hadn’t been able to help since. After four years off, he was rusty. He couldn’t remember the ins, the outs and those brothers who used to pummel him as a kid let him have it here.

“They were making fun of me the whole time,” Janovich says, “like ‘You f-----g dipshit. You don’t know what you’re doing anymore. Oh, you think you made it big in the NFL!’ They brought me right back down.”

Which is always welcomed. Janovich never wants to stray too far from his roots. And then he details those roots, starting with his Dad. He’s the rock, he’s the longtime car mechanic. He is, son says, “tougher than dirt” and “doesn’t take after anybody.”

Says Janovich: “He taught us shit’s not given to you. You have to make it on your own.”

This is a family that’s mastered just about every trade imaginable. If something’s broke, they fix it. He has six brothers and five sisters in all. One brother’s a plumber, another’s an electrician, one’s a painter, one’s a carpenter. For whatever reason society frowns upon trades, encouraging 18-year-olds to instead go to college, attain a degree that may never be used and become mired in debt for decades. Or, as Janovich puts eloquently, “You’ve got these guys going to f-----g art school these days and whatever the hell they’re doing and, guess what, they’re jobless after and $60,000 in debt.”

College wasn’t exactly the end-all, be-all destination here.

Everyone was put to work at a very young age with summers typically spent bailing hay. One summer, when he was 12, Janovich remembers bailing hay for one of his father’s friends three days straight — “sun up to sun down” — and that friend rewarded him afterward with a grand total of… $10. Thinking back, Janovich was given some water those three days so, he jokes, that must’ve come out of his paycheck.

“I was just like, ‘Oh. Neat,’” Janovich says. “I’m f-----g 12 years old and I got paid 10 dollars and I worked 60 hours this past week? For three days? He’s like ‘You’re lucky you got that much.’ Pretty much saying, ‘You ain’t worth a shit. You didn’t do anything.’”

But he learned to love it.

He learned to love all the simple things in life. There’s not a cell of materialism in his body.

When he turned pro, Janovich didn’t splurge on anything, no, he purchased a used, blue 2000 Dodge for $1,900.

Upon popping the hood, Janovich realized why he got such a steal, too. This was an old farm truck — corn was everywhere. Fine by him. He proceeded to beat the hell out of it, admitting he did plenty of things he probably shouldn’t talk about if his bosses are reading this. Last winter, the truck kept making terrible, haunting noises even though it had, in Janovich’s words, “only” 147,000 miles on it. So instead of paying the $6,000 it would’ve cost to fix this, Janovich upgraded to a Ford F-150.

This is a Ford family, too. Janovich isn’t pleased to hear I come from a Toyota family while conceding not many vehicles, period, are made in America anymore.  

“Even Chevy,” he says. “They claim to be made in America and they ship their shit all the way from Mexico or China and it’s assembled in America.”

He hunts. He fishes. There’s something peaceful about sitting alone away from coaches barking in his ear. The “Janovich Olympics” are always a riot, too. Any time everyone’s together — July Fourth, Thanksgiving, Christmas — the whole family comes up with wacky “events” to compete at: Who can blow the best bubble with bubblegum? Who can hula hoop the longest? Who can hold a handstand the longest? A push-up? And around Christmas, they’ve seen who can open up a Hershey’s kiss with mittens on.

So much of his toughness is nature. No doubt, Janovich is most at peace just working his ass off with his brothers. That is fun to him.

So much is nurture, too. There’s another source of toughness here: His biological mother. She died when he was 3 years old. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the very early stages of the disease and while it could’ve been easily cured, Janovich says, Mom was also pregnant. So, she refused treatment until her baby girl was born.

By then, unfortunately, the cancer in Mom had progressed. It was too late.

Andy Janovich knows part of Mom is forever in him. Her toughness. (Her brother was also was an All-American back at Nebraska in the 70s who won a national championship.)

All of this made playing fullback his destiny.

“A lot of people don’t grow up in my type of family,” Janovich says. “It’s a very hard-working family and they don’t give a shit what you do — and that just translates right into being a fullback. You just work your ass off every day. You don’t say shit.”

Which is, always, what he prefers. Janovich pities teammates like Von Miller (in Denver) and Myles Garrett (in Cleveland), who can’t enjoy a peaceful dinner in public because they’re constantly recognized. Janovich? He can count on one hand the number of times, as a pro, he’s been noticed. Only the most diehard of diehard fans spot him — even then it’s “You’re the fullback.”

Says Janovich: “I show up to a place and people are like ‘Who the f--k’s this guy?’ They don’t give a shit. And that’s the way I want it to be.”

True, he’d like to simply destroy whatever’s in his path, collect a paycheck, eat, sleep, repeat.

There’s no hidden source of pent-up aggression here. He was never the hallway bully spoiling for a fight in high school. He’s even quick to say that some of his best friends were, uh, “what you’d call nerds.” In gym, Janovich picked them first on his dodgeball team because he knew they’d help him with his schoolwork, which he couldn’t care less about.

Janovich just relishes the dirty work, the ultra-simple nature of Point A-to-Point B obliteration. Even today, as a pro athlete, he agrees with the high school coach who moved him from tailback to fullback as sophomore because he was “too slow.” Janovich’s running joke is that he ran a “4.8… flat” at the NFL Combine, and he refuses to take any credit for his first touchdown in the NFL. This 28-yard scamper on national TV, he assures, required absolutely zero skill because the defense wasn’t expecting him to carry the ball. Their eyes were peeled on C.J. Anderson.

And as Janovich crossed the goal line that night in Denver, he comically covered the ball up with both hands … with nobody anywhere close to him.

“I got a lot of shit for that,” he says. “People were saying, ‘That’s how much confidence you had in your speed.’ And I’m like, ‘Yep, you’re damn right it is because I know I’m slow as shit. If somebody comes up from behind me and pulls that thing out, I’m going to get fired.”

He hasn’t been fired since. He is now almost playoff-bound in Cleveland.

We’ve all spent countless hours over-analyzing how Odell Beckham Jr. could catapult the Browns into relevancy, how all these weapons make this offense so, so damn dangerous. (Guilty as charged) When, in reality, the player who could be the difference is this guy that nobody even recognizes in public.

Andy Janovich was born to bash linebackers.

Released into the wild

He hasn’t given any thought to how his body will feel decades from now. At no point has Janovich burnt one calorie of concern on his wellbeing at 50, 60, 70 years old — even as virtually every other ex-fullback who hit like he hits is now eeking ‘n creaking through life.

When football’s over for Janovich, it’s over. He says he’ll still have his two hands. He’ll work.

But what about his brain? After all, it’s Janovich’s job to crash into other humans, often, headfirst. Asked how many times he’s seen stars, the fullback pauses. He contemplates the question for a good three seconds.

“How many people,” he asks, “have seen stars from me? I’ll say that.”

That’s the mentality: Janovich will deliver the punishment.

“You have to be the hammer. Not the nail.”

And, holy, was Janovich the hammer in his NFL debut.

For three hours, he locked horns with one of the toughest players in football history, a linebacker who played with a plate and 11 screws inserted into his right forearm in the Super Bowl seven months prior: Thomas Davis. This was Janovich’s NFL baptism snap, after snap, after snap, after snap. Thinking back, Janovich calls Davis “tougher than dog shit.” Still is, too. The two faced off again this season in a 34-20 Browns win over the Washington Football Team.

“He does not let down on how hard he hits,” Janovich says. “I mean, he doesn’t care about anything. He just wants to make you feel bad about yourself. Hitting that guy is unbelievable.”

Janovich won the 12-round bout back in that 2016 season opener.

With some collateral damage, of course.

He broke two facemasks. Both, he says, “crumbled” and did not look like facemasks at all.

Clearly Denver did not think Janovich could hit this hard because, initially, they gave him a standard running back’s facemask. Which broke quickly. (“Folded in,” he says.) Then, they tried to cobble together a lineman’s facemask for him. That didn’t last. (“Mangled,” he says.) That season, Janovich admits the Broncos essentially turned him into a crash-test dummy. Companies would send the team various types of facemasks and he’d try them out.

Then, sadly, there was no combination of metal or pads or caution capable of protecting Janovich last season. First, there was the torn pectoral muscle. In the preseason, against Seattle, Janovich says he got lazy on the punt team. It was the last play of the game. He lackadaisically stuck his arm out and “over-extended” himself.

That sidelined him for seven weeks.

Then, the dislocated elbow shut him down for the year.

You can see the wincing injury here. Denver was at Minnesota’s 14-yard line with two minutes left in the half when Janovich caught a pass in the flat, was tackled, tried to absorb the landing with his right arm and… his elbow bent a direction an elbow should never bend. The arm swelled up instantly — “it felt like there was a golf ball in my forearm,” he says — and, only God knows why, one thought crossed his mind: I’m going to pop this sucker back! Dr. Janovich M.D. tried re-jamming his elbow back into place and nothing budged. Head coach Vic Fangio screamed and cussed at him to get off the field because time was ticking and when Janovich trotted off to the sideline, he remembers telling trainer Vince Garcia that he “f----d it up pretty good.’”

He screamed. He even cried. This hurt, bad.

What possessed him to try popping an elbow in? “Shit. It’s just an elbow.”

He doesn’t know exactly what happened with that joint. It went in. It went out. Who knows? Whatever he did only made it worse.

The Broncos shipped Janovich to Cleveland last offseason and, here, he has helped cement the new, ass-kicking identity of this offense. The Browns lead the NFL in rushing at 161.4 yards per game. Everything tells offenses they should be passing the ball in 2020 — the air numbers, across the league, are absurd. And here are your Browns making Otto Graham and Marion Motley and Jim Brown proud by wearing defenses down for three hours every Sunday. Chubb and Hunt are, by far, the best running back tandem in the NFL.

“It’s like having two fighters in your corner,” Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said in his press conference last week. “You have Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and they both come out in different rounds. You’re facing a fresh guy that can knock you out with a home-run punch every time. That’s how it really feels. Both of those guys are elite backs. To have the ability to keep them fresh and spell each other, it’s a good problem to have for us.”

With Janovich as the team’s spirit animal, the Browns are soft no more.

He loves the pain. Every game is a plunge into that proverbial ice water.

“I think you have to enjoy getting hurt, I suppose,” he says. “You have to be a little dumb to do it. But if you had any regard for your body you wouldn’t do what anybody in the NFL does. At some point, I think you enjoy it.

“I love what I do and can’t imagine not doing it.”

When Janovich looks around the NFL for other ass-kickers, one name certainly comes to mind: Aaron Donald. He gushes over the Rams’ wrecking ball of a defensive tackle. (“Holy shit. You watch that guy’s film, put it on. I would hate to be an offensive lineman trying to block that guy.”) But other fullbacks? That are ass-kickers? The position of Marv Hubbard and Tom Rathman and Daryl Johnston and Lorenzo Neal? He sees none. He won’t call out anybody by name but Janovich is blunt: He doesn’t see any other fullbacks in the NFL playing the way he does. It’s not a boast, it’s a fact.

Other “fullbacks” split out as receivers. Others are pseudo-halfbacks.

None possess the same temperament.

“You see fullbacks nowadays and it doesn’t seem like they’re willing to run into stuff anymore,” Janovich says. “That’s what your job is. It’s like they’re afraid of contact sometimes.”

One block can win the game. One collision on fourth and 1, to him, can be the difference between winning and losing. That’s his time to shine. That’s why he looked up to a guy like Schlesinger. Nobody’s recognizing Schlesinger anywhere, either. He had double-digit carries in only three of 12 pro seasons. But he lit linebackers up to help pave Barry Sanders’ way to Canton. These Browns absolutely need Janovich to clear the way in their “fourth-and-1” moment.

His adrenaline spikes just thinking about that scenario.

That collision with so much on a line.

Says Janovich: “Are you going to beat this linebacker or is he going to beat you? That’s all it comes down to. Who’s going to win? Are you going to let him win or are you going to win?”

No wonder he was overwhelmed with pride when Rathman — now a Colts running backs coach — approached him before Indy’s game at Cleveland. Janovich was catching kicks in pregame when Rathman told Janovich he is going to be in the NFL for a very long time. Janovich even imitates Rathman’s gnarly voice here — it’s unforgettable. He figured he must be doing something right if a legend approved. It felt good to know that generation appreciates someone from this generation because this one has its priorities out of whack.

He doesn’t even use his own Instagram. His wife posts all the pictures on that account.

He has a Twitter but only for news purposes.

He’s pretty ashamed he even has both. (Don’t tell Rathman.)

“I think a lot of old fullbacks,” he says, “would punch me in the face if they saw I even had a Twitter or an Instagram.”

Because those apps turn us humans into lemmings. Soft lemmings. And he is not soft.

He’s still using his hands. It’s just that he’s barreling into linebackers with ‘em instead of building a deck.

Now, it’s go time. The Browns haven’t been playing this great this late into a season since 1969. The hype is real and spectacular. They’ll likely end their 17-year playoff drought with sights set on so much more. And the key to ending everyone’s (emotional) pain is a fullback inflicting so much (physical) pain on every opponent and himself. Whenever locals can all spill back into the city again, Janovich will blend right in.

You probably won’t notice the fullback, and that’s fine by him.

He’ll be the guy in the beard with a Busch Light.

(Go Long Note: We’ll be rolling with profiles/features on Wednesdays with the Q&A coming on Thursdays and our signature features on Fridays. Thank you!)