Wyatt Teller is why we love football
He drinks whiskey, breaks sternums, hunts gators and mauls linebackers. Here's how the "Pancake King of the Midwest" became the face of this glorious return to old school football.
WESTLAKE, Ohio — The football god greets you at his pearly gates in a Carhartt jacket, bare feet with a gregarious promise that he has a much wider variety of booze than his Busch Light-loving teammate, Andy Janovich.
Right there, at the top of the stairs, he awaits near a glorious wall of whiskey.
First, a Weimaraner named “Butler” leaps atop of your shoulders and slobbers you with a kiss on the cheek. Take that stairway to heaven, Wyatt Teller hands you a Miller Lite in record time and it’s only a matter of time before BS’ing leads straight to the good stuff. Inside this lair of “The Pancake King of the Midwest,” the bright shrine of whiskey bottles stands out most, and each one has a story.
Teller is proud to own six of the seven incarnations of Weller. They sit on the top row, all unopened. Below that, the small batch of E.H. Taylor was a gift from quarterback Baker Mayfield after Teller became the second-richest guard in the NFL. To the left of this is a bottle signed by country star Eric Church — the Browns owner’s son hooked him up. To left of that is a Taylor Swift-themed bottle from back in Virginia that his brother bought him. He’s not as big a fan of Swift as his wife standing nearby but says he’d much rather his future kids listen to Swift than, say, “WAP” and Megan Thee Stallion.
There’s “Old Carter.” There’s “Bourye,” the scintillating bourbon-rye mix with the cool jackalope label.
Centered on the top row is a game ball from the Cleveland Browns’ 48-37 playoff drubbing of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And right there, the one that’s running dangerously low on supply, is his prized possession: A bottle of “Pappy,” the special reserve of Van Winkle, aged at 12 years, that costs a cool $1,600. These last two weeks, the Browns’ mauling right guard has been quite generous. Whoever stops by gets a glass of Pappy, no questions asked. He loves how it’s tasty, yet not loud.
“We’re going to do these neat,” he says. “Very small sips. It’s not going to have too much of a bite. It’s good shit.”
As he pours, Teller explains that he and his wife, Carly, have enjoyed some nice dinners since he signed his contract but haven’t celebrated too hard. After all, the Browns are in the middle of a season, fighting like hell to make the playoffs again. (“It’s not like I can just get shitty.”) He extends the glass for a cheers, and he’s right. This is perfect. This feels like stealing. When it comes to alcohol, OK, he is a tick more sophisticated than Janovich. Hell, there’s even more whiskey on a rolling cart near the living room.
Not that Teller is exactly a whiskey snob.
“Wait until he tells you what his thing is,” says Carly, as Wyatt cuts in simultaneously.
“My thing is guns. I have lots of guns. And I have a Barrett .50 caliber that she just bought for my birthday.”
And, woosh, he’s onto another story. He speaks quickly. With rhythm. With energy. With unfiltered candidness, hilarity, profanity. If he swigged a dozen Red Bulls earlier today, you wouldn’t be surprised. That’s how conversation with Teller works — you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel, like a middle linebacker bracing for No. 77’s impact. They say opposites attract but that’s most certainly not the case here. Wyatt and Carly have two strikingly similar, vivacious personalities.
They were meant to be. That much was obvious with this purchase.
With the ink hardly dry on his four-year, $56.8 million deal, Teller turned 27 years old and Carly wanted to do something special. So, on a night out with other Browns wives, she had Cheyenne Gustin ask her husband, defensive end Porter Gustin, what the “dream gun” was and he texted back a picture of a semiautomatic 50-caliber. Oh, you know, what American soldiers use overseas to snipe the enemy from airplanes. Mid-dinner, Carly jokes that she had juuust enough alcohol in her system to hit “Buy” on this 30-pound gun that a Google search later reveals goes for well over $10K.
She gift-wrapped bullets. The gun arrived. Teller was ecstatic.
He calls this more of a “have on the wall”-type of gun, but adds that he’ll bring it to a shooting range and — why not? — take it hog hunting next offseason.
“You don’t want to shoot anything you want to eat,” he says, “because the muzzle velocity is moving so fast that, within a foot, it rips off skin. If it hits you, it’s tearing off the whole piece. So, it sounds really morbid but, that being said, the whole reason this round was created was to cause damage down range with one shot.”
Shocker: Hunting is his passion. He’s been whitetail hunting with Janovich, long-snapper Charley Hughlett and the Sheriff of Ottawa County, Steve Levorchick. He killed a ram last offseason. Browns legend Joe Thomas recently hooked him up with a big name in duck hunting. And, of course, the video of Teller hauling a dead 10-foot alligator over his shoulders went viral last March. “Iconic!” says Carly. Teller hooked the gator on a rod ‘n reel with tuna as bait in a pen-raised area. Not in the wild. Which, he promises, is perfectly legal.
But, woo boy, people were mad. So mad that Browns GM Andrew Berry (jokingly?) pleaded “No more alligators!” after making Teller a rich man.
“Every Browns fan f------ loved it,” Teller says. “Some people were like, ‘You have a dog. How could you do that? What if you went and killed Butler?’ I’m like, ‘If I put myself in a cage with Butler, no matter how hungry he got, he will love me. Because he is a dog. It’s in his blood. That gator? One hour. It takes one hour for that gator to be like, ‘What the f--- is that over there? I’m going to go eat it. Not even. Maybe 10 minutes.”
Not that he read one tweet, one comment, one iota of furor. Still irate? Cool. Have fun screaming into the abyss. Teller owns zero social media accounts.
“Unless you have my cell phone number,” he says, “you can’t talk shit to me.”
He chuckles. He smiles a permanent smile with his eyebrows practically stuck at a tender 45 degrees and says the reason he speaks a mile a minute is his ADHD. Jovial off the field, he’s ruthless on it. For generations, the best linemen were anonymous. Never to be heard, never to be seen, it was a good thing if your name wasn’t uttered on the broadcast. Yet, Teller’s highlights are intoxicating as that glass of Pappy.
All season, this mountain of a man has been pulling left, pulling right and kicking ass.
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Here in a kitchen straight out of Magnolia, Carly pulls up a clip from ESPN’s “Get Up!” in which the crew is in awe of Teller uprooting Detroit Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone. As Teller watches, he laughs and continues to vanquish the charcuterie board in front of him by stacking five different items onto a cracker and stuffing it down.
Out of necessity, this 2021 season has returned football to its roots. Defenses are begging offenses to run the ball so, those that are built to do so, will win. The league may be obsessed with sterilizing violence out of one end of the field (safeties must wait for receivers to catch the ball) and the other end (breathing heavily on the quarterback is now “roughing the passer”), but until all 32 owners literally make this flag football, there will be violence in the trenches. And that’s why we’re so drawn to this pancaking son of a gun.
Wyatt Teller has found the sweet spot and we cannot get enough.
The effect is probably subconscious. Weekly clips of Teller are siren songs to us all because this is the football we all grew up on and, frankly, that’s the element of the sport being banned everywhere else. The NFL tries its damndest to find a middle ground that does not exist… we all lose our minds over asinine penalties… and Teller gives us a jolt of hope each week that football isn’t dead yet. Maybe it’s even bigger than football. These days, violence like this, rhetoric like sends many people one of two extreme directions: You’re either signing the “Save the Alligators” petition and recoiling into a safe space or you’re running through a wall on Sunday and fighting in an octagon on Monday. The number of Americans hovering in the middle is dwindling.
Teller isn’t for everyone. The Buffalo Bills foolishly gave up on him after one season.
For those who view football as one of society’s last vestiges of machismo, Teller is for you and the face of a movement back to old school football.
Thomas, the future Hall of Famer, puts it best: Teller’s style of play is downright fun.
“It has that nostalgia feel to it when you see a guy turning around the corner and throwing somebody out of the club,” Thomas says. “Grabbing a defensive lineman, balling him up into a basketball and just drilling him out of bounds. It’s fun to watch that! As an offensive lineman, that’s usually the only good attention that you get because as beautiful as a nice pass-set is, nobody notices and nobody even cares. But to get some positive publicity and some excitement around offensive line play for a guy like Wyatt, it’s cool. It’s great having a guy like that represent all of us.”
Thomas correctly adds that it just took a few years of Teller “bashing peoples’ facemasks in” for people to take notice.
The truth is, his rise is no accident.
Start with his birth. On Nov. 21, 1994, Teller came out of the womb a whopping 11 pounds, 4 ounces, 24 inches long. He’s the youngest of five kids and everyone’s tall, everyone’s big-boned. Of his three sisters, the shortest is 5 foot 9.
“I had to fight for my food,” Teller says. “I had to fight for everything.”
In a brown sweatshirt featuring an action shot of her husband, Carly hears those numbers again and her eyes get big. These two don’t have any kids yet, but if she ever does get pregnant? She’s scheduling a C-section right at the eight-week appointment. No doubt, Teller was born to play football. Growing up in Manassas, Va., the earliest kids could play was 5, but if you weighed a certain amount, 4-year-olds were permitted and — given Teller’s wild, pent-up energy — Mom had zero problem letting her son play so young.
Says Teller: “I wasn’t medicated yet, so I was a crazy-ass little kid.”
Which unfortunately meant there were victims. His first practice ever, Teller took a handoff, ran full speed and speared a kid so hard that he broke his sternum. Back then, helmets were disproportionately massive on the heads of these tikes playing football, too.
Coaches stopped the practice and coaches, he recalls, were happy to see this.
“Usually with kids, the hardest part is physicality,” Teller says. “You have kids who get it and kids who don’t. You have kids who run at you with their chest and kids who run at you with their head. The choice is: ‘Are you a headfirst kid? Or a chest-first kid?’ I was a ‘Throw my body as hard as I could at kids (kid).’ Reckless abandon. Maybe I was stupid but I don’t know what it was. I would just hit kids. ‘Wyatt, go tackle this kid.’ And…”
He puffs his barrel-sized chest out and mimics Bobby Boucher’s primitive “visualize and attack” battle cry at linebacker for the SCLSU Mud Dogs.
“Boom! The Waterboy. … Obviously when you’re that young, it doesn’t take much force to break a sternum. But, also, we can’t create that much force. I guess I was just running full speed. I remember my parents were like, ‘Ah, do we have to take him out? We’re so worried. I’m sorry.’ They’re like, ‘No. We love this. We’re so thankful that your son started to play football. This is the type of stuff we want to embrace, not scare, out of a kid.’”
He never looked back and continued to play at one speed.
Here, Carly pulls up a photo of her husband at six years old and notes how massive his hands were. His facial expression is more of a snarl, too.
“I always said, it looks like he has a dip in his lip,” she says. “It’s like his face was made…”
Wyatt cuts in again.
“For a chew!”
He towered over his peers. One of the Liberty High School football coaches once asked his older brother, Rhett, when Wyatt would be headed to high school. He figured Wyatt was a year or two away. “Uh, he’s in fourth grade,” Rhett said. “He’s going to be in fifth grade next year.” Teller played linebacker up to high school and then moved to the defensive line where he blossomed into a four-star recruit. Teller also started on the O-Line for 1 ½ years and, as a senior, dabbled in some tight end, fullback and special packages at quarterback.
Of course, he continued to be a total man-beast on the field.
Teller recalls setting a county record for blocked kicks. “Six… seven… eight…,” he lost track but he’s pretty sure he had more blocked kicks than opponents had made kicks that season. It wasn’t rocket science. He sets his drink down to pop up and re-enact how he pulled this off so many times. He’d just shimmy on over to a vacant A gap and shoot on through. Medicine helped, but Teller’s ADHD also fueled a motor he harnessed for good on the football field. A “What’s the next thing?” checklist-like mentality consumed Teller. He processed his duties on a play, like this one, with devastating efficiency.
He wasn’t finished breaking sternums, either.
The best way to understand this pre-workout energy drink is through a Four Loko lens. Of course, the original Four Loko — “blackout juice,” Teller calls it — was removed from the shelves after widespread hospitalizations. That caffeinated alcoholic drink tore through college campuses in 2010 and the “new” Four Loko you see at your local gas station is now a fraction as lethal.
“So that’s how Jack3d was. So many people were having legit, serious reactions to this. But some people were like ‘Melt my face! I need to.. Arrghhhh!’” says Teller, in his best possible monster voice. “And that’s how I responded to it. I responded the right way, I guess.
“It was basically methamphetamine. Melt-your-face-off type of stuff.”
Before Liberty faced Brentsville High School his senior year, he picked up some Jack3d at a local GNC and… look out. His brother was actually coaching on the other sideline, so the family has a story to tell for years. On a quarterback bootleg, Teller cracked back on a kid who didn’t even see him. He remembers putting his facemask directly into his sternum and hearing a click.
Here, he clicks his tongue in his mouth. That’s the sound a chest bone makes when it fractures.
He was, well, jacked at first. Lurching over his victim, Teller screamed “F--- yeah!” Then, he saw the kid’s eyes roll back into his head and joy quickly turned into complete “What the f---?! Are you OK?” panic and he started waving to the sideline for help.
“I know boxers know what it feels like,” Teller says. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. That was scary. It is legit scary because you’re a kid just playing a game. You hear stories of someone breaking a leg or hitting a femoral artery where you can’t control something. Or losing a finger because it’s caught between two helmets. Shit happens. You count your blessings.
“I don’t want to say, ‘I was in his chest, eating his heart!’ Nothing like that. But you definitely heard the pop, and boom. There’s so much pressure, it goes under itself. Your lungs are used to being this big and then they compress.”
Teller doesn’t think that kid played another football game. He knows this was a smaller fella whose primary sport was baseball and, for a moment, Teller sounds genuinely bummed. True, it’s always been Teller dishing the punishment. He’s the hammer, you’re the nail. Last season’s ankle sprain was the first injury he’s ever had. Asked how many injuries he has caused and he says at least five.
Not that he’s proud of it. He doesn’t try to play dirty.
Still, a storm was building.
The key to getting to this point — to becoming the pancake machine we see today — was making two critical decisions into college. Teller received 32 scholarship offers in all: Four for offensive line, 28 for defensive line, and he whittled his final choice down to Virginia or Virginia Tech. He grew up only one hour from Charlottesville, as opposed to 3 ½ from Blacksburg which is why Teller took seven unofficial visits to UVa., as opposed to only a couple to Tech. It was a lot easier to find someone to drive him home.
“Well, as a kid, you’re not drinking,” says Teller with an exaggerated wink.
Proximity didn’t matter, though. His decision was made after a phone call with longtime Virginia Tech assistant coach Bud Foster. All Foster told him was, “We win. They don’t.”
And, with Teller’s help, Virginia Tech would go on to extend its winning streak vs. Virginia to 15 games. At the time, as the 75th-ranked recruit in the country, Teller believes he was the highest-rated defensive lineman to ever sign with the Hokies. Yet ahead of Virginia Tech’s 2013 game against Alabama, Teller noticed that the offensive line was ravaged by injuries. They only had seven healthy bodies and the team’s O-Line coach, Jeff Grimes, had previously recruited him as an offensive lineman when he was at Auburn.
Reading the situation, Teller told Grimes to move him to the line. He assumed he’d move back to the defensive line once players got healthy, but Teller never did.
“What are the odds that you go there as a defensive player,” his wife, Carly asks, “almost putting yourself in that position, and then this changes the course of your life…”
Wyatt finishes his wife’s sentence.
That first year, Teller beefed up from 245 to 295 pounds in five months. From that July to December, the all-you-can-eat option at “D2 at Dietrick Hall” worked wonders. Teller pounded burritos like this charcuterie board and cleaned out tubs upon tubs of peanut butter. To fully embrace the idea of being an offensive lineman, Teller needed to embrace the idea of becoming a very large human.
Not easy for most 18- and 19-year-olds, no.
“In my mind, I wanted to still be sexy, right?” Teller says. “But in college, I’m like, ‘I can be 290 and still be sexy and have a nice body and stuff.’ I always made fun of myself and said, ‘I’m fat now,’ but my raw muscle mass is proportionally different. You see people out there with the same body mass as me who have riblets. I don’t. Because I have a weightlifter’s body.”
That’s because he took strength coach Mike Gentry’s words to heart in the weight room. Gentry’s philosophy was old school as it gets: Virginia Tech’s linemen would “move heavy weight fast.”
As Carly grabs two more Miller Lites from the fridge, snaps them open and sets them on the kitchen counter for us, Teller rips off his jacket. His shirt underneath features an American Flag-themed mustache. His shoulders are mini boulders. His torso is massive. He notes that he still has the power clean record at Virginia Tech (385 pounds) and that no one will ever break it. Teller has also back-squatted 600 pounds, push-jerked 370 pounds and benched 420 pounds. Near the living room, he re-enacts the power clean with an imaginary bar. And when his wife asks why nobody will touch that record, he says that practically all collegiate weightlifting programs are moving toward speed, speed, speed.
Which seems smart, right? As spread offenses became the rage in every conference at every level, strength coaches changed up their “formula” for how to build linemen.
It all created an opportunity for Teller to truly stand out.
He’s not dragging around 350 sloppy pounds like linemen of yesteryear, either.
“I have my gut,” Teller says. “But it’s more of a weightlifter’s belly and if you’ve ever seen the World’s Strongest Men — and they’re on juice, too — you see the guys who are 6 foot 7, 400 pounds on juice. They have guns like this and…”
He grunts and grunts and pretends to hurl a boulder.
Teller learned how to move weight better than anybody else and made the ACC’s first team.
Granted, his magnetic belligerence isn’t for everyone. After Frank Beamer retired in 2015, he clashed with the legendary coach’s replacement: Justin Fuente. What apparently set Fuente off was the time Teller missed a practice to attend his sister’s wedding. Here, Teller takes responsibility and says he did not communicate his absence the right way. But isn’t it funny? Division I coaches preach the virtues of family before then punishing a kid for spending time with family.
This relationship only worsened. When Teller and his best friend, defensive lineman Vinny Mihota, entered the building, he says Fuente would cheerfully say, “Hey Vinny!” before then staring at him for three seconds without saying a word.
“He hated me. It was childish,” Teller says. “Like high school. Like, ‘Hey! We’re talking about you!’ Acting like he’s 12 years old when he’s a 40-year-old, grown-ass man. Or why he wouldn’t have been just like, ‘Wyatt, I need you to do this. I need you to stop talking.’ Because I have ADHD. Being energetic and talking doesn’t mean I’m not listening and not going to do my job to the best of my ability. I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability. He goes, ‘I don’t care if you do it on Saturdays. I need you to do it Monday through Friday. And then on Saturday.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can practice. There’s no problem there. But at what point do I get to be myself?’ You can’t be yourself. You have to be someone else. And I didn’t like that.”
Teller says he didn’t show up late to meetings. Only a handful of “breakfast checks.”
He’s himself now. There’s no denying that.
He wants people to know the real Wyatt Teller, even if the real Wyatt Teller ruffles feathers. Somehow, we meander into one topic dominating cable news: teacher unions. Teller’s mother was a schoolteacher for 40 years, so he’s quite passionate on the subject. He’s all for unions and believes his pal, Browns center JC Tretter, is doing a great job as NFLPA president but he’s also seen how teacher unions can protect bad people. He believes parents are scared to send their kids to public schools today because it could expose them to things they’ve never even thought of before.
Sensing controversy brewing, Carly tries to reel him in with a gentle, yet direct “Don’t… don’t...” before, quickly, handing him a jersey from a fan to sign.
Looking at the clock, Teller remembers he has to play Dungeons and Dragons with teammate Myles Garrett in an hour, and then continues speaking auctioneer-fast.
“My biggest thing,” he says, “I love America, love my guns, love my hunting, love my fishing, but I also love having relationships with people that are different than me. Like, Myles. He’s very f------ different, in general, than anybody. Let alone Republican, Democrat, right, left, blue, green… he is himself.”
He points to another teammate on his side of the ball who’s a.) “super liberal,” yet b.) also one of his best friends on the team.
“You still respect them,” he says, “as long as they respect you.”
No wonder he loves hearing that Miami Dolphins wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr., a man who couldn’t seem to be more different, is also a gun enthusiast.
“I f------ love it,” Teller says. “See, that’s what I found out in my life. It is funny how you can’t judge a book by its cover. There are so many guys in the NFL where you’re like, ‘Oh, I get how you think.’ Nope. Even the people who you don’t think are educated on a subject, if they’re talking about it, they care about it. If they care about it, they know about it — black, white, Asian, it doesn’t f------ matter. Everybody in the NFL is wired a certain way because that’s what it takes to be here. Most people are brilliant.”
He then carefully signs his name on one of the 7’s in front of him and adds the year, “2021,” because the Dad who mailed him this jersey wants his sons to always remember when Teller signed this. No way could Teller have imagined his mailbox would be stuffed with such requests once he left Virginia Tech for the NFL. The Buffalo Bills drafted Teller in the fifth round (166th overall) of the 2018 draft, the same year they took Josh Allen seventh overall, and then gave up on him after one season.
The Bills offense is dynamic, but this Bills offense also lacks toughness up front.
Such an identity was a choice, too, that can be traced back to ditching Teller and a seven-rounder to Cleveland for fifth- and sixth-round picks. Back then, Buffalo likely believed the game was moving toward speed and athleticism and didn’t see how this long-haired, ass-kicker fit in. That’s Thomas’ theory. If anyone understands the league’s trends, it’s the 10-time Pro Bowler.
“When I first got into the league,” Thomas says, “it was ‘We want big, physical tough guys. We’ll run the ball, play defense, with a pocket-passing quarterback.’ It was more about smashing dudes in the face than it was speed and athletes. Then, on defense we started getting all of these skinny fast guys off the edge to rush the passer. And it started moving to more athletic lineman. And then you started seeing all of these athletic quarterbacks. The game becomes more basketball on grass — in space — and there’s not as much physicality, and I think whenever that pendulum swings, it swings too far in both directions. So, what happened is you see teams who don’t value those tough, physical, hardnosed football guys and, unfortunately for Wyatt, his skillset wasn’t appreciated. That’s probably what happened in Buffalo.
“Cleveland saw a guy with a lot of ability who was a little bit raw but had the attitude and mindset you want as a football player. Not only from a physical mindset, but an attitude of, ‘I won’t make the same mistake twice and I want to get better every day because it’s important to me. This success to me, as a guard in the NFL, is the most important thing in my life and I’m going to put everything it takes into it to get better.’”
Not that Teller is here to roast the Bills.
Back then, the team was in the midst of a complete rebuild. They ended the 17-playoff drought with vets in 2017, let many of those vets go, then began a meticulous rebuild that’s now supposed to culminate with a Super Bowl appearance this season. In 2018, though? The Bills took a wrecking ball to the roster and fully expected to lose. Teller, a rookie, was one player prematurely thrust into action. He started seven games and is the first to say those seven games weren’t what everyone sees now.
“The NFL is a sink or swim,” Teller says. “They’re going to throw you out and they’re not going to throw you a buoy. … I didn’t put on film the level of play that I’m obviously at. I showed glimpses of it at times but I just wasn’t as dominant.”
The best way Teller can articulate this is for everyone to picture two lines. Your “body” as a rookie is at its peak and gradually declines. Your “mind” is at its lowest, because “you don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” and gradually ascends. There are exceptions. Myles Garrett. Aaron Donald. Both were total “dogs” right away, he says. But most players need time and — if you’re lucky — those two lines cross right around your second contract. Then on, year to year, your body’s holding on as you win mostly with your brain. (Think: Tom Brady still dominating at 44.)
Teller admits his mind “wasn’t there” yet. He didn’t know what to do each play and, since the Bills viewed him on the same level as Ike Boettger, he figures they were happy to get what they could. Still, a tick of competitiveness does bubble to the surface because he wasn’t even given a shot to win a job into 2019.
Rarely ever does a team give up on one of its own draft picks.
“It was, ‘Wyatt, you were the issue last year,’” Teller says. “Wait. You’re telling me that having a rookie quarterback and a rookie offensive lineman isn’t a good duo? … ‘Playoff Caliber,’ that’s the way that they played. That’s their expected level. And if you’re not at that level, we can’t be hanging behind the bus. I wasn’t at that level. Now, I’d say I am. Now, they’re kicking themselves in the ass saying, ‘We should’ve given him one more year.’”
Considering that Sean McDermott is a head coach obsessed with culture, it’d be no surprise if he had a pinch of Fuente to him. One source in the building says the Bills were scared of what could happen down the road. And for what it’s worth, Teller adds that he was going through an ultra-messy breakup at the time with an ex-girlfriend he dated all through college.
That relationship got “nasty” and “toxic” and affected his mental state. He wasn’t happy.
“But I thank God for that. While that was a moment of, ‘This sucks ass,’ that was the most amazing thing that could’ve happened because it led me to her,” says Teller, pointing to Carly. “And it led me to here. They were worried about something. I was able to push through that and say it’s a turn in the path.”
Such is life in the NFL. Personal issues do not matter. He brings up the sad story of NFL defensive end Chris Smith. On Sept. 11, 2019, Smith, his wife and their 2-month-old baby were driving on the I-90 when they blew out a tire and pulled off the road. His wife got out of the car, was struck by an oncoming vehicle, killed and, two weeks later, Smith was released by the Browns.
Sympathy does not enter roster decisions in the NFL. He accepts that.
Buffalo’s loss became Cleveland’s gain.
Quickly, everything started going Teller’s way. First, he looked at the bright side. He was heading to another NFL city right on Lake Erie, so he could keep on walleye fishing. The 2019 season was a tire fire for the Browns but, into 2020, new head coach Kevin Stefanski hired offensive line godfather Bill Callahan to his staff and this certainly made Teller believe in God even more. Ahead of the draft, Teller’s agent, Andy Ross, was hoping Washington would take him because Callahan was the team’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He knew this would be a perfect fit. They finally connected in Cleveland and — with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back — the Browns built one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.
In 2020, the Browns ranked third in rushing at 148.4 yards per game.
In 2021, they’re third again at 147.1 per game, trailing two teams (Philly and Baltimore) that feature running quarterbacks.
Arguably the No. 1 reason for this has been Callahan’s ability to extract the absolute best out of Teller. He gets the fact that if you instruct Teller to do something — Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3 — he’ll deliver with demoralizing results. The Browns do not practice a running play once or twice. Callahan will make them re-do a play 30 times.
“He’s not going to give you the option of failing,” Teller says. “You have to do it right. He’s all ball, all the time, every minute of every day. We’ll go into a meeting and have 450 snaps to watch and we’ll get through 110. For him, it’s ‘I’m going to make sure you see everything. I’m going to make sure you know everything. And if you don’t know it, it’s your fault.”
The brand of football is clear here. Especially with former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield gritting through several injuries, the Browns (6-6) must bludgeon to win. The season will basically be on the line when the Browns face the Ravens again out of their bye week on Dec. 12. Win or lose, everyone should kick back and enjoy Teller’s authentic style of play. If it’s old school football you enjoy, ignore the ridiculous flags in the pocket, the soft play in the secondary.
Zero in on Teller.
He’ll be the one chucking defensive tackles into the dirt.
And pile-driving Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson.
And embarrassing safeties.
His mindset is strictly technical. Around the edge, he looks for “Force” and “MDM” (most dangerous man), stays square and then unloads all of that weight-room strength. Teller doesn’t play “angry” because he’s not an angry person. He laughs a deep-bellied laugh and paraphrases a line from Chris Fowler in The Waterboy: “There’s so much hate in those eyes!” No, that’s not him. His job is to smother defenders so that’s what he does.
All coaches and players blather on and on about imposing their way. Teller lives it. Teller has seen this real effect in opponents’ eyes.
“I have to finish,” Teller says. “At the end of the day, it’s a man vs. man sport.”
Thank goodness it is, too.
The football we know and love is back in 2021. As if collectively agreeing that the improvisational, backyard quarterback — Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray — was the future of the sport, front offices have been actively drafting smaller, quicker defensive players. Then, on the field, coaches deploy those players in softer coverages. Factor in the reality that most all teams hardly hit in training camp and, yes, this is all fresh meat for Teller. It’s a good thing that defensive ends are no longer pile-driving quarterbacks’ heads into concrete-hard AstroTurf — a life Don Majkowski recalled not so fondly — but the league’s overcorrection has been extreme and, in 2021, driving fans mad.
Teller points to a fellow Virginia Tech alum: Kam Chancellor. From 2010-’17, the Seattle Seahawks safety inflicted pain on receivers in the middle of the field. Now, we know that his Legion of Boom secondary represented the last of a dying species in this sport.
“If you dare hit someone like that,” Teller says, “you’re ejected and you miss the next half of the game. So, it is kind of crazy. With offensive linemen now, you know you’re going to get that every play. There’s holding or something aggressive or dropping your helmet doing something stupid — like me, half the time doing something stupid. But it is fun to watch. It’s fun to see the aggression still in football.
“You can win with the run game. I think it is sexier to win with the pass. It is more attractive. There is that, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to handle yourself against the run and hold up your defense for 50 plays.’”
Because toward the end of games, he does see an opponent’s will to fight leave his body.
To him, three hours on a Sunday mirrors a full season.
“The first game, it’s ‘Nah, you’re not doing this to me.’ And then the second game, it’s ‘Alright, man, chill out.’ And then the fifth game, it’s ‘Alright, bro, whatever. Take it.’”
Thomas knows that Teller’s in a market that will forever appreciate him, too. A third overall pick himself, he says there’s probably three fan bases in the NFL that actually cheer when their team drafts a lineman over a quarterback, running back or wide receiver. It’s in the DNA of Browns fans to root on violence from this contour of the field.
They’re not offended by this sort of temperament. They demand it.
Now with NFL Network, Thomas will be back in town for Cleveland’s Dec. 18 game against the Raiders. As much as he’d like to hunt with him, Thomas knows Teller will be a little busy.
“I’ll have to shoot his limit of ducks for him,” Thomas says.
He’s aware of that 50 cal, too.
Forget one pig.
“He’ll be able to shoot the whole family from a mile away.”
So, this is what the American dream looks like.
Teller proposed to Carly right on the Browns’ field last December. The two got married in April. He signed the mega deal in November. Now, their sharp townhome is clearly in the midst of festive Christmasification. A tree’s already up in the corner and two furry stockings hang above the fireplace. As the convo winds down, Butler trots back into the kitchen and jumps on this visitor’s lap with a toy duck in his mouth.
For these two, everything’s always been meant to be.
They both attended Virginia Tech but Carly is four years older. They only met in Blacksburg by chance when Wyatt was back in town to catch a spring game. Their alpha personalities have meshed perfectly, too. Carly jokes that they “fight for words,” while Wyatt quickly adds that he thought he was the person who talked the most in the world… “before I met my wife.”
All three hours, they playfully poke ‘n prod each other. At one point, Carly says nothing grosses her out other than her one very specific phobia. To which, Teller smiles and makes a point to detail the contents of that phobia. “Stop!” she says, squirming. And after Teller refers to passing as “sexy” for the fifth time, Carly can’t resist.
“You’ve said ‘sexy’ more times in this interview than…”
“I call you sexy all the time,” Wyatt jumps in.
“I’ve just never heard you refer to things as sexy.”
The locals have always fallen in love with whatever’s the opposite of “sexy” on a football field but, the thing is, people beyond Cleveland are now falling in love with Teller. This player will always be fun to watch because he reminds us of the moment we fell in love with football. And if anything that comes along with it does piss people off, he won’t hear it. The mob only had Carly’s social media accounts to turn to when Teller threw that gator over his shoulders. She assures it got ugly. She also assures she brushed it off.
When an artist sent them a portrait of Teller toting that gator, they proudly hung it up in their office downstairs.
Teller doesn’t think he’s sexy on the field, no.
“I think you’re sexy,” Carly says.
“Thank you baby.”
And, with that, Teller has to hurry to his bedroom to put on some socks. It’s time to play Dungeons and Dragons with Garrett.
Rest assured. There’s still some Pappy left in that bottle for his next visitor, too.
Also, from “Old School Week” at Go Long: