BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As the Browns stretched before practice on Friday, a peculiar song blared from the four loudspeakers lining one side of the team's outdoor field.
Lionel Richie's voice filled the air.
Usually, the musical selection on such days is by artists like Jay-Z or Eminem or Kanye West, something current and upbeat to help get the players loose. But as the Browns went through final preparations for their biggest game of the season on Sunday in Cincinnati, they listened to something much softer — Richie's "Hello."
The strange choice turned out to be a joke aimed at starting quarterback Jason Campbell, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the smooth singer-songwriter. Following practice, Campbell was greeted with a photo of a smiling Richie taped in his locker.
"I'm going to find out who did this," Campbell promised, pulling off the picture and taking the playful gag in stride.
Richie's photo was accompanied by a famous — and fitting — lyric from his hit song: "Is it me you're looking for?"
As it turns out, Campbell could be exactly who the Browns have been looking for this season.
Overlooked and all but forgotten earlier in the season, the veteran quarterback has emerged as somewhat of a savior for the Browns (4-5), who can close the gap in the AFC North on Sunday with a win over the first-place Bengals (6-4).
Campbell's strong performances in the past two games — a close loss at Kansas City and win over Baltimore — has helped push Cleveland to the precipice of a possible playoff push. The 31-year-old has never sought the spotlight, but it has found him nonetheless, and after enduring a career of highs and lows, Campbell is savoring every moment.
"I am in my ninth season," Campbell said, "and I have stressed and pressured myself before in the past and now it is just about having fun and win games and do the best I can to help this young football team grow and continue to keep competing."
Typical Campbell. He's humble, hard-working, generous and loaded with experience. After signing as a free agent with Cleveland in March, he was beaten out by Brandon Weeden in training camp and passed over by third-stringer Brian Hoyer after Weeden was injured. But the Browns had no choice but to turn to Campbell when Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury and Weeden struggled.
Campbell has delivered, throwing five touchdown passes without an interception in two starts. He has stabilized a turbulent position — he's Cleveland's 20th starting QB since 1999 — and given Browns fans hope that the dark days are dwindling.
And perhaps above all, Campbell has provided leadership to a young team needing guidance.
"He's a true pro, man," said Browns cornerback Joe Haden. "He controls the O. He's a really good leader. I look at him like a big-brother figure. He carries himself really well and you can just tell that he's used to being a leader. He's doing a really god job."
Campbell's personal comeback will bring him full circle on Sunday.
Two years ago, the former first-round pick was playing the best football of his career for Oakland, starting the season 4-2 when he broke his collarbone against the Browns. His injury prompted Raiders coach Hue Jackson to trade him to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer, who not only took his job but then failed to take the silver and black to greater heights.
This week, Campbell will start against Jackson, now on Cincinnati's coaching staff.
Campbell said the situation was difficult, but nothing he has dwelled upon.
"You've got keep pressing and that was my whole mindset from Day One since the injury and trade happened," he said. "Was it heartfelt? Yeah, it hurt a little bit. It stung, but I think it made me a stronger person and helped make who I have become right now."
After spending one season in Chicago, Campbell signed a two-year deal with the Browns in March, hoping for a chance to resurrect his career. His path to starting didn't go the way he or the Browns planned, but he's going to take full advantage of the opportunity and not take anything for granted. Not that he ever did.
Browns offensive coordinator said Campbell is an example for Cleveland's young players.
"You're going to have ups and downs if you're playing in the NFL," Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Every play won't go smooth, every quarter is not going to go smooth, every game is not going to go the way you want. He's come in here each day and you wouldn't know if he was the starter and we were on a win streak or if he was a guy who was told he wasn't going to play.
"There are a lot of different things that can happen to you that can deter you and the beauty of what Jason has done is that he has not been affected. He understands there are going to be ups and downs."
NOTES: WR/KR Travis Benjamin underwent surgery to repair a torn knee ligament and is expected to make a full recovery. ... Browns TE MarQueis Gray (hamstring) will miss Sunday's game and RG Jason Pinkston (ankle) is questionable. ... The Browns retrieved the team's championship trophy from 1946, when Cleveland won the All-America Football Conference. It had been sitting in a box in a garage in Raleigh, N.C. The team plans to showcase at some point inside their headquarters. It's the only known championship trophy from the team's history.
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