This story first appeared in the Texans Gameday magazine.*
Ten-year old Brian Hoyer sat in the chilly stands of Cleveland Stadium on Sunday, December 17, 1995. The Browns were warming up to play their final game in his hometown, before departing for Baltimore.
As a child, he didn't know it at the time, but the Cleveland would eventually get another Browns team. He'd be named the starting quarterback, even becoming the first in franchise history to lead them to a 3-0 start.
While watching his Browns for the last time in Cleveland, Hoyer also didn't know that their head coach, Bill Belichick, would be fired a few months later. Belichick would go on to become a six-time Super Bowl winning coach with New England. Hoyer's first chance in the NFL 14 years later would come under Belichick, who signed the young quarterback as an undrafted free agent.
"I remember, at the time, Cleveland fans didn't like Bill at all and little did they know, he was going to become the greatest coach of all time," Hoyer said in an interview with Texans Radio. "So not only did I get a chance to play for him but I also got a chance to play in Cleveland. You talk about full circle - I did both of those."
Hoyer would meet Texans head coach Bill O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey in New England also. They were part of the Patriots coaching staff. He'd spend three and a half years learning under Tom Brady, a quarterback that Hoyer speaks of with the utmost respect for what he has accomplished.
"I think I can say this: had I not been there, I don't think I'd be where I am today," Hoyer said. "Just because of how much I learned as a football player as a whole about offense, about defense, about the game of football and the professional approach to take to it."
While it didn't work out in New England, Hoyer would land on his feet again. And again.
He and his wife Lauren, who were expecting, moved back to Cleveland when Hoyer was released from the Patriots on Aug. 31, 2012. Halfway through the season, the Steelers wanted to sign him. Hoyer packed up for Pittsburgh but several weeks later, he was released by the Steelers and picked up by the Arizona Cardinals. From training camp until the end of the season, Hoyer spent time on three different NFL teams.
"My son was born in Rhode Island and then we moved back to Cleveland when I got cut," Hoyer said. "My family and my wife's family is from there. He's three now. He was born in Rhode Island, his first Thanksgiving was in Pittsburgh and his first Christmas was in Arizona. That whole year was kind of a blur, really."
Hoyer finally moved back home the following summer when the Browns signed him to a two-year contract in the summer of 2013. It was an exciting time for him and his family, getting to be with family and friends and a new baby.
But, as Hoyer had quickly learned, it was a business and there were no illusions of grandeur just because it was his hometown team he'd be playing for this time.
"In this business, I learned that you never know what's going to happen," Hoyer said. "It was nice, it was good for my wife to be surrounded by her family to help with our kids but I never really looked at it as that was going to be my be-all, end-all. Like I said, you never know how this business is going to go and obviously, it didn't work out there and I'm happy to be here. When it comes down to it, the odds of playing for your hometown team are pretty slim so I knew that the odds of staying there were probably pretty slim too."
Hoyer's first season was off to fairytale start, undefeated through three games, before he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury that would require season-ending surgery.
It was during his second season with the Browns, when Hoyer faced the Texans in a Week 11 matchup.
Hoyer was warming up on the field when he saw George Godsey testing out his headset before the game. He wasn't sure who was calling the plays, but thought he'd have some fun with the former New England offensive coach.
"Why don't you call this play?" Hoyer said to him, rattling off a play from the New England playbook.
"He was like, 'Get the hell out of here,' but it was pretty funny," Hoyer recalled, laughing.
His memory of that system would serve him well six months later.
Upon becoming a free agent that offseason, the Texans as well as several other teams began calling Hoyer. His familiarity with the coaches and the offense he'd be asked to learn ultimately made the decision a fairly easy one for Hoyer.
"For me, there were several teams that were interested but I just knew I couldn't pass up on this opportunity to work with those guys again and it's been fun," Hoyer said. Now the starting quarterback, Hoyer recalls his days of being injured, of being the starter, of being benched, of being undrafted, and uses those in his daily approach to football.
"Hoyer's a leader," DeAndre Hopkins said. "He's a natural born leader."
Experience and knowledge of the system has helped Hoyer become a leader on offense quickly. However, his ups and downs and the adversity throughout his time in the NFL have earned him some respect too.
"I think football is an interesting deal," head coach Bill O'Brien said on Aug. 24. "I think football really teaches you a lot about getting knocked down, and being able to pick yourself back up. I think that's a big, that's a big part of the National Football League."
O'Brien describes Hoyer as smart guy with a really good work ethic. His leadership skills extend from the locker room to the huddle. O'Brien recalls seeing Hoyer evolve from when he first entered the league in 2009 to the seven-year veteran he is today.
"He's married, he has children, he's a lot different," O'Brien said. "When he came in to New England as an undrafted guy out of Michigan State, he was a wide-eyed guy but he settled down pretty quickly and he made that team. He beat out a couple guys that had been there for a while and he backed up Tom. For a long time there we only kept two quarterbacks, Tom and him, so he did a good job in that situation. But from that point to where we are now, his foundation is the same, but his life has changed certainly."
The Texans have signed quarterback Brian Hoyer. Here are photos from his time in Cleveland, Arizona, New England and at Michigan State.