Wearing a white University of Texas baseball cap backwards and a laminated wristband full of offensive plays, quarterback Colt McCoy was engulfed by a huge wave of cameras and reporters in the middle of the Cleveland Browns' locker room.
McCoy strained to hear a question over the teasing screams of his teammates, who gave him the typical rough rookie treatment.
"Golly," McCoy said, shaking his head and smiling.
Yep, it's hard to believe. But sooner than he or anyone expected, McCoy has become an NFL starter.
With quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace still slowed by severe ankle injuries, Browns coach Eric Mangini said Wednesday that he is "leaning" toward McCoy making his pro debut this Sunday in Pittsburgh against the AFC North rival Steelers.
As far as McCoy's concerned, the leaning is over. Mangini has fallen his way.
"I'm excited about it," McCoy said. "You can tell my teammates, they're all joshing with me and giving me a hard time. I'm really excited. Back in the huddle, back calling plays."
McCoy's quick ascent from third-stringer to starter by Week 6 isn't what the Browns envisioned for the third-round draft pick.
The plan was to have McCoy, whose 45 wins with the Longhorns are the most by any quarterback in NCAA history, spend the season watching and learning behind Delhomme and Wallace. McCoy was supposed to soak up whatever knowledge and advice he could from team president and resident quarterback guru Mike Holmgren.
But injuries have sped up McCoy's timeline. His day, which wasn't supposed to arrive for some time, came faster than imagined.
"This wasn't the scenario that the coaches wanted," McCoy said. "Jake and Seneca, they're outstanding. I've learned so much from them. I've been in the locker room with them and in the meetings with them. I've taken the same notes they have all year long. I've prepared like I was the starter every week, and that's not going to change."
But instead of running the scout team during practice this week or charting plays on a clipboard Sunday, McCoy will be under center.
In Pittsburgh. Against the Steelers. Terrible Towels. Mayhem.
"It's definitely going to be a test for him," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "We do play a good defense. Especially coming into a first game, that's got to be tough for a rookie."
It's tough for anyone.
McCoy knows what he's facing. He's well-versed on the Steelers, who like to pressure quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes with blitzes from every angle. McCoy has been brushing up on them by studying in the film room, but he's already a bit of a buff on the black and gold's vaunted attack.
"I've watched them play for a long time," the 24-year-old said. "They've won Super Bowls. They've got tremendous players -- (Jerome) Harrison, (Troy) Polamalu, (LaMarr) Woodley. They're all good. Casey Hampton went to UT, so I know him. I have all the respect in the world for those guys. We know what challenge we have ahead of us."
McCoy struggled during much of training camp and the preseason as he adjusted to the NFL's warp-speed tempo. He certainly didn't look like Cleveland's quarterback of the future, but a 13-for-13 passing performance in preseason finale against Chicago boosted his confidence -- and his coaches', too.
Mangini believes McCoy can manage Cleveland's offense, against Pittsburgh or anyone else. The coach won't limit the Browns' play selection just because he's starting a rookie quarterback.
"Everybody's got to get their feet wet at some point," Mangini said.
As protection in case McCoy falls flat on his face or is hurt, the Browns re-signed Brett Ratliff off the New England Patriots' practice squad Tuesday. Ratliff spent last season with Cleveland and was with the team until being waived last month.
"It was kind of a crazy day," Ratliff said, according to the team's official website. "The Browns offered me, and the Patriots offered to keep me. It was a difficult decision, but it was definitely the right decision.
"It all happened so quickly," Ratliff added. "In a span of a half-hour timeframe, I'm on the practice squad and I had two teams. At first, it was like, 'Make the right decision for me and my family.'"
Ratliff said he chose the Browns because "there's a greater opportunity for me to get into the game." He also said he's "comfortable" because of his previous time in Cleveland.
About halfway through his interview, McCoy remembered he had the Browns' plays visible on his forearm for the world to see.
"Better take my wristband off," he said sheepishly.
McCoy corrected his mistake, but he won't have as much time to fix things if they go wrong Sunday. The Browns might help him by using the Wildcat formation with Joshua Cribbs, who ran for 87 yards as Cleveland beat Pittsburgh, 13-6, last season, snapping a 12-game losing streak to its bitter rival.
McCoy played in plenty of big games at Texas. The Steelers are a new level of big.
"He's a proven winner, and I believe with the talent around him, and with the package that's going to be tailored for him, we will put him in the best situation to be successful," Cribbs said. "He's well-equipped to go in against the so-called big, bad Steelers and help us win."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.