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Browns have Halloween history

Posted Oct 29, 2010

The Browns got their first win of the expansion era against the New Orleans Saints on Halloween in 1999.

In their history, the Browns have played five times on Halloween and in only a few of those games has something ghoulish happened.

The first Halloween game went off without a hitch when the 1954 Browns beat one of their real archrivals at the time, the New York Giants, 24-14. It was their straight win over the Giants.

The Browns didn’t play again on Halloween until 1965. They suffered a rare loss in an 11-3 finish, a 27-17 decision to the Minnesota Vikings. Almost as important as the final score was the fact that scenes for the movie, “The Fortune Cookie,” starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, were shot on the sideline during the game.

Six years later, once again at Cleveland, the Browns suffered a frightening experience, being stunned 31-14 by an Atlanta Falcons team that really wasn’t very good. It was the second of what would turn out to be four straight defeats, putting the Browns at 4-5 and forcing them to win their last five games to capture the AFC Central title.

The only loss among an eight-game winning streak in 1976 was a 21-6 decision at Cincinnati on Halloween that did a lot to put the Browns behind the eight-ball in terms of the Central race. They ended the season at 9-5 and just missed the postseason.

Then, there was the last time the Browns played on Halloween, in 1999, and this one had “bizarre” written all over it.

The Browns beat the New Orleans Saints that day, 21-16 in the Louisiana Superdome, which doesn’t sound particularly significant until one looks at it more closely. And when you do, you see that it was truly extraordinary.

This was the first regular-season win for the re-born Browns in their expansion season. The Browns came into the game at 0-7, and while they had a couple of near-misses, losing 17-10 at Baltimore in their third game and then 18-17 to Cincinnati two weeks later, when the Bengals scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, they struggled at times. That was especially the case the previous two weeks. Two games before, they lost 24-7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road and followed that up by traveling to St. Louis and getting overwhelmed 34-3 by the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams.

After winning their opener over the Carolinas Panthers, the Saints had dropped five straight to fall to 1-5. They lost twice by three points, once by four and another by seven before getting pushed around by the Giants 31-3. Coach Mike Ditka’s club would go on to record the franchise’s sixth-straight losing season, finishing 3-13.

The Saints scored first on a five-yard touchdown pass from Billy Joe Hobert to Keith Poole in the first quarter.

The Browns answered with a touchdown to tie the game at seven in the second quarter as Tim Couch threw 27 yards to fullback Marc Edwards.

Doug Brien kicked a 49-yard field goal to give New Orleans a 10-7 lead, but the Browns were feeling extremely good about themselves since they were right there.

Wide receiver Kevin Johnson caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Couch to give the Browns their first lead at 14-10, but then Brien came back with a 22-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-13 entering the fourth quarter.

Another kick by Brien, this one of 46 yards, gave the Saints a 16-14 advantage, and as the time continued to wind down in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Browns would have to settle for another close loss.

The Browns got the ball back near the end of the game, but with the fact they were still not even to their own 45 with time left for just one more play.

Nineteen seasons before, in the next-to-last game of 1980, the Browns lost 28-23 to the Minnesota Vikings on a 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Tommy Kramer to Ahmad Rashad as time expired. It kept the Browns from clinching a playoff spot and forced them to win in Cincinnati the following week in order to claim the AFC Central title.

Now the Browns were going to be on the other end of such a play.

Working from the Cleveland 44, Couch retreated to throw, got pressure from the right side, stepped up in the pocket and heaved the ball toward the goal line on the right side as time ran out. Somehow, some way, Johnson, standing amidst a group of players, was able to jump up, catch the ball and get both feet down in bounds in the end zone, just inches beyond the goal line, before he was shoved out of bounds.

Before Johnson could realize what had happened -- that he not just caught a touchdown pass, but had made history for the re-born franchise -- teammates ran down the field and jumped into a big pile on top of him.

Meanwhile, Ditka, stunned that his team had lost in such devastating fashion, fell to the ground on the sideline and just laid there for the longest time.

The Browns had won a regular-season football game for the first time since December 17, 1995.

For Browns fans who had spent three seasons without a football team after the original franchise bolted to Baltimore following the 1995 season and then spent another half-season waiting for this new club to win, the unbridled joy they felt was like that of a kid making his rounds on Halloween night and getting three full-size candy bars at a house when he expected to get a piece of fruit.