Brian Sipe-to-Reggie Rucker is one of the most prolific passing combinations in Browns history.
Rucker is also one of the greatest pass catchers overall the club has ever had.
And a good example of why all that is so can be found with what happened on Nov. 18 at Cleveland Stadium.
Rucker had one of the biggest days in Browns receiving history, catching nine passes for 177 yards, including the game-winning 39-yarder for a touchdown from Sipe just 1:59 into overtime, as the Kardiac Kids in training defeated the Miami Dolphins, 30-24, in front of their second-largest home crowd of the season, 80,374.
It was one of 26 TD passes on which Sipe and Rucker collaborated in their seven seasons (1975-81) together, fourth-best in Browns history. Sipe threw 29 TDs (third place) to Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome and 21 (tied for sixth) to wide receiver Dave Logan.
At the time, Rucker’s receiving yards against the Dolphins were tied (Gern Nagler against Pittsburgh in 1960) for the second-most in club history. They are now tied for fifth-best.
Rucker stands sixth on the Browns with 310 career receptions and 32 TD catches, fifth with 4,953 receiving yards and tied for eighth with a 16.0 yards-per-reception average.
As for Sipe, in completing 23-of-42 passes, he threw for what was then a career-best 358 yards. He had the three TDs and no interceptions.
But in the big picture, the most important thing was that it was the Browns’ fourth victory in five games and put them at 8-4, their best record after 12 games since 1976. It was also one of three victories the Browns had that year over playoff-bound teams.
Miami, which fell to 7-5, went on to finish 10-6 to win the AFC East and qualify for the postseason for the second year in a row.
In addition, this was just the fifth OT game for the Browns since the rule creating a sudden-death extra quarter was implemented in 1974.
The game went back and forth from the start.
Pat Moriarity, the Cleveland Benedictine High School product who was playing in his only season in the NFL, got the Browns rolling with a two-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Uwe von Shamann made it 7-3 by kicking a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter for the Dolphins of coach Don Shula, a former Browns defensive back who played at Painesville (Ohio) Harvey High School and John Carroll University.
Delvin Williams’ nine-yard TD run to start the third quarter gave Miami its first advantage, 10-7, but the Browns came right back with Sipe’s 14-yard pass to Newsome and Don Cockroft’s 43-yard field goal to go ahead 17-10 after three quarters.
Then it got even better.
The fourth quarter opened with Don Strock, who had come on in relief of Bob Griese, throwing two short TD passes, a two-yarder to tight end Bruce Hardy and a four-yarder to Williams, to give the lead back to the Dolphins, 24-17. Nine seasons later, Strock would be coaxed out of retirement by the Browns, who were injury-riddled at quarterback, and he would lead them to the 1988 playoffs as a wild card.
A 34-yarder from Sipe to Newsome with 1:21 left tied the game at 24-24 and forced OT, culminating a hurry-up, seven-play, 72-yard march.
The Browns then whisked 74 yards in five plays for the game-winning pass to Rucker.
Newsome had four receptions overall for 76 yards, with Logan catching five passes for 63 yards.
Running backs Calvin Hill and Mike Pruitt both had 21 receiving yards, Hill on three catches and Pruitt on two. Pruitt also led all rushers with 93 yards in 19 carries.
It all contributed to the Browns amassing a whopping 493 total yards.
Defensively, Cleveland had three interceptions, one each by outside linebacker Charlie Hall and safeties Thom Darden and Clarence Scott.
For Miami, wide receiver Duriel Harris, who would go on to spend most of 1984 with the Browns, had four receptions for 119 yards. Strock completed 6-of-10 passes for 89 yards and the two TDs with no interceptions. Stow (Ohio) High School product Larry Csonka rushed for 44 yards in 12 tries.
The Dolphins of that era were known for having plenty of offense, but on this day, they couldn’t keep up with the Browns, and especially Reggie Rucker and Brian Sipe.
This Day in Browns History is presented by Cleveland Clinic.