Memorable games don’t have to come from memorable seasons.
Sometimes, in fact, the opposite is true.
One time when Cleveland-area native and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was handling that same job from 2005-08 for the Browns, the team he rooted for while growing up, a reporter asked him if he had gone to games as a kid.
When Tucker said he did, he was asked if he had a special recollection of one of those trips to Cleveland Stadium.
“I was just a little guy, but I can vaguely remember riding on my dad’s shoulders,” the Cleveland Heights High School graduate said. “I think they played the Chiefs. The Browns won by a lot, and Greg Pruitt had a big game.”
Tucker was referring to the Browns’ 40-14 victory over Kansas City on a muddy field on Dec. 14, 1975 in the home finale and the next-to-last game of the season overall.
A crowd of 44,368 – not bad considering the wet weather and the year the Browns had had – watched as Pruitt, then in just his third year, had one of the biggest rushing days in team history. On his way to the first of his three straight 1,000-yard seasons with 1,067 yards, he ran for 214 yards and three touchdowns in 26 attempts, averaging an impressive 8.2 yards per try.
That’s still the eighth-largest rushing total in club history, and just 72 inches behind the man ahead of him, Jamal Lewis, who had 216 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 16, 2007.
Pruitt also has the ninth-largest rushing performance, getting 191 yards against the Atlanta Falcons just eight months later, on Oct. 17, 1976.
Games such as these two are why Pruitt, who played from 1973 to ’81 with the Browns, is the No. 4 all-time rusher in team history with 5,496 yards. As he did that day against the Chiefs, he had an outstanding 4.7 yards-per-rush career average, fourth-best among the club’s top 10 rushers.
Pruitt’s performance keyed the Browns’ biggest output of points in nearly two-and-a-half seasons. They opened a 33-0 lead early in the fourth quarter before the Chiefs finally got on the scoreboard with two touchdowns in mop-up time.
All this helped put some salve on a tough season. Under first-year coach Forrest Gregg, who had been promoted from offensive coach to replace Nick Skorich, the Browns dropped their first nine games. But they had been playing much better since then, with the win over Kansas City being their third in four games.
And their only loss during that stretch – 31-17 at defending-Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh the previous week – came after the Browns once led, 17-7, in the second quarter.
So the Browns were starting to grasp Gregg’s way of doing things, and it was paying off.
In fact, the momentum gained from the end of the 1975 season carried over into ’76, as the Browns finished 9-5 and Gregg was named AFC Coach of the Year.