The Browns’ road to their first AFC Central championship in 1971 was paved with a lot of comebacks and close calls.
Six of their 14 games were decided by seven points or less, including four by four points or fewer. They won all but one of them.
Indeed, long before the time of the Kardiac Kids, these Browns did well in nail-biting games by coming up with a number of fantastic finishes.
One of those occurred on Oct. 17, when the Browns -- trailing by 11 points early in the fourth quarter and seemingly out of the game -- rallied to edge the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-24, much to the dismay of most in the sellout crowd of 60,284 at Riverfront Stadium.
The deciding points came on former Ohio Stater Bo Scott’s four-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left. The fact it was his third TD of the day -- all coming in the second half -- made him the unquestioned hero of the game.
The winning TD was the culmination of a clutch 52-yard drive that took just 1:29, starting with a 13-yard pass from Bill Nelsen to tight end Milt Morin.
Scott also scored the Browns’ previous TD on a seven-yard pass from Nelsen earlier in the fourth quarter, cutting their deficit to 24-20.
Essex Johnson’s 49-yard TD run at the start of the quarter gave the Bengals a 24-13 advantage and appeared to all but seal the victory.
Maybe that would have been the case for most teams, but the Browns weren’t most teams. As was exhibited all year, this group, in its first season under coach Nick Skorich from Bellaire, Ohio, had a real determination about it and didn’t quit, no matter how bleak the situation might have looked.
Winning their second straight following a 27-17 decision over the Pittsburgh Steelers a week earlier, the Browns improved to 4-1.
Browns founding coach Paul Brown’s Bengals, who edged Cleveland by a game to capture the first Central crown in 1970, lost their fourth in a row and dropped to 1-4. They were headed to a 4-10 finish, their worst since their expansion season in the AFL in 1968 when they were 3-11.
The fact the contest was so tight was hardly a surprise. The in-state rivals’ first two games in 1970 went down to the end as well, with the Browns winning by three points at Cleveland and then the Bengals getting a four-point victory at Cincinnati.
The Bengals led 7-0 after one quarter on Paul Robinson’s 10-yard run.
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter, Cleveland’s Don Cockroft hitting a 35-yarder, Horst Muhlmann booting a 12-yarder (the goal posts were on the goal line then) and then Cockroft connecting again, this time from 22 yards, to close Cincinnati’s lead to four points, 10-6, at halftime.
In the third quarter, the clubs upped the ante and traded three-yard TD runs, the first by Johnson to put the Bengals ahead by 11 points, 17-6, and the second by Scott to cut it to 17-13.
That led to another wild finish by the Browns and Bengals.
Nelsen was 18-of-34 passing for 213 yards and the TD with two interceptions.
In addition to having three receptions overall, Scott rushed 14 times for 42 yards and the two scores.
Young Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson was 10-of-21 for just 122 yards with no TDs and an interception, by middle linebacker Dale Lindsey.
Cincinnati overcame that, though, by rushing for 232 yards, including 98 by Johnson.
But when it got to the all-important crunch time, it was the Browns making the most plays, and the biggest ones.
The closeness of the series continued seven weeks later when the Browns prevailed again, 31-27, at Cleveland Stadium and, with a 7-5 record, clinched the division crown with two games remaining.
The Browns captured those last two contests as well, ending the regular season with a five-game winning streak that put their record at 9-5 as they headed to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, and the sixth time in eight seasons.
With that long history of success, the Browns had developed a real winning attitude, and that was evident by the way they played in 1971, recording all those close wins.
Call them the early version of the Kardiac Kids.