One last hurrah.
That's the best way to describe the 1972 season for the Browns.
This was the end of a nine-year span in which the Browns made the playoffs seven times, won an NFL championship and got to the league title game on three other occasions.
The 1972 team not only made it to the postseason as a wild card with a 10-4 record, but also nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in team history. Playing in the AFC divisional round in Miami against a Dolphins team that would go 17-0 and win the Super Bowl, the Browns lost 20-14 after blowing a 14-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Browns started the year with Bill Nelsen, a veteran who had arrived from the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 1968 trade, as their starting quarterback. But when Nelsen, whose knees were just about shot, struggled early and the team followed suit by getting off to a rocky 2-3 start, the move was made to Mike Phipps, drafted in 1970 with the No.3 overall pick the Browns obtained by trading Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami.
Although Phipps didn't have a good year statistically - he completed only 47.2 percent of his passes and threw for just 13 touchdowns with 16 interceptions - he was able to make plays when he had to.
And anyway, he was in just his third season and had spent most of his time on the bench, so the Browns thought he would improve as he played more.
The Browns were only 2-3 and had been outscored 48-7 in their last two games, and 74-17 in their three losses, before a six-game winning streak ensued. Included in that was a last-second, 26-24 comeback decision at home over the Steelers, who were trying to win the AFC Central title and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Browns finished second to the Steelers (11-3) by a game after winning eight of their last nine contests, the only loss being a 30-0 decision in the rematch in Pittsburgh.
Also, the Browns turned back the Denver Broncos on the road 27-20. What the Browns wouldn't have done 15 and 17 years later -- in the 1987 and '89 AFC Championship Games, respectively, at Mile High Stadium -- to have beaten the Broncos in Denver.
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, in his last good season, rushed for 811 yards. Wide receiver Frank Pitts led the team in receptions with 36, good for eight touchdowns -- or 62 percent of the team total of 13.
But it was the defense that saved the season for the Browns. The unit gave up over 30 points only twice all year, posted a shutout and kept foes to 17 points or less eight times.
Helping lead the defense were cornerback Ben Davis and safety Thom Darden from Sandusky, Ohio, who had three interceptions each. But the only interception returned for a TD all year was by none other than a defensive end, Canton McKinley (Ohio) High School product Nick Roman, whose 36-yard score jump-started the team in an important, late-season, come-from-behind 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Former longtime Browns assistant coach Nick Skorich had gotten his club to the playoffs in both seasons as head coach, and the future looked bright as the team closed the book on 1972 and looked forward to '73. So neither he nor anyone else then could have imagined it would be eight long years -- until that 1980 Kardiac Kids season -- before the Browns got back to the playoffs again.
|9/17||L 10-26||Green Bay Packers||75,771|
|9/24||W 27-17||at Philadelphia Eagles||65,720|
|10/1||W 27-6||Cincinnati Bengals||81,564|
|10/8||L 7-31||Kansas City Chiefs||83,819|
|10/15||L 0-17||Chicago Bears||72,339|
|10/22||W 23-17||at Houston Oilers||38,113|
|10/29||W 27-20||at Denver Broncos||51,656|
|11/5||W 20-0||Houston Oilers||61,985|
|11/13||W 21-17||at San Diego Chargers||54,205|
|11/19||W 26-24||Pittsburgh Steelers||83,009|
|11/26||W 27-10||Buffalo Bills||70,104|
|12/3||L 0-30||at Pittsburgh Steelers||50,350|
|12/9||W 27-24||at Cincinnati Bengals||59,524|
|12/17||W 26-10||at New York Jets||62,614|
|12/24||L 14-20||at Miami Dolphins||78,196|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||215||240|
|Total Net Yards||3,709||4,069|
|Avg. Per Game||264.9||290.6|
|Avg. Per Play||4.5||4.7|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,793||2,333|
|Avg. Per Game||128.1||166.6|
|Net Yards Passing||1,916||1,736|
|Avg. Per Game||136.9||124|
|Net Punting Avg.||81/38.8||74/38.0|