If fun, excitement and lasting memories were the lone criteria used to judge the excellence of a Browns season, then 1980 would be the team's most memorable ever, hands down - not even close.
No season before or since has packed as many thrills into its schedule than the one produced by the Kardiac Kids. It was Cleveland's version of the best roller-coaster ride ever, with plenty of very high highs and very low lows.
Fortunately for the Browns, there were many more highs than lows, which is why they went 11-5 and captured the AFC Central title for the first time in nine years.
But more than the record and accomplishments, it was how they were achieved that made the biggest impression. A total of 12 of the Browns' 16 games were decided by seven points or less, with the club posting a 10-2 record in those contests. Seven games were decided by three points or fewer.
All this despite the fact the Browns started 0-2 and then 2-3, after which they finally got rolling by winning eight of their next nine games, including five in a row.
It was a season of the completely unexpected. Week after week, just when it appeared the Browns were dead and had no hope of winning, they'd somehow find a way to pull it out in the end.
For example, they trailed Green Bay 21-13 before coming back for a 26-21 win on a touchdown pass with 16 seconds left.
They trailed the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers 26-14 in the fourth quarter before rallying to win 27-26 by scoring two TDs in less than four minutes.
But along with that, just when it seemed the Browns had the game well in hand, they'd somehow found a way to make it close. And at times, it was too close.
The Browns lost 28-23 at Minnesota on a last-play Hail Mary touchdown pass after leading 23-9 with five minutes left, keeping them from clinching the division title in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
These Browns simply didn't know how to play a boring game.
So it seemed fitting, then, that the two most important contests of the year, the regular-season finale at Cincinnati and the divisional playoff with the Oakland Raiders, went down to the end as well.
Rallying from a 10-0 first-half deficit, the Browns erased the memory of that painful loss to the Vikings and rallied to beat the Bengals 27-24 to finally snare the Central championship. Don Cockroft kicked the game-winning 22-yard field goal with 1:25 left, then the Bengals got as far as the Cleveland 14 before time ran out.
In the excruciating 14-12 loss to the Raiders in what has become known as the Red Right 88, or Ice Bowl, game, the Browns, trailing 14-12, marched to the Oakland 13 in the waning seconds, only to have Brian Sipe's pass into the end zone for Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome - on a play called Red Right 88 - get intercepted.
That was about the only big mistake Sipe made all year. The quarterback was brilliant, throwing for 4,132 yards and 30 touchdowns, with just 14 interceptions, to win the NFL MVP award.
But Sipe, while the heart and soul of head coach Sam Rutigliano's team, had plenty of help. He was able to use a variety of weapons, spreading the ball around to keep defenses guessing.
Five Browns had 50 or more receptions, led by running back Mike Pruitt with 63. Running back Calvin Hill, exceptional as a third-down pass receiver, recorded six TDs among his 27 catches. Wide receiver Ricky Feacher grabbed just 10 passes, but four went for scores, including two within a matter of minutes in the division-clinching win over the Bengals.
And when the Browns needed to move the ball on the ground, they could turn to Pruitt, who went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year with 1,034. He also ran for six TDs.
It was that kind of season, which is why members of the 1980 team are still loved years later by older Browns fans with good memories.
|9/7||L 17-34||at New England Patriots||49,222|
|9/15||L 7-16||Houston Oilers||80,243|
|9/21||W 20-13||Kansas City Chiefs||63,614|
|9/28||W 34-27||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||65,540|
|10/5||L 16-19||Denver Broncos||81,065|
|10/12||W 27-3||at Seattle Seahawks||61,366|
|10/19||W 26-21||Green Bay Packers||75,548|
|10/26||W 27-26||Pittsburgh Steelers||79,095|
|11/3||W 27-21||Chicago Bears||83,224|
|11/9||W 28-27||at Baltimore Colts||45,369|
|11/16||L 13-16||at Pittsburgh Steelers||54,563|
|11/23||W 31-7||Cincinnati Bengals||79,253|
|11/30||W 17-14||at Houston Oilers||51,514|
|12/7||W 17-14||New York Jets||78,454|
|12/14||L 23-28||at Minnesota Vikings||42,202|
|12/21||W 27-24||at Cincinnati Bengals||50,058|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||336||340|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||98/207||105/220|
|3rd Down Pct.||47.30%||47.70%|
|Total Net Yards||5,588||5,626|
|Avg. Per Game||349.3||351.6|
|Avg. Per Play||5.5||5.4|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,673||1,761|
|Avg. Per Game||104.6||110.1|
|Net Yards Passing||3,915||3,865|
|Avg. Per Game||244.7||241.6|
|Net Punting Avg.||66/34.6||63/34.7|
|Jackson, Robert L.||2||15||7.5||9||0|
|Jackson, Robert E.||1||0||0||0||0|
A slow start was followed by a strong finish
14 former Ohio State players to make trip to Indianapolis
Production unexpectedly high despite injuries, turnover
Injury bug bit this group big time in 2015