The 1981 season -- at least as it pertained to the Browns -- is proof that there really are football gods.
Maybe on a mountain top, or maybe just in a room with a lot of big-screen, high-definition TV sets, they survey the scene, deeming what teams will win and what teams will lose, and when and how. And when they are kind and giving to a team one season, they reciprocate by dissing it the next.
No team ever gets good luck -- or bad luck -- two years in a row. The football gods mix it up, just to frustrate the players, coaches and fans and keep them guessing, lest they be silly enough to believe they've got it all figured out.
Sound silly? Of course.
But how else do you explain what happened in 1981, after what had transpired in 1980?
Every Browns fan remembers -- or at least has heard all about -- 1980, the season the Kardiac Kids reached their zenith. With last-second win after last-second win -- 13 of the 16 games were decided in the final two minutes -- they finished 11-5 and captured the AFC Central crown.
Every time the Browns needed to make a play, they did so. Every time they needed something good to happen, it did.
As much of a storybook, magic season it was for the team, it was even more so for quarterback Brian Sipe, as he set a franchise record for touchdown passes with 30 en route to being named the NFL MVP.
The season came to an abrupt halt in dramatic and disappointing fashion with a 14-12 divisional playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders when Sipe's ill-fated pass into the end zone in the waning seconds on a play called Red Right 88 was intercepted.
But rather than an end, that game was looked upon at the time as being simply a beginning, and the Browns and their fans fully expected to take the next step in 1981 and get that elusive first appearance in the Super Bowl -- or the Siper Bowl, as it was referred to in Cleveland.
As it turned out, the Browns did indeed have a similar kind of season in 1981 -- eight of the games were decided by six points or less, and five were decided by three points or less.
Only this time, the Browns were on the short end of things. Every time they needed to make a play, they didn't. Every time they needed something good to happen, it didn't.
Moreover, the theme of the season was Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
The Browns were still the Kardiac Kids, only they were causing their fans cardiac arrest.
When the smoke had cleared, they had finished 5-11, their worst record since 1975 and the opposite of the 11-5 mark they had sported in '80.
It started with a 44-14 loss on Monday Night Football to the San Diego Chargers, the team the Browns would have played in the 1980 AFC Championship Game had they beaten the Raiders.
And that was followed by these games:
*A 32-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland, where the Browns had beaten them 27-26 in 1980.
*A 41-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland, where the Browns had defeated them 31-7 in 1980.
*A 42-21 loss to the Seahawks at Seattle, where the Browns had beaten them 27-3 in 1980.
*A 17-13 loss to the Oilers at Houston, where the Browns had beaten them 17-14 in 1980.
*A 14-13 loss to the New York Jets at Cleveland, where the Browns had beaten them 17-14 in 1980.
The Browns finished the year with five straight defeats, their longest losing streak since 1975, and dropped seven of their final eight games. By contrast, in 1980, the Browns enjoyed a five-game winning streak, their longest since 1976, and won eight of nine during one stretch.
In 1980, Sipe broke nearly every club passing record, throwing, as mentioned, for 30 TDs with just 14 interceptions while completing nearly 61 percent of his passes, good for a 91.4 quarterback rating. In 1981, he threw more interceptions (25) than TDs (17), his completion rate fell to just over 55 percent and his quarterback rating plummeted to 68.2.
As the quarterback goes, so goes any team, which explains the rise and fall of the Browns in 1980 and '81.
Mike Pruitt rushed for more than 1,000 yards (1,103) for the third straight year in 1981, and caught 63 passes for the second season in a row.
Tight end Ozzie Newsome set a team record (since broken) for receptions with 69 and had the second-most receiving yards in Browns history at the time with 1,002.
Greg Pruitt established a personal best with 65 catches.
But it wasn't enough.
More specifically, it didn't come at the right time.
And as the Browns found out in 1980 and then again in '81, timing is everything.
It was a tough lesson to learn.
But the football gods don't care.
|9/7||L 14-44||San Diego Chargers||78,904|
|9/13||L 3-9||Houston Oilers||79,483|
|9/20||W 20-17||at Cincinnati Bengals||52,170|
|9/27||W 28-17||Atlanta Falcons||78,283|
|10/4||L 16-27||at Los Angeles Rams||63,924|
|10/11||L 7-13||at Pittsburgh Steelers||53,255|
|10/18||W 20-17||New Orleans Saints||76,059|
|10/25||W 42-28||Baltimore Colts||78,986|
|11/1||L 13-22||at Buffalo Bills||78,266|
|11/8||L 20-23||at Denver Broncos (OT)||74,859|
|11/15||W 15-12||at San Francisco 49ers||52,445|
|11/22||L 10-32||Pittsburgh Steelers||77,958|
|11/29||L 21-41||Cincinnati Bengals||75,186|
|12/3||L 13-17||at Houston Oilers||44,502|
|12/12||L 13-14||New York Jets||56,866|
|12/20||L 21-42||at Seattle Seahawks||51,435|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||364||299|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||92/225||78/212|
|3rd Down Pct.||40.90%||36.80%|
|Total Net Yards||5,915||5,394|
|Avg. Per Game||369.7||337.1|
|Avg. Per Play||5.2||5.3|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,929||2,078|
|Avg. Per Game||120.6||129.9|
|Net Yards Passing||3,986||3,289|
|Avg. Per Game||249.1||205.6|
|Net Punting Avg.||68/38.7||78/35.9|
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