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Club 46

Club 46: Dick Ambrose reflects on importance of 'Kardiac Kids,' how it felt to bring success to Cleveland

Ambrose made a steady rise from late-round draft pick to prime defensive player

Dick Ambrose prefers to not mention one particular memory when he's asked about his favorite play or moment as a linebacker with the Cleveland Browns.

Ambrose has plenty of them from a nine-year career in Cleveland, where he built a legacy as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play for the Browns. He led the team in tackles for five consecutive seasons (1977-81) and was the team's most valuable defensive player in 1977. In 1981, he was honored by his teammates with the "Captain's Award," given to the team member who is "a worker, a team player and an inspiration."

But none of those accolades and stats trigger a singular favorite memory for Ambrose, who was nicknamed "Bam Bam" for his hard-hitting style of play. Instead, he likes to discuss his favorite year: 1980.

That season, of course, is remembered in the franchise as the year of the "Kardiac Kids," the nickname for the Browns after they endured several last-minute finishes that often ended with a win. 

"That was just a very unique and special season for all of us on the team," Ambrose said. "It was one of those things where you come together as a team, and we played together, we lost together."

The final part of that sentiment meant a lot to Ambrose, who can still recall everything from his position on the sideline during the infamous Red Right 88 play in the final minute of the Browns' 14-12 deficit to the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 AFC Divisional Playoff Round. When quarterback Brian Sipe dropped back to pass the ball from the Oakland Raiders' 13-yard line, the 80,000 fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium fell into a deep silence.

The pass, intended for tight end Ozzie Newsome, was intercepted by Mike Davis. The game was over.

"That was the end of our dream, and I guess that was meant to be," Ambrose said. "We just have to live with it."

It took some time, but Ambrose has been able to live with the tough loss that ended one of the best years in Browns history. He takes pride in being one of the players on a storied team, and that year was when Ambrose's roots in Cleveland grew an even deeper hold.

Before that season, Ambrose had steadily risen to one of the premier players on the Browns defense. He was a 12th-round pick out of Virginia in 1975, and because the Browns — who went  4-10 the previous season — were seeking young talent, Ambrose and 10 other rookies made the team. Half of them, including Ambrose, started games at one point in the season.

Ambrose began to develop his reputation as a bully of a tackler, and after going 3-11 his rookie season, the Browns slowly got better, too. Their record rose to 9-6 in 1976 and then went 6-8, 8-8 and 9-7 over the next three seasons. Cleveland was on the verge of something special, and Ambrose played a role in helping the team rise.

Standing 6-feet tall and weighing 235 pounds, Ambrose, as well as fellow linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., became the biggest bruisers on the Browns defense. Ambrose rarely missed a game and became a reliable leader on a team that was quickly returning as one of the best in the AFC, and the pinnacle of the success came from the Kardiac Kids.

That was when Ambrose fully realized how special the Browns were to Cleveland.

"I think Browns fans hang on to any little successes that we get, and now that I'm a retired player, I'm in that same boat," Ambrose said. "I'm a Browns fan, so I live and die with what happens on Sunday. Like I said before, I think it's unique in Cleveland that the fans are very educated."

Because of the rich history from the era that Ambrose played in, he knows that his legacy won't be forgotten. He doesn't need to have his own favorite memory — he'll let Browns fans decide that for themselves. 

He's just happy to have been on a team that brought success to Cleveland, and he's been happy to ride along as a legendary Browns alum ever since.

"I've talked to many Browns fans that said, 'My dad took me to my first Browns game when I was five years old and I still remember that day,'" Ambrose said. "That's the kind of bonding that I think has helped make this team such an integral part of the community."

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