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Top 75 Moments: No. 47 - Browns win 1st game of expansion era with Hail Mary in New Orleans


To continue our celebration of the franchise's 75th anniversary, we're launching "Browns Countdown: Top 75 Moments" presented by Bridgestone. Over the next month, through videos, articles and more, we'll be highlighting the top 75 moments in Browns history. Our video tributes, which will be available at, the Browns' mobile app and the Browns' official YouTube Channel, will dive deep into the top 20 while our articles will put the spotlight on a number of different moments that are sprinkled throughout the top 75.

_We're moving down to No. 47, which highlights the Browns _

As the final seconds ticked down inside the Louisiana Superdome on Oct. 31, 1999, the Browns couldn't have been more desperate to make one final play.

Cleveland was seven games into its first season as an expansion franchise, and it had yet to win one of them. The 0-7 mark cast a dark cloud over the Browns that felt inescapable as they moved toward the halfway point of the season, and the odds of ending their losing streak were bleak as they faced a two-point deficit with the ball at their own 44-yard line, their only shot to win being a successful Hail Mary. 

Quarterback Tim Couch took the shotgun snap, rolled to his right and stepped forward to heave his pass as the clock expired. 

"I couldn't have thrown it another yard," Couch said. "I put everything I could into it and threw it as high as I could.

With about five New Orleans Saints defenders in the vicinity and just three Browns receivers, Cleveland was out-numbered when the ball reached the end zone. 

But a trio of Saints defenders hit the ball down and off one of their helmets, richoteting the ball back into the air.

Wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who had already caught a touchdown earlier that afternoon, was right underneath it.

The ball landed perfectly into his hands. Touchdown, and — after more than three years — a Browns victory.

"I was watching the (video) screen and I noticed Tim let the ball go," Johnson said. "I wasn't in position to catch the ball. I was at the 10-yard line, so I ran into the end zone and got myself into position. Those guys tipped it right into my hands."

Had the play not been made, the Browns would've had to stomach arguably their hardest loss yet of the 1999 season.

They rallied from early 7-0 and 10-7 deficits to keep things close, and their defense, which failed to hold strong in a debilitating 34-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams the previous week, was doing all it could to give Cleveland a shot. 

Saints running back Ricky Williams had already attained 179 rushing yards, but he had also fumbled three times. Both Saints quarterbacks, Billy Joe Tolliver and Billy Joe Hobert, had thrown an interception.

Yet the Saints were still in the lead when the Browns received the ball back with 16 seconds left. After an incomplete deep ball on first down, Couch hit receiver Leslie Shepherd for a 19-yard pass. Shepherd stepped out of bounds at the 44 with two seconds left.

The only play left to be called was the Hail Mary.

"The reality of losing was killing us," Shepherd said. "But to be totally honest, we felt (the play) would work."

After Couch's strong-armed throw, one lucky tip and some excellent positioning from Johnson, it did.

And for more than two decades after the completion, the play has been remembered and recalled by nearly every generation of Browns fans — Cleveland was finally back in the win column.

"I still can't believe it happened," said Johnson. "It was like a miracle."

Earlier this year, the Browns commissioned a panel of historians, alumni and journalists to rank the top 75 moments in Browns history. The group met multiple times to discuss the moments and each member submitted their own final rankings, which were averaged against each other to create the ultimate list.

Building the Top 75 from the bottom up

47. Browns defeat New Orleans Saints 21-16 with miracle "Hail Mary" on Oct. 31, 1999, for the team's first win as an expansion team.

48. Browns hire Romeo Crennel, their first African-American coach, in 2005.

49. Browns orchestrate the greatest road comeback (25 points) in NFL history in a 29-28 victory against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 5, 2014

50. Brian Sipe breaks the Cleveland Browns franchise passing record held previously by Otto Graham (401) by throwing for 444 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win over the Baltimore Colts on Oct. 25, 1981.

51. Browns defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 29, 2002, to clinch playoff berth. William Green broke off a 64-yard run to seal the game away.

52. Baker Mayfield breaks NFL rookie record for most passing touchdowns in as single season (27) on Dec. 30, 2018

54. Browns defeat Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22, on Jan. 3, 2021, to end NFL's longest playoff drought of 18 years.

55. Browns avenge their first championship game loss to the Los Angeles Rams in 1951 by crushing the Rams in a rematch 37-7 on Oct. 7, 1952.

56. Cleveland Browns draft Joe Thomas on April 28, 2007.

57. Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham is elbowed in the face by a Detroit Lions defender in the first half, and after receiving 15 stitches and a lucite face mask, he comes back in the second half to defeat the Lions, 23-21, on Nov. 15, 1953. Graham's injury helped kickstart the widespread use of facemasks in the NFL.

59. In the first meeting of Jim Brown vs. Johnny Unitas, the Cleveland Browns prevail in a 38-31 shootout against the Baltimore Colts on Nov. 1, 1959. The game also pits Weeb Ewbank against his mentor Paul Brown. Brown rushed for 178 yards and scored five touchdowns while Unitas threw for 397 yards in defeat.

60. Browns clinch a wildcard playoff berth on Dec. 18, 1988, behind backup quarterback Don Strock, who threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 victory over the Houston Oilers

61. Blanton Collier replaces Paul Brown as head coach. Collier coached the Browns when they won the 1964 championship.

62. Paul Brown debuts first radio helmet 1956 with QB George Ratterman.

63. Josh Gordon becomes first wide receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games on Dec. 1, 2013.

65. Phil Dawson retires from the NFL as a Cleveland Brown. Dawson signed with the Browns in 1999 and kicked for the Browns for 14 years.

67. Bobby Mitchell rushes for 232 yards on 14 carries for an incredible 16.6-yard average in a Cleveland Browns 31-17 win against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 15, 1959.

68. Browns' fans create numerous music ballads that are played on Cleveland radio to celebrate the teams resurgence in the late 1980s. Songs include "Oh Bernie Bernie," "Super Bowl Browns" and "Born and Raised on the Browns."

69. Browns defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 21-20, on Dec. 8, 2002 with a 50-yard Hail Mary from Tim Couch to Quincy Morgan with no time left. Couch becomes the only quarterback to have two game-winning passes of 50 yards or more with no time left on the clock.

72. Browns clinch an Eastern Conference title by crushing the New York Giants 52-20 on Dec. 12, 1964.

73. Browns move into first place of the AFC Central Division after defeating the Houston Oilers on Dec. 15, 1985. The Browns would go on to win the AFC Central for the first time since 1980

74. Jeff Garcia and Andre Davis combine to tie the NFL record for the longest pass in NFL history of 99 yards in a Cleveland Browns 34-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 17, 2004.

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