No. 5: Red Right 88
The 1980 season left the Browns and their fans heartbroken, but it was also one of the most exciting seasons they have ever had. That was the year that Brian Sipe came into his own and led the Kardiac Kids to a string of exciting last-minute wins. That year it seemed that the game was never over for the Browns, no matter what the score was, how much time remained, or who was ahead. The combination of a winner after several losing seasons in the 1980s, coupled with the exciting offensive brand of football, got the entire city into an absolute frenzy.
Somehow Sam Rutigliano and the Browns forged a path to the playoffs and hosted Al Davis’ Raidahs for the AFC semifinal game. It was one of the coldest games in NFL history, with 20 mph winds, and a wind chill of -20 degrees at game time, and it got worse. But this is made to order for Cleveland football. The Browns were leading 12-7 in the fourth quarter when the Raiders put together a late drive culminating in a touchdown by Mark van Eeghan to take a 14-12 lead. In typical Browns fashion, the Kardiac Kids had won game after game in the last two minutes that year. They put together a drive of their own and pulled to the Raiders’ 13 with less than a minute to go, second down and nine yards.
Should they have kicked a field goal to win right there? Maybe, but Jim Plunkett would have had time to mount a drive of his own. Moreover, Don Cockroft, though a star kicker, had torn the cartilage in his left knee. And in fact, that game was the last of his illustrious career. He had already missed two field goals and an extra point in that game. If he missed the extra point, you have to believe that there was a substantial risk that the short field goal attempt could also have gone awry. Have you ever tried to kick a field goal on an ice rink during a minor hurricane with a bum knee that requires surgery?
As it was, Red Right 88 was a dangerous pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome, who would eventually make the Hall of Fame. If Newsome was not open, Sipe was supposed to throw the ball away, but instead, he threw it to a spot where Mike Davis could make the interception.
Suddenly it was gone. Game over. No more miracles. No more last-minute victories. All gone.
That infamous play is part of team history. The pain is never going to completely go away.