The famous play ‘Red Right 88’ has been considered the first in a series of unfortunate plays that have haunted the Cleveland Browns for decades
Red Right 88 will be a play many of us Cleveland Browns fans will remember forever because it was such a shocking moment that concluded a game and a season that was so fun for the team and the football-passionate community.
It was the dead of winter in Cleveland and their football team was back in the playoffs for the first time since 1972. The year was 1981 and the Browns were known that season as the “Kardiac Kids” because the team had many games during the season that came down to the wire.
The town was alive even during the coldest time of the year. The Browns were led by coach Sam Rutigliano who had a young quarterback named Brian Sipe marching the team into the playoffs.
There were players like tight end Ozzie Newsome, running back Mike Pruitt and wide receiver Dave Logan on offense. On defense the team was a tough group with the likes of defensive end Lyle Alzado, linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Ron Bolton and safety Clarence Scott.
For this first playoff game, the Browns were welcoming the Oakland Raiders, a team not accustomed to cold weather to begin with. It certainly seemed going into this game that Cleveland had a big advantage.
On game day the temperatures were hovering just about zero degrees and the winds off of Lake Erie were going to create problems for both teams. The field that day in old run-down Municipal Stadium was frozen. Getting foot traction by the players would be everything — and could be costly.
Once the game started, neither team could do much on offense though the Browns moved the ball close enough that they had several field goal attempts — but most of those were missed by their kicker Don Cockroft. Cleveland did finally score a touchdown when Bolton took an interception back 42 yards for the score in the second quarter. But the team couldn’t extend that lead and the Raiders managed to stay close.
Oakland eventually gained the lead 14-12. Towards the end of the game with just over four minutes remaining, the Raiders recovered a Brian Sipe fumble and it seemed the game was going to end that way.
But the Cleveland defense made one last stand and instead of Oakland kicking their own field goal to seal the game, they missed gaining a yard twice on a third and fourth down and gave Sipe and his teammates one last shot at a comeback win. They were the “Kardiac Kids” so the ending was very fitting. Sipe completed a pass or two and Pruitt had a good run and the Browns were down at the 13-yard line and in great shape to win the game.
The problem on this bone-chilling day was that Cockcroft had missed two field goals, had another snapped fumbled on the kick attempt, and even missed another chip shot extra point.
So on second down from their 13-yard line, the Browns called a time out to discuss the situation and their coach called the fateful “Red Right 88” play. The initial go to on the play was to wide receiver Dave Logan. The second look was to tight end Ozzie Newsome. Rutigliano is said to have told Sipe to throw the ball into Lake Erie if the pass wasn’t there.
When you go back and look at the actual play on video you’ll see Newsome and Logan getting open but Sipe thought the Raiders cornerback Mike Davis was not going to stay with Newsome and so Sipe threw the ball that direction. Unfortunately, Davis stayed on Newsome and stepped in front of the pass and intercepted it to the shock of the Cleveland faithful.
As an 11 year old kid at the time and having become a huge fan of the team for the first time it was a crushing loss and one that fans today still reminisce about.
The Browns would go onto many more name worthy losses in the next decade including the “The Drive” and “The Fumble” but “Red Right 88” was the first.
The idea that fans of the team have held onto these fateful games for decades and still cheer on their favorite Browns team ever Sunday to this day still showcases their unwavering loyalty.