Monday, September 10, 2007

For openers ...

Our Browns have played 55 home openers since joining the NFL in 1950. Believe it or not, usually the Browns leave the home team happy, with a 28-26-1 record in those openers.

It's only recently they've left us feeling like a kindergartner ready to pee his pants on the first day of school when the season opens. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have opened the season at home every year. They're 1-8 in those games. In three of them the winning points came with one second or less showing on the clock.

When the Browns blow a home opener, they really blow it. This year they didn't even make it to the last play of the game before we began talking about the end of both Charlie Frye's and Romeo Crennel's Browns careers.

Where does this home-opening disaster rank among the Browns' all-time flops? Let's count them down ...

8. VIKINGS 42, BROWNS 10 (1975)
-- It wasn't disappointing, as the Browns were an awful team that lost its first nine games. But a 42-10 loss wasn't fun for the 68,064 in attendance. And it was the beginning of the worst three-game home stretch in team history. The next week, the Steelers joined in the fun by crushing the Browns 42-6. Then the Houston Oilers followed with a 40-10 victory in the fourth game of the season. This thoroughly forgettable version of the Browns finished with a 3-11 record, worst in team history to that point.

Tbe game was so awful it prompted coach Forrest Gregg to say, "We didn't even make the Vikings mad at us."

After starting with a 17-7 victory over the Washington Redskins, the Browns came back home to begin defense of another NFL championship -- and were buried in front of 80,161 fans. Not only does the 36-point loss stand up as the second-most lopsided loss in a Browns home opener, but the team also lost staring quarterback Frank Ryan to injury.

Ryan only missed one game, and like the 1950 edition -- and certainly unlike our current squad -- the Browns rebounded to make the NFL Championship once again. This time they lost to the Green Bay Packers, 23-12.

OK, it's the worst home-opening loss in Browns history. It was the worst offensive performance in team history, as Ty Detmer led the Browns to 40 total yards. It was the Steelers biggest margin of victory in Cleveland. All of it came in front of 73,138 fans.

But at least the lopsided loss could be tempered by the fact that football was back! If we only knew ...

5. CHARGERS 44, BROWNS 14 (1981)
In what has become something of a tradition, the fans were booing the Browns at halftime as quarterback Fouts brought his Chargers into Cleveland Municipal Stadium and scored the second-most points against the Browns in an opener. The Chargers' output was expected; Fouts had set an NFL record the previous season. The Browns was not, as quarterback Brian Sipe was the one who won the MVP award in 1980.

It was the first of many disappointments as the Browns went 5-11 following their Kardiac Kids season.

4. SAINTS 19, BROWNS 14 (2006)
OK, so the Saints turned out to be a pretty good team. And the Browns turned out to be a pretty lousy team. But no one knew that's how it would be heading in. Instead, the Browns hit a 74-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, only to see it called back because of a holding penalty.

Indeed, the whole season should have been called back.

3. STEELERS 34, BROWNS 7 (2007)
Sure, the high hopes for this season were based on our third-string rookie quarterback who wasn't going to play unless he brought his GameBoy. But four penalties on one play? Charlie Frye yanked before halftime? A game that reminded us of that first game back in 1999?


The Browns brought a helluva report card into their first NFL home game. They had won four straight All-America Football Conference titles before the NFL admitted them. Stars such as quarterback Otto Graham, receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, and kicker Lou Groza helped the Browns dominate the AAFC with a 52-4-3 record. They had opened with convincing victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Colts by a combined 66-10.

Then the Giants handed the Browns their first ever shutout in front of 37,647 fans. Yoiu thought the Browns had bad quarterbacks Sunday? Otto Graham didn't complete a pass in the first half against the Giants and threw four interceptions.

Of course, that Browns team turned out to be pretty good. It went 10-2, losing twice to the Giants in the regular season, before turning around and beating the Giants in the playoffs and then winning the NFL championship over the Rams, 30-28.
Dwayne Rudd lost his head, then his helmet, and the Browns lost themselves a game they had won in the most disappointing home opener in team history.

One what should have been the final play of the game, the former Brown linebacker had Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green wrapped up for a sack. But just before Rudd planted Green, the QB tossed the ball away to lineman John Tait. Tait only made it to the Browns' 25. Game over, right?

Wrong. Rudd didn't know Green had rid himself of the ball. Rudd decided to celebrate by ripping his helmet off and throwing it while running the other way. That brought a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, giving the Chiefs one more play. They made it count when Gary Anderson nailed a 30-yard field goal to win the game.

Tony Grossi wrote perhaps his most prescient paragraph ever in The Plain Dealer: "There may be no worse way to lose a football game. Then again, stay tuned."

We only needed to stay tuned to the end of the season, when the Browns finally made the playoffs, then choked away their chance in a loss at arch-rival Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game. The Browns haven't even been able to spell playoffs since.

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