It was, Butch Davis thought, the weirdest tribute he had ever seen.
With the game clock ticking down to 00:00, Browns QB Kelly Holcomb takes the snap from center and goes down on one knee. An exhausted and defeated Cincinnati defense stands staring, hands on their hips, as the clock runs down to the final gun. An instant later the entire Browns offensive unit turns toward the Dog Pound, rips off their helmets, and flings them toward the end zone.
The fans go nuts. And why wouldn't they? Fresh off a bizarre opening day defeat that should have ripped the heart out of the team, the Browns absolutely dominate a troubled Bengals squad. And surprisingly, much of the scoring comes from the same defense that had given up so many points against the Chiefs.
It doesn't take long for the floodgates to open. On the Bengals opening drive, Courtney Brown runs around the aging Richmond Webb to pile drive QB John Kitna just as he releases the ball. The fluttering pass lands right in Dwayne Rudd's hands, and the maligned linebacker sprints 40 yards down the sideline for an emphatic score.
Thousands of Browns fans, ready to show their displeasure for the boneheaded play a week before, had arrived at the stadium armed with Browns mini-helmets to throw at Rudd. But when the 235-pound linebacker races into the end zone for the first score of the game, the tiny orange helmets rain down behind the end zone in tribute. Rudd's helmet stays on.
Bengal's coach Dick LeBeau throws his clipboard in frustration. He had hoped Kitna could enjoy some success against the Browns defense. Instead, the journeyman signal caller with an unhealthy penchant for interceptions is rolling around the turf in obvious pain. So when Gus Frerotte and his swollen thumb enter the game, there's little question that Corey Dillon will get the call.
The Browns know this, of course. Daring Frerotte to throw, the Browns stack 10 guys in the box, leaving Anthony Henry alone in centerfield. Three handoffs later, Dillon loses 34 yards and coughs up a fumble that Gerard Warren scoops up in the end zone for the Browns second score. More mini-helmets pour from the stands as Warren leaps into the Dog Pound, nearly crushing seven people. Rudd's helmet stays on.
By halftime, LeBeau has seen enough. The coach decides to send first-round bust Akili Smith behind center in an effort to do something, [i]anything[/i], to get the Bengals on the score board. Instead, Akili fumbles a snap, commits a personal foul for pushing after a play, and throws an interception on third down to Anthony Henry, which the second-year cornerback returns for yet another Browns score.
In fact, the Bengals offense is so bad the Browns don't run a single offensive play until midway through the third quarter. Kelly Holcomb, spelling Tim Couch for the second week, opens with four straight passes, including a 34 yard touchdown strike to Quincy Morgan. Less than a minute later, the Browns offense is on the field again, courtesy of a withering Dwayne Rudd hit that separates Bengals kick returner TJ Houshmandzadeh from the ball. Rudd's helmet stays on.
By the time William Green breaks open a 20 yard run for a score, LeBeau is nowhere to be seen. The 63-year old LeBeau—who became the oldest rookie head coach since the NFL-AFL merger when he took over the Bengals post in 2001—quits on the spot. Mike Brown, unable to get anyone to take the top job, decides to coach the remainder of the game himself. But when Brown pulls linebacker Takeo Spikes and end Vaughn Booker for Armegis Spearman and Eric Ogbogu because—and I quote—"I like their names," even the players can stand no more.
With just under three minutes left to play, the entire starting defense retires from the NFL rather than play another minute for Mike Brown. Browns fans roar their approval as Spikes, Booker, Jeff Burress, Brian Simmons and other veterans march into the locker room to clean out their stuff.
And when the entire Browns offensive unit hurls their helmets toward the Dog Pound in celebration, Dwayne Rudd's helmet stays on.
And that's the way I see it. GMD