Somehow the 1972 Cleveland Browns have been omitted on the long list of disappointments in the history of Cleveland sports. The Browns alone can claim ‘Red Right 88; The Drive; The Fumble; and The Move as part of our collective ‘Woe is me attitude' (Phil Savage term), but somehow the '72 team is not part of the lore.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are back in the news because of the run being made at an undefeated season by the Indianapolis Colts. And much is being made about whether the Colts should concentrate on the post-season rather than going for the historic undefeated season. Long-time Cleveland baseball fans will remember that the 1954 Indians manager Al Lopez, who recently passed away, felt it was important to set the record for wins in the American League on their way to the World Series. The Indians got their record 111 wins, but were swept in four games by the New York Giants.
But the Browns, under head coach Nick Skorich, should have put an end to the Dolphins season in the first round of the playoffs, after Miami went undefeated in the 14-game regular season. The Browns went 10-4 in the regular season, winning 8 of their last 9 games. They went into Miami as a big underdog, and trailed 10-0 at the half, with the Dolphins scoring on a five-yard blocked punt return when Don Cockroft punted from his own end zone. Miami added a 40 yard Garo Yepremian field goal. If the Browns had won that game, Yepremian would never be remembered for the strangest play in Super Bowl history.
The Browns got on the board in the third quarter, when QB Mike Phipps ran it in from the five, and in the fourth, Phipps connected with Fair Hooker on a 27 yard pass to give the Browns a 14-13, after Yepremian hit a 46-yard FG.
Miami took the lead back on an eight yard run by Jim Kiick, capping off an 80-yard drive which included a couple of big receptions by former Brown Paul Warfield, who had been traded for the rights to draft Phipps prior to the 1970 season. Phipps threw FIVE interceptions in that game, including one in the final drive that could have resulted in a win.
The rest is history, as the Dolphins went on to run the table. The Browns, on the other hand, began a period of mediocre-to-bad football. Until that point, the Browns had appeared in the post-season in six of the past eight years, including four NFL Championship Games. They won in 1964, and lost in '65, '68 and '69. They were not destined to get to the post-season again until the Cardiac Kids did it in 1980, missing it for seven straight seasons. There would be four more years without a playoff game until the 1985 team, led by Bernie Kosar, lost again to the Dolphins. Between those two losses to the Dolphins in the post-season, the Browns made the playoffs only once in eleven seasons.
We know about Brian Sipe, John Elway, and Earnest Byner---but for some reason the 1972 Browns get a free pass. And the '72 Dolphins toast each other when the final NFL team loses a game each year. That might not happen this year.
The Browns cannot be happy about their 4-9 record, and there are no such things as moral victories. But if the Browns don't fall on their collective faces in the remaining three games---and there is no reason to think that they will---there are plenty of positive things to think about in the off-season.
Based on the way the season has played out for some of their opponents, the Browns have to be happy with several performances. Most recently, even if the Bengals had a letdown after their win in Pittsburgh, the Browns had to be happy about the improvement between the opening game and last week's three-point loss on the final play of the game. The earlier win against Chicago, along with well-played games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville showed that they could play fairly close to probable playoff teams. The major disappointments, however, have to be the losses to Detroit and Houston.
With the discovery of a running game, an exciting new quarterback, and the hopeful returns of Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Braylon Edwards, the Browns go into the off-season with the makings of a pretty good offense. If they can find some outside linebackers and a pass rush, the re-building period may not be as long as some people think.