During the 1950s, the Cleveland Browns were the premiere franchise of the NFL. They were a dynasty that won five world championships (this was the pre-Super Bowl era) with a legendary corps of Hall of Famers like head coach Paul Brown, Marion Motley, Otto Graham, and arguably the greatest football player ever - Jim Brown. In 1964 the Browns trounced the Baltimore Colts 27-0 for yet another championship that few realized at the time - would be their last. During the 1970s the Browns struggled after a series of bad trades, lackluster draft picks, and injuries. Cleveland fans were forced to sit back and watch as their division rival the Pittsburgh Steelers went on to win four Super Bowls.
In 1978, things began to turn around when Browns owner Art Modell hired Sam Rutigliano as head coach. A longtime assistant coach, Rutigliano revitalized the Browns by building an explosive offense behind the accurate passing of veteran quarterback Brian Sipe. After a promising 8-8 season in 1979, it appeared the Browns were heading in the right direction for 1980. And they would not disappoint. Cleveland, a tough blue collar town, faced high unemployment, racial and ethnic tensions, and a constant target of comedians who taunted their town as the "mistake by the lake," desperately needed something positive to happen for their city. While it is a cliche that a winning football team will not revitalize a city overnight, it can do much to lift the spirits of people experiencing tough times.
Knight provides a detailed account of every game and some of the drama that went on behind the scenes. Unlike other "insider" accounts of professional sports, they generally seemed like a good group of guys. Rutigliano was true players' coach who was respected for his intelligence and willingness to roll the dice when the time called for it. The 1980 Browns were a veteran team with many players in their prime of their careers. Lyle Alzado, an acquisition from the Denver Broncos, had a reputation as a loose cannon, but his enthusiasm added a spark to the defense. Newcomers like tight end Ozzie Newsome and linebacker Clay Matthews made great contributions and went on to become Hall of Famers. Brian Sipe, however, was the leader and rock of the Kardiac Kids who always gave his team a chance to win in the clutch. He continues to hold most of the passing records for the Browns franchise.