Sundays in the Pound: The Heroics and Heartbreak of the 1985-1989 Cleveland Browns
Praise for Sundays in the Pound
“…likely to revive the Browns spirit in faithful fans…and help them fondly remember the ‘Dawg Days.’”
-Akron Beacon Journal
“Football fans will enjoy Sundays in the Pound…”
“In orange and brown, he paints a picture of a magical time in Cleveland when the ‘Dawg Pound’ was a pup.”
-Columbus Suburban News Publications
Through the first eighteen years of the Browns-Bengals series, the teams had managed to pretty well avoid matching one another’s competitive ebbs and flows. When the Bengals surged in the early and mid-1970s, the Browns floundered. When Sam Rutigliano injected new life into the franchise in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Bengals collapsed. While the Browns mobilized in the mid-eighties, the Bengals were talented, but inconsistent. Consequently, very few Cleveland-Cincinnati games provided excitement outside of the state. Even less had major playoff or division-title implications.
Such was not the case on October 30, 1988. On the eve of Halloween, the Browns and Bengals would square off for the first time with both considered to be in the upper echelon of the NFL. Football fans across the nation sat up and took notice. It was the game of the weekend, the hottest ticket in the league. More than 250 media representatives requested credentials. NBC sent its No. 1 broadcast team of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen. Even Spuds McKenzie, Budweiser’s promotional pit-bull mascot, was in town for the game. The 7-1 Bengals would face the 5-3 Browns in as hostile an environment as there was in professional sports. It was the stuff NFL dreams were made of. The showdown “was the topic most discussed in every bar and pub from the Ohio River to Lake Erie,” Jim Mueller wrote in Browns News/Illustrated.
While the Browns, with a healthy Kosar, appeared to be back on track, the real story surrounding the game was the resurgent Bengals. After finishing 4-11 and nearly getting booted out of town the year before, Sam Wyche had turned the tables with essentially the same cast of characters. He’d dialed down some of his “Wicky-Wacky” decisions but still managed to be innovative. But what had brought even more attention to the Cincy offense over the first eight weeks of the season was Wyche’s selective use of the huddle. Rather than just using the traditional gathering of the offense after each play, the Bengals employed a variety of huddles. There was the sideline huddle, typically used after a change of possession, when they players would gather around Wyche on the sideline, get the play, then run up to the line of scrimmage. There was the no-huddle, and in between, the “sugar” huddle, so named since it was short and sweet. Esiason and the offense would linger three yards behind the line of scrimmage and quickly relay the play call down the line.
While all this was elaborate and entertaining, it was in place for two reasons. First, to try to prevent defenses from making mass substitutions in between plays and therefore set up matchup advantages for the offense. And second, to draw five-yard twelve-men-on-the-field penalties when a defense got caught in the middle of a substitution. Most NFL coaches rolled their eyes at the Bengals, seeing the huddles as short-term trickery, and in the long run, not worth the elaborate efforts. “They try to trap you with the wrong guys on the field or to trick you,” Hanford Dixon said, “instead of playing football the way it’s supposed to be played.” The Plain Dealer’s Bill Livingston said it was as if Wyche wanted to “play his panty raid against your Chinese fire drill.” But it was something for defenses to be wary of and prepare for.
If Wyche’s trick-or-treat offense was effective on this sun-drenched Halloween Sunday on Lake Erie, the Browns would have to surrender any hopes of capturing their fourth straight division title. If they dropped to 5-4, it would be time to start playing for a Wild Card spot - and even that wouldn’t be easy with Cleveland’s upcoming schedule. But with a win, the Browns would improve to 6-3 and pull to within one game of the Bengals with seven games to play. And now they had Kosar.