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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 8
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

browns hail maryAs we struggle to survive another season with the new-era Browns, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol or heavy medication) is to look back at the best individual weeks of the Browns’ new era to remember times in recent memory when this particular week didn’t suck.

The general rule is that the longer you wait for something, the more satisfying it is when you finally get it.

But as we know from experience, in many cases, that simply isn’t what happens. There’s satisfaction, to be sure, but often not enough to warrant the long wait.

The Browns’ first win of the new era was not one of these cases.

Going into Halloween Sunday in 1999, Browns fans had waited nearly four full years for a victory. And the last two months - through which they’d watched their team wallow through the expansion process by losing their first seven games - might have been worse than the previous three years when there was no Cleveland football at all.

These Browns had shown pluck, hanging around with a handful of opponents before fading. But between these frustrating experiences and the complete washouts - like the 34-3 annihilation to the eventual Super Bowl-champion St. Louis Rams the previous Sunday - it was crystal clear just how far the Browns were from becoming a competitive team.

And with that realization, Browns fans were beginning to brace themselves for the very realistic possibility that this team may not win a game all season.

Their Week 8 trip to New Orleans to face Mike Ditka’s sputtering Saints looked more promising than most of the previous seven contests, though - reflecting just how woebegone the Browns were - the 1-5 Saints were still listed as 10-point favorites. And as they tended to do, the ’99 Browns hung tough in the face of long odds.

Tim Couch, running for his life much of that autumn, threw a pair of touchdown passes - one to fullback Marc Edwards and one to emerging rookie wideout Kevin Johnson - as the Browns took a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter. The Saints trimmed the margin to a point going into the final period and Phil Dawson - at the time just the kicker and not the franchise’s sole source of pride - missed a long field goal that could have extended the Browns’ cushion.

Yet while the Browns were keeping the game close, New Orleans was once again demonstrating that the Browns still had a woefully long way to go to get to respectability. Rookie running back Ricky Williams - whom the Browns had considered drafting the previous April before choosing Couch - was running roughshod through the Browns’ overwhelmed defense. Williams wound up with 179 yards on a whopping 40 carries, but also coughed up three critical fumbles that, along with a pair of New Orleans interceptions, kept the Browns in the game.

Williams keyed what appeared would be the game-winning drive, pushing the Saints into Cleveland territory in the final minute. The result was a 46-yard field goal that gave them a 16-14 lead with 21 seconds left.

But New Orleans had made a boneheaded mistake you’d expect from the expansion Browns. Before the field goal, quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver had called time out too early. Rather than waiting for the clock to melt down further to ensure the kick would be the game’s final play, the Saints would have to endure one last quick, frenzied possession.

Still, taking over at their own 25, the Browns were in an almost impossible situation. Couch hit wideout Leslie Shepherd - who, once upon a time, was expected to be his go-to receiver in that inaugural season - for a key 19-yard gain to the Cleveland 44 in a quietly important play that is generally drowned out by the thunderclap that followed.

With two seconds left, it set up "258 Flood Tip Right" - one of just a handful of great plays from the Browns new era that remains frozen in our memory.

Couch takes the snap, is flushed to his right, and - as the clock hits zero - hurls the football with every ounce of his Kentucky-bred being toward the end zone.

browns hail mary 1999Bunch of guys jump up and tip the ball. It spirals sideways, where Kevin Johnson snatches it with his feet just inside the pylon before tumbling out of bounds. Orgasmic madness ensues.

As his teammates piled atop Johnson in the corner, across the country, frustrated Browns fans screamed in jubilation and utter surprise, embracing and high-fiving one another like lunatics off their meds. It was the touchdown we’d been waiting four years for and, even today, remains one of the sweetest we’ve ever seen.

Never before had the Browns won a game on a Hail Mary pass. And never before had Browns fans gone 1,409 days between victories.

It wasn’t worth losing the team and beginning a franchise-rebuilding process that is still happening. But on this memorable Halloween, the Browns provided the greatest trick-or-treat in NFL history.

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