Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Browns’ black cloud dissipates at Baltimore
December 25, 2007
Since the Browns were reborn in 1999, they've had their share of breaks -- most of them bad.
They blew top draft picks and signed the wrong free agents. When they drafted a college stud, he blew out his knee practicing wheelies on a supercharged motorcycle. When they lured reputable players, they suffered unspeakable injuries.
On the field, other than one season in which the planets aligned, the Browns lost more than they won every year.
They lost one game when a player took off his helmet to celebrate prematurely. A bad replay reversal prompted Bottlegate, in which fans pelted officials with beer-filled plastic bottles, nearly causing a forfeit.
This was a franchise in dire need of a singular moment to redefine itself.
That's what happened in Baltimore on Nov. 18 when Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal to tie the game on the last play of regulation was ruled no good, and then reversed.
The kick was a catharsis, purging Cleveland and Browns fans in particular of all bad karma heaped on their football team.
With the game on the line, the ball sailed to the left of target, glanced off the left upright and ricocheted to the right -- it could've gone the other way -- where it hit the support behind the crossbar and caromed forward through the uprights. One official under one goalpost signaled no good and the other was unsure.
As Baltimore coach Brian Billick waved his team off the field to celebrate an apparent Ravens victory in the locker room, officials huddled to discuss the bizarre play.
Referee Pete Morelli checked to see whether the play could be reviewed by instant replay. Told it could not, he conferred with the two officials who had the best view of the play and sided with the one who believed the ball had passed through the plane of the crossbar before caroming back onto the field.
The field goal was ruled good. Billick had to drag his players out of the locker room for an overtime. They were psychologically beaten. The Browns won the coin toss and Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal through the middle for the win.
Finally, a controversial ruling went the Browns' way in a crucial victory.
Equally satisfying to Browns fans was having it occur at the expense of Billick, who decided to work for Art Modell in 1999 rather than become the first coach of the expansion Browns.
Until the Browns win a Super Bowl, that's as good as it gets.