Red Right 88
Cleveland Stadium, the site of the game
|Date||January 4, 1981|
|Announcers||Don Criqui and John Brodie|
Red Right 88 was the designation of a Cleveland Browns passing play that was called during the January 4, 1981 American Football Conference divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders; in the years since, the term has been used to refer to the game itself and its ending.
With the game-time temperature at 4 °F (−16 °C), the coldest NFL game since the Ice Bowl of December 31, 1967, the first quarter contained nothing but punts and interceptions, with Cleveland's Ron Bolton and Oakland's Lester Hayes each recording a pick. Near the end of the quarter, Browns' quarterback Brian Sipe's 20-yard completion to Reggie Rucker sparked a drive inside the Raiders 30-yard line, but it ended with no points early in the second quarter when Don Cockroft missed a field goal attempt from 47 yards. On Oakland's ensuing drive, quarterback Jim Plunkett lost a fumble while being sacked, but their defense kept the Browns in check and Cockroft missed another field goal try, this one from 30 yards out.
Finally with 6:02 left in the second quarter, Bolton scored the first points of the day by recording his second interception from Plunkett and returning it 42 yards to the end zone. However, Cockroft's ensuing extra point was blocked by Ted Hendricks. After an exchange of punts, Oakland managed to get on the board, with Plunkett completing passes to Bob Chandler and Raymond Chester for gains of 15 and 26 yards on a 64-yard scoring drive. Mark van Eeghen finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the half, making the score 7–6.
On Cleveland's opening drive of the second half, a 28-yard kickoff return to the 40-yard line by Charles White started off a 48-yard drive that ended with Cockroft's 30-yard field goal, retaking the lead for the Browns a 9–7. Then after forcing a punt, Cleveland drove to the Raiders 24-yard line, but on a field goal attempt, holder Paul McDonald was unable to handle a bad snap and was downed for an 11-yard loss. Starting out their next drive on the Raiders 44 after a punt, Cleveland drove to the 9, featuring a 21-yard reception by Dave Logan to score on another 30-yard field goal from Cockroft, making the score 12–7 going into the fourth quarter.
Early in the final period, the Raiders took a 14–12 lead at the end of an 80-yard drive highlighted by Chester's 27-yard catch. On the last play, van Eeghen scored his second 1-yard touchdown run of the day. Later on, the Raiders had a chance to put the game away when they recovered a fumble from Sipe on the Browns 24-yard line with 4:19 left in the game. But after moving to a 3rd and 1 situation on the 15, van Eeghen was stuffed for no gain on two consecutive plays, and Cleveland got the ball on downs. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Sipe completed a 29-yard pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome, and then a 23-yarder to Greg Pruitt four plays later. Then Mike Pruitt ran the ball 14 yards to the Raiders 14-yard line. Pruitt gained another yard on the next play, and the team called a timeout from the 13 with 49 seconds left.
Trailing 14–12 with less than a minute remaining in the game, the Browns had the ball on the Raiders 13-yard line and were in position for a potential game-winning field goal. Browns quarterback Brian Sipe conferred with head coach Sam Rutigliano, who called a pass play, "Red Slot Right, Halfback Stay, 88," and instructed Sipe to "throw it into Lake Erie" if the play was anything less than wide open. On the ensuing play, Sipe chose to force a pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome. However, the pass was intercepted in the end zone by Raiders safety Mike Davis, who had cut in front of Newsome's square-in pass route, putting an end to the Browns' season. Oakland subsequently advanced to the AFC conference championship, where they defeated the San Diego Chargers and went on to win Super Bowl XV over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The logic behind trying for the touchdown was that Browns kicker Don Cockroft had previously missed two field goal attempts, had had one extra point attempt blocked, and had had another aborted following a bad snap. In addition, the weather was brutally cold and windy. "What many people don't know about that situation is that I was a long way from being 100 percent physically in 1980," Cockroft said in a 2006 interview. "I had two herniated discs and needed four epidurals to just get through the season. I probably should have gone on IR." Cockroft was released by the Browns at the end of their 1981 training camp and retired soon after.
Had the play been executed properly, it would have presumably resulted in a touchdown. The primary receiver, Dave Logan, was crossing left-to-right, had a step on his defender and was open at the six-yard line. Sipe misread the defensive back's movements and thought Logan was covered so he went to the secondary receiver and threw in traffic where it was intercepted. Furthermore, Cleveland's drive had occurred right after the Raiders themselves had blown a chance at a short field goal attempt, moving the ball to a 3rd and 1 situation on the Browns 15-yard line only to lose it by being stuffed for no gain on consecutive running plays.
The play call itself has since become an infamous part of Cleveland sports lore, ranking with The Drive, The Fumble, The Catch, Off Nagy's Glove, The Shot, The Decision and The Move as a bad memory that symbolizes the 51-year professional championship drought that has plagued the city.
The game itself, with a temperature of −5 °F (−21 °C) and a −36 °F (−38 °C) wind chill, was the coldest NFL game since the legendary Ice Bowl of December 31, 1967 that pitted the Dallas Cowboys against the Green Bay Packers. Other cold conditions prevailed in later games, such as the AFC Championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers, also known as the Freezer Bowl, a year later.
- Henkel, Frank M., Cleveland Browns History, 2005
- King, Steve. Where are they Now?: Cockroft, Cleveland Browns. 2006-12-12