Sipe Remembered Most for One Bad Pass
No one lets Brian Sipe forget the pass, even after six years, even though he now lives 2,700 miles from Cleveland.
“The pass will be with me as long as I’m around football fans,” the former quarterback said. “It’s the thing that people remind me of from that year.”
1980 -- that was the year, thanks to Sipe’s superb passing, the Browns won their first division title since 1971. It was last time the Browns hosted an AFC playoff game.
Browns fans were convinced they were “Siper Bowl” bound; the Oakland Raiders convinced them otherwise by winning 14-12 at frozen, wind-whipped Cleveland Stadium.
Sam Rutigliano, who was coaching Cleveland then, told Sipe to “throw it to a blond in the mezzanine” if no receiver was open for a touchdown -- because the Browns were in potential game-winning field goal range.
But Sipe’s forced pass in the last minute to tight end Ozzie Newsome was picked off in the end zone by Mike Davis. Oakland went on to win the Super Bowl, the only wild-card team to do so.
Sipe had to settle for being the NFL’s most valuable player that year.
“The reason I had an opportunity to make a mistake like that (pass) was we had made a lot of those decisions and gotten away with them,” he said during a telephone interview from his home in nearby Encinitas.
“We were a team playing over our heads. We felt comfortable throwing caution to the wind. The reason we did as well as we did that year is that we simply were a team that refused to lay down. We certainly weren’t the most talented team of all time.”
Sipe, 37, who hasn’t played for nearly two seasons, now dabbles in land development and studies architecture at his alma mater, San Diego State. His life centers on his wife, Jeri, and their three children: Lani, 10, Morgan, 6, and Nolan, 18 months.
“Most of the people I know and follow are in coaching positions now,” he said. “It’s hard for me to stay interested in a game for 3 1/2 hours.”
Actually, he’d rather surf in the nearby Pacific Ocean, though he is a season ticket-holder at San Diego State.
“Football really was my job,” Sipe said. “I started playing organized ball when I was 8 and quit when I was 35. I would be surprised if somebody else spent 27 years on the job, retired and then went back on the weekend to watch.”
Even though 1980 would be the high and low point of his career, Sipe made news after that season. He was benched in favor of backup Paul McDonald after the strike-shortened 1982 season and spent one more year in Cleveland before becoming one of the first big NFL names to jump to the fledgling United States Football League.
Donald Trump paid Sipe $1.9 million over two years, plus an option year, to join his New Jersey Generals in 1983. Two years later, he traded him to the Jacksonville Bulls to make way for another million-dollar quarterback named Doug Flutie.