Although this game would eventually be a Bengals loss, it ranks among my all-time favorites for several reasons.
This end of season classic rivalry contest between the Bengals and Browns was the first Bengals game I ever attended. My cousin and I had received tickets to the game as Christmas present. I still have a vivid recollection of my 14 year-old eyes and ears being initiated to some of the "rougher" aspects of this rivalry. From the drunken pregame rants to the more drunken post-game fights, it was quite an awakening for me.
The usual high stakes for this game were magnified as the Browns needed the victory to secure a playoff spot. Sam Rutigliano's "Cardiac Kids" were in the midst of a magical run led by quarterback Brian Sipe. Clinching the AFC Central at Riverfront would be icing on the cake for the Browns. The intensity was ratcheted up further when Cleveland safety Thom Darden clotheslined Pat McInally as he came over the middle for a pass. McInally lay motionless on the Riverfront Stadium astroturf for what seemed like an eternity before being carted off.
We in attendance wondered whether McInally would ever walk again, much less return to the game. Return he did, catching a 59 yard game-tying pass from Jack "The Throwin' Samoan" Thompson near the end of the third quarter. Sadly, Don Cockroft would add the game-clinching field goal in the fourth quarter to send the Browns home with the division championship.
This game marked a turning point, however. Forest Gregg's first season hadn't gone well. The Bengals would finish 6-10, but winners of three of their last four, the lone loss a narrow one to the champion Browns. The Browns would go on to lose in the playoffs on the famous "Red Right 88" Brian Sipe interception in the end zone. This loss set a precedent for a decade of heartbreak for Browns fans in the 1980s. The Bengals, perhaps spurred on by McInally's inspirational comeback, would turn their fortunes around the next season with a healthy Ken Anderson back under center. They would not only win the AFC Central division, but would defeat the Bills and the Chargers en route to the franchise's first Super Bowl.
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