The Cleveland Browns were at a crossroads early in the third quarter of the opening game of the 1976 season.
The team was coming off consecutive losing seasons — the first time in franchise history the Browns had lost more games than they won — and starting quarterback Mike Phipps had been knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder.
Head coach Forrest Gregg, who was coming off a 3-11 season in his first year as a head coach, needed to do something to jumpstart the team.
Enter quarterback Brian Sipe.
A 13th-round selection (No. 330 overall) in the 1972 NFL Draft, Sipe had spent his first two years on the taxi squad and had only played sporadically in 1974 and 1975. His stats from those two years (1,030 total passing yards, two touchdown passes and 10 interceptions) did little to inspire confidence that Sipe would be able to embrace his chance.
But Sipe would throw two touchdown passes that day as the Browns rolled over the New York Jets to take over the starting job. He would go on to lead the Browns back to their customary winning ways that season, as the team finished the year with a record of 9-5.
While his first two years as a starter were not all that spectacular — and a shoulder injury cut short his 1977 season after just nine games — Sipe and the Browns offense were setting the stage for what would become an enjoyable run under head coach Sam Rutigliano.
Healthy and firmly in control of the offense in 1978, Sipe would lead a Browns team that was one of the most entertaining in the NFL, pulling off 17 fourth-quarter comeback wins to earn the nickname of the Kardiac Kids.
After coming up short of a playoff spot in both 1978 and 1979, everything came together for Sipe in 1980, as he led the Browns to their first playoff appearance in eight years while picking up the MVP award and being named First Team All-Pro.
That would be the only playoff appearance the Browns made with Sipe as a quarterback and it ended in disappointment. But Sipe would play three more years for the Browns, and closed out his Cleveland career in memorable fashion by tossing four touchdown passes against the Steelers in a 30-17 home win in the final game of the 1983 season. (Sipe had 25 career touchdown passes against the Steelers, the most against any team in his career.)
With Sipe as the starting quarterback, the Browns posted a winning record four times (and went 8-8 in another season) and gave Cleveland fans something to cheer about during an otherwise dark time for the city’s sports teams. (The Cleveland Cavaliers posted a winning percentage of .376, while the Cleveland Indians finished an average of 21 games out of first place during the same time period.)
He also left his name firmly planted in the team’s record books as Sipe holds franchise records for:
- Most completions in a season with 337
- Most passing yards in a season with 4,132 (the only Browns quarterback to surpass 4,000 yards in team history)
- Most passing touchdowns in a season with 30 (the only Browns quarterback to hit that mark)
- Most career completions with 1,944
- Most career yards with 23,713
- Second-most career touchdown passes with 154
The Sipe-era Browns may never have been able to get past the Steelers or win a title, but he is the clear choice for the best player to wear uniform No. 17 in franchise history.
(Sort of) Honorable mention: Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who made the Pro Bowl in 2007 when he had a franchise-record 16 touchdown receptions and 1,289 receiving yards, second most in franchise history. Punter Chris Gardocki, who led the NFL in the number of punts in 2000 and 2001, and in punting yards in 1999 and 2000.
Who is the best player to wear No. 17 in Browns history?
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