This weekend we are very likely to celebrate an important accomplishment for the phenomenal Myles Garrett - Cleveland’s all world Defensive End/Offense-world-wrecker. That he’s about to surpass this milestone just an eyelash over five seasons is quite remarkable. The man has already reached legendary status.
However his other-worldliness has and will be chronicled throughout the life of his career and beyond. Here we are looking back to different type of weekend during a very different time for another legendary Browns’ defender. Clay Matthews, in addition to being one of my favorite all time players, was a rock of consistency for Cleveland during the late 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, and the current Browns’ record holder for career sacks. He broke this record on December 20th, 1992.
This was the second NFL season for Browns’ Head Coach Bill Belichick, and here in week 16 the team was still alive for a playoff spot, coming into the game at 7-7. Bernie Kosar was back at the helm, having missed a majority of the year due to an injury suffered in week 2. The opponent was the Houston Oilers, themselves fighting for a wild card spot and doing so without their starting quarterback, Warren Moon.
Earlier in the season when the roles were reversed, and the Browns handily beat the Oilers on their home turf. This all setup well for Cleveland to have a shot to get in with a win over the Steelers in week 17. To make it even more advantageous, Houston employed a unique offensive approach that was very uncommon for the day. While most teams still relied predominantly on the running game, the Oilers ran something called the “Run & Shoot”.
This was basically “10” personnel (one running back, four wide receivers) every play. This sounds like it wouldn’t work but since nobody else did this, most teams didn’t have the sort of athletes to hang with all of Houston’s many talented receivers. This came at the expense of not having the sort of running game that was common and considered necessary in those days. Although, they were able to churn out quite a few big rushing days out of the likes Lorenzo White and Gary Brown, but I digress.
Point is this was a pass-heavy offense (didn’t even have a tight end on the roster) playing a December game in Cleveland without their starting quarterback. If you don’t know about the Oilers, they were the forerunner to the Tennessee Titans and at this time they were in our division (the old AFC Central). Thus, this was winnable, essentially a playoff game, and we had every advantage.
It was well known that Clay Matthews was on the doorstep to breaking the club record for sacks. He was still one behind Jerry Sherk after having been shut down the previous week versus Detroit. What’s interesting is that 1992 was Matthews’ 15th season for the Browns. Yet from a statistical standpoint, it was his 2nd best season for sacks (9, his best ever was 12 in 1984).
Clay Matthews wasn’t exactly an EDGE rusher in his long tenure for the Browns. He certainly did rush the passer and did so often (obviously) but he was really a more overall well-rounded stand-up linebacker. He chipped in 16 interceptions and almost 1,600 tackles in his nineteen year career (the final three of which spent with the Atlanta Falcons). Suffice it to say, Clay was a beloved fan favorite and everyone in the stadium that day was hopeful he could break the record at home.
Cleveland started the game off well, as an early interception was turned into a short touchdown pass from Kosar to Ron Wolfley (special teams maven and current day Cardinals’ radio color commentator). The ground game spearheaded by Kevin Mack (as this was his last great game) helped put the offense on the doorstep again and this time a short TD to defensive tackle James Jones put the Browns on top 14-3. By the time the Browns completed a goal line stand midway through the 4th quarter, Matthews had already secured the sack which tied Sherk’s record.
Browns were unable to run out the clock and Houston got the ball back and this time put it in the endzone on a touchdown pass to Curtis Duncan. That would make it 14-10 with time waning. Browns once again unable to get enough downs in succession to run out time so they give the ball back to the Oilers with about a 1:20 left.
On first down Carlson dropped back to pass, but the pressure came hard from the left side of the line and it was Matthews! In the biggest drive of the year, he got his record breaking sack. Due to the achievement combined with what it meant for the game at that moment, the place was absolutely shaking. Play was stopped momentarily for the recognition. It was an unbelievably awesome moment.
The Oilers had called timeout and were setting up for 2nd and 20. The stadium did not desist in decibel level throughout the timeout and only increased as Carlson tried getting everyone lined up correctly. He takes the snap and is immediately under pressure again...
He then lazily drops it over the heads of the rushers and into the hands of Lorenzo White. White turns around and proceeds to run up the sidelines. 65 yards. The jubilation from literally 15 seconds earlier was completely evaporated. A few plays later Carlson would hit Earnest Givens for the go-ahead score and that would do it for the 1992 season.
As painfully disappointing endings-of-a-season go, this probably isn’t even top 10. However for just a few short moments in a game against a forgotten team, Clay Matthews was celebrated on the field for being the legend that he was.
When Myles Garrett knocks him off and takes the record for himself, let’s hope his celebration can last a bit longer.