"I saw that their middle man on the kick-return team was turning his back, so I called it," Sam said. "I had to get my courage up. You don't get help on decisions like that; you get this," and he held his hands over his eyes.
By now the Patriots were out of their game plan and they had to play catch-up, which isn't their style. Even worse, though, Grogan was hurting. When Cousineau blitzed him in the second quarter, Grogan had suffered a hairline fracture of the fibula in his left leg. Grogan is one of the NFL's more courageous quarterbacks; he kept playing, but as the game wore on, he was hobbling noticeably. Finally, midway in the third quarter, Coach Ron Meyer brought in Tony Eason, the rookie No. 1 pick from Illinois, but by then the score was 23-0.
"They had the best coverage scheme we've seen this year," said Eason, who threw two interceptions, giving the Browns a total of five on the day. "We had a few gimmick plays, but they were right on top of them all."
It was a prideful day for the Browns' defense, all right, and it served to hide a quarterback situation that had grown nasty in the past few weeks. Both Sipe and his backup man, Paul McDonald, are unsigned. Both are in the final year of their contracts. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, a day off for the Browns, Sipe flew to New York to meet with Donald Trump, the real-estate man who owns the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. The Generals, who have been milking such names as Don Shula and Raider Quarterback Marc Wilson for all the publicity value they can, quickly had the news of Sipe's visit on the national wires.
For the first time ever, Rutigliano ripped Sipe in print. "You can't expect to be successful on the field when your mind is elsewhere," he said. Rutigliano had already benched Sipe—"to rest a tired arm," he said—in Cleveland's 25-19 victory over Houston on Oct. 30. The following week McDonald started again, against Green Bay. The Packers opened up a 21-7 halftime lead on their way to a 35-21 win, and when McDonald threw three straight incompletes to open the second half, Sipe took over.
McDonald wasn't exactly a popular figure with the Browns' management, either. In October his agent, Leigh Steinberg, and the Browns had reached a verbal agreement on a new contract, converting this season's $70,000 salary to a two-year, $600,000 package. But then Wilson signed a reported five-year, $4 million package with the Raiders, and Steinberg put the McDonald deal on hold. It was a question of whom the Browns were madder at, Sipe or McDonald, and they decided it was McDonald.
"I sat down with Brian last Thursday," Rutigliano said before the Patriot game, "and told him, 'Look, we need to talk. Whether you like me or dislike me doesn't matter. What matters is that you focus on football right now, on the playoffs, on where we're going. The Jersey Generals or the Kentucky Colonels don't matter as far as 1983 is concerned.'
"He asked, 'What about Paul McDonald?' I told him, 'You're 34 and he's 25, but right now you've got a lot of good pitches in you. You're my quarterback.' He thanked me and that's how we left it."
"Whatever the future may be," Sipe says, "I realize how important it is to play well right now, and that's all I want to say about it."
O.K., right now the defense is talking, and the Browns are eyeing the playoffs. Things could be a whole lot worse.