The guy standing in the corner of the Cleveland Browns' locker room Sunday looked like Sam Rutigliano all right. He even had the coach's voice. He was giving the little postgame press conference that winning coaches usually give, but I know it wasn't Sam because the words weren't right. This is what he was saying, in the afterglow of the Browns' 30-0 win over the New England Patriots: "Our offense was doing what it could to help the defense. What we needed to do was bring our quarterback, Brian Sipe, back into focus—no interceptions, no mistakes. Let the defense win it for us."
I told you it wasn't Sam; his offense was always run and gun. This was a ventriloquist's dummy, and George Allen was doing the talking. He'd just changed the name from Billy Kilmer to Brian Sipe.
"Our quarterback doesn't have to play an extraordinary game," the fake Sam was saying. "He has to do the ordinary extraordinarily well. In other words, don't create interceptions."
I went and found Sipe. He was in the trainer's room, icing down his right arm, which was in danger of atrophying from disuse. He had completed nine passes, only one of them longer than nine yards, out of the 20 he had thrown. Net passing yardage: 51. He hadn't messed anything up. During one four-game stretch this year, Sipe had thrown 13 interceptions. But Sunday the only interception he threw came late in the fourth quarter, long afer the issue was decided.
"That isn't Sam out there," I said.
"Yeah, it's Sam," he said. "Why?"
"The words aren't right. It's George Allen stuff—don't let your offense mess it up for the defense, don't make mistakes. Straight Woody Hayes."
"Well," Sipe said, "I don't want to say we went into our Ohio State offense. But we weren't San Diego State out there, either. The day belonged to our defense. We...make that I...didn't want to do anything to screw it up."
Ah, well, so it was Sam after all. You remember Sam Rutigliano, the way he came charging into Cleveland six years ago, dark eyes flashing, shaking 'em up with statements like: "Fasten your seat belts, men. We're gonna attack—and keep attacking." It was fun time in those early years, the Sam and Brian show, the old Kardiac Kids, everybody's favorite Sunday afternoon Chiller Theatre.
"Yeah, sure, I know, it's boring now, boring as hell," Sam says. "Maybe I ought to get into hockey. But we've had plenty of days when Brian threw for 345 yards and we didn't get the pizza."