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1981 Cleveland Browns season

1981 Cleveland Browns season
Head coach Sam Rutigliano
Owner Art Modell
Home field Cleveland Municipal Stadium
Local radio WHK
Record 5–11–0
Division place 4th AFC Central
Playoff finish did not qualify
Previous season Next season
1980 1982

The 1981 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 32nd season with the National Football League. In a highly disappointing season filled with a number of key injuries at different stretches during the campaign, the Browns finished the year with five straight defeats, their longest losing streak since 1975, and dropped seven of their final eight games. By contrast, in 1980, the Browns enjoyed a five-game winning streak, their longest since 1976, and won eight of nine during one stretch.

Season summary

In 1980, the Kardiac Kids reached their zenith with last-second win after last-second win—13 of the 16 games were decided in the final two minutes—they finished 11–5 and captured the AFC Central crown. Every time the Browns needed to make a play, they did so. Every time they needed something good to happen, it did.

As much of a storybook, magic season it was, it was even more so for quarterback Brian Sipe, as he set a franchise record for touchdown passes with 30 en route to being named the NFL MVP. The season came to an abrupt halt in dramatic and disappointing fashion with a 14–12 divisional playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders when Sipe's ill-fated pass into the end zone in the waning seconds on a play called Red Right 88 was intercepted. But rather than an end, that game was looked upon at the time as being simply a beginning, and the Browns and their fans fully expected to take the next step in 1981 and get that elusive first appearance in the Super Bowl—or the "Siper Bowl", as it was referred to in Cleveland.

As it turned out, the Browns did indeed have a similar kind of season in 1981—eight of the games were decided by six points or less, and five were decided by three points or less. Only this time, the Browns were on the losing end of things. Every time they needed to make a play, they didn't. Every time they needed something good to happen, it didn't. In 1980, Sipe broke nearly every club passing record, throwing, as mentioned, for 30 TDs with just 14 interceptions while completing nearly 61 percent of his passes, good for a 91.4 quarterback rating. In 1981, he threw more interceptions (25) than TDs (17), his completion rate fell to just over 55 percent and his quarterback rating plummeted to 68.2.

As the quarterback goes, so goes any team, which explains the rise and fall of the Browns in 1980 and '81. FB Mike Pruitt rushed for more than 1,000 yards (1,103) for the third straight year in 1981, and caught 63 passes for the second season in a row. Tight end Ozzie Newsome set a team record (since broken) for receptions with 69 and had the second-most receiving yards in Browns history at the time with 1,002. HB Greg Pruitt established a personal best with 65 catches.[1]


NFL Draft

The following were selected in the 1981 NFL Draft.

Round Overall Player Position School/Club Team
1 22 Hanford Dixon Defensive Back Southern Miss
4 92 Mike Robinson Defensive End Arizona
5 134 Steve Cox Punter Arkansas
6 160 Ron Simmons Defensive Tackle Florida State
7 187 Eddie Johnson Linebacker Louisville
9 244 Randy Schleusener Guard Nebraska
10 271 Dean Prater Defensive End Oklahoma State
11 298 Larry Friday Defensive Back Mississippi State
12 325 Kevin McGill Offensive Tackle Oregon

Regular season


Week Date Opponent Result Attendance
1 September 7, 1981 San Diego Chargers L 44–14
2 September 13, 1981 Houston Oilers L 9–3
3 September 20, 1981 at Cincinnati Bengals W 20–17
4 September 27, 1981 Atlanta Falcons W 28–17
5 October 4, 1981 at Los Angeles Rams L 27–16
6 October 11, 1981 at Pittsburgh Steelers L 13–7
7 October 18, 1981 New Orleans Saints W 20–17
8 October 25, 1981 Baltimore Colts W 42–28
9 November 1, 1981 at Buffalo Bills L 22–13
10 November 8, 1981 at Denver Broncos L 23–20 (OT)
11 November 15, 1981 at San Francisco 49ers W 15–12
12 November 22, 1981 Pittsburgh Steelers L 32–10
13 November 29, 1981 Cincinnati Bengals L 41–21
14 December 3, 1981 at Houston Oilers L 17–13
15 December 12, 1981 New York Jets L 14–13
16 December 20, 1981 at Seattle Seahawks L 42–21


AFC Central
Cincinnati Bengals(1) 12 4 0 .750 4–2 10–2 421 304 W2
Pittsburgh Steelers 8 8 0 .500 3–3 5–7 356 297 L3
Houston Oilers 7 9 0 .438 4–2 6–6 281 355 W1
Cleveland Browns 5 11 0 .313 1–5 2–10 276 375 L5


1981 Cleveland Browns roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Reserve Lists

Rookies in italics