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The Browns Quarterback Carousel of 1988




This year, the Cleveland Browns have found ways to win with four different quarterbacks ranging from former Heisman runner-up DeShaun Watson to former XFL star P.J. Watson to little known Dorian Thompson-Robinson and now former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Despite the turmoil somehow, the Browns have played themselves into the brink of a rare postseason berth. This calls to mind another year when the Browns had to dig down deep just to reach the playoffs with four quarterbacks. The year was 1988 and this is their story.


The Season


Having lost in heartbreaking fashion the past two years in the AFC Championship Game, the Browns were determined to push through in 1988 and reach their first Super Bowl. All the pieces were in place too. Led by fiery old-school coach Marty Schottemheimer and gifted quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Browns were the darlings of the league as a dark-horse contender for the Super Bowl.


All seemed right with the world in Cleveland when disaster struck in Kansas City. After throwing just eight passes, Kosar hurt his elbow and was lost for the next several weeks. The Browns hung on to beat the Chiefs 6-3, led by a shaky performance by backup quarterback Gary Danielson who completed just 18 of 39 passes for 170 yards and an interception.



Danielson started the following week against the Jets, playing most of game until he too went down with an injury. In his place stepped Mike Pagel, who completed half of his passes for 73 yards and an interception in the 20-point loss. Seeing their thin crop of quarterbacks, the Browns went out to find a backup by any means necessary. After searching high and low, they finally found Don Strock on a golf course in Florida. Seeing how the old quarterback had helped lead the Dolphins to the Super Bowl six years earlier, Marty Schottenheimer and his cadre of coaches figured that he could provide the leadership that they suddenly lacked.


Meanwhile, Mike Pagel was leading the Browns to a 23-17 win over the Colts, launching touchdown passes to Ozzie Newsome and Webster Slaughter while enjoying a clean pocket the whole game. While the Browns were humbled by the resurgent Bengals in Cincinnati the following week, their offensive line again didn't allow a single sack in the 24-17 loss.


The Browns survived a tough, defensive game against the Steelers the followin week, with Brian Wasington's 75-yard interceptions returned for a touchdown providing the cushion that they needed to win handily 23-9. Once again, the Browns offensive line didn't allow a single sack, a streak that would continue the following week when disaster struck.


Early in their 16-10 loss to Seattle, Mike Pagel went down with an injury. In stepped Don Strock, the fourth quarterback to play for the Browns that year. It wasn't a smooth transition as he completed 12 of his 20 passes for 151 yards and coughed up an interception. Still, the Browns clung to the silver lining that their offensive line had, again, not allowed a sack.



Getting used to a new signal-caller under center is never easy and the Browns took their lumps while they adjusted to Strock's approach running the offense. They played valiantly against the Eagles, going into the half tied at three. Cleveland's offense came to life in the second half, with Strock comppleting touchdown passes of 75 and 18 yards to Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne, respectively, to lead his new teammates to a resounding 19-3 victory over a fierce defense. While the win was rejuvinating, there was one lowlight. For the first time since Week 2, the Browns gave up a sack. Two actually. But there was a bigger story in the works. Bernie Kosar was almost ready to play.


Bernie Kosar returned the following week, just in time to beat the newly-minted Arizona Cardinals 29-21. He remained the starter for almost the rest of the regular season. By the time Kosar went down with a knee injury in the middle of Cleveland's 38-31 loss to the Dolphins, the Browns were on their way to a 9-6 record and in danger of missing the playoffs.


In stepped Don Strock who jogged onto the field at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium under the roar of a standing ovation, the crowd intimately aware of where he had led them just six year earlier. While Strock managed to throw two short touchdown passes to Langhorn, he only managed to tie the game at 31 and could only watch as Lorenzo Hampton ran it in for the game's decisive points.


Suddenly the Browns were looking at a dire circumstance. Win and they're in. Given the fact that they were forced to trust their fourth quarterback of the year against the explosive Oilers, the Browns didn't stand much of a chance.


With their season on the brink, the Browns struggled in the first half with only Michael Dean Perry's 10-yard fumble recovery being Cleveland's only points. Down 16-7 at the half, the Browns looked to their quarterback for answers. And Don Srock delivered, throwing a two-yard touchdown strike to Earnest Byner in the third quarter. Byner, the previous season's scapegoat, then added a short touchdown run of his own early in the fourth.



With the scoreboard reading 23-21 Oilers, Don Strock led his new teammates down the field one last time, launching a 22-yard touchdown pass to Slaughter to punch their ticket to the playoffs. The Browns won 28-23 with Don Strock having a performance that he would always remember, completing 25 of 42 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns for the now 10-6 Browns.


As fate would have it, the Browns met the Oilers in the Wild Card Round. But their luck would soon end. First, Don Strock went down with an injury after throwing all of three passes. In stepped Mike Pagel who threw a 14-yard ttouchdown pass to Slaughter, giving the Browns a narrow 16-14 lead. His last touchdown of the day, a two-yard strike to Slaughter wasn't enough to beat the Oilers. The Browns lost 24-23 and Marty Shottenheimer was soon fired.




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