Throwback Thursday: The 1994 Season

It had been a tough few seasons for Browns Head Coach Bill Belichick leading into the 1994 season. Belichick had been hired before the 1991 season after spending time as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. In his first three seasons with the Browns, Belichick led them to a 20 – 28 record and was under some fire when he released fan-favorite, Bernie Kosar. Then came the 1994 season and the team had a renewed energy that had not been seen on the shores of Lake Erie since the late ‘80s.

In that year’s draft, the Browns had two first round picks. With the first one, they took cornerback Antonio Langham from Alabama and with the second one they took wide receiver Derrick Alexander from Michigan. Both players were integral pieces to the team’s success. The only other draft pick that did anything productive for the Browns that season was 5th round pick Isaac Booth, a defensive back who went to California.

Quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Mark Rypien led the team week in and week out. Testaverde had a 9 – 4 record while Rypien went 2 – 1 for a combined 11 – 5 season. Testaverde threw for 2,575 yards while completing 55.1% of his passes and having a touchdown to interception ratio of 16 to 18. While he was far from a top-tier quarterback, Testaverde did just enough to lead the Browns to wins.

A big help to the quarterbacks that season were the running backs. Leroy Hoard, Eric Metcalf, Earnest Byner and “Touchdown” Tommy Vardell, each had different running styles, which made them difficult for other teams to handle. Hoard led the team with 890 rushing yards and five touchdowns. As for Metcalf, he was a weapon in all facets of the game as he gained 1,323 all-purpose yards. These stats were good enough for them to garner Pro Bowl appearances. Byner and Vardell did good jobs in their roles as reliable backups.

The receivers and tight ends were not flashy but made the plays when needed. The top four receivers were Derrick Alexander, Mark Carrier. Michael Jackson and Keenan McCardell. Alexander led the team with 828 yards and Carrier had the most touchdown receptions with five. Tight ends Brian Kinchen and Walter Reeves were considered blocking tight ends but made some catches when needed.

One of the most amazing stats from 1994 was that Browns quarterbacks were sacked only 14 times on the season thanks to the offensive line unit, which was coached by Kirk Ferentz. This unit showed great toughness. Considering how well they played, it is very surprising that left tackle Tony Jones, center Steve Everitt or right guard Bob Dahl did not make the Pro Bowl.

Defensively, the team was led by a young coordinator named Nick Saban. At each level of the defense, the Browns had playmakers. Some were young budding stars like free safety Eric Turner and defensive end Anthony Pleasant, while others were seasoned veterans like linebackers Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks. This was a defense that ranked 1st in points allowed and 7th in yards allowed.

DC Nick Saban. Now famously with The Alabama Crimson Tide.

Defensive end Rob Burnett recorded 10 sacks, free safety Eric Turner was a ball-hawk that season with nine interceptions and cornerback Don Griffin did a little bit of everything as he had four sacks, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Four players on the defense, Burnett, Turner, linebacker Pepper Johnson and defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry all made the Pro Bowl.

Throughout the season there were moments that Browns fans remember years later. The opening game of the season had three big plays, punter/holder Tom Tupa running it in for the first 2-point conversion in NFL history, kick returner Randy Baldwin scoring on an 85-yard kick return and punt returner Eric Metcalf scoring on a 92-yard punt return.

One of the biggest games of the season was a Saturday evening game against the defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys and the defense stepped up in a huge way. They held QB Troy Aikman to just 188 passing yards and a QBR of 58.6%. CB Don Griffin had an interception and a sack, DE Anthony Pleasant recorded a sack and S Eric Turner had an interception and made the play of the game (possibly the season) in the closing seconds. The Browns were leading 19 – 14 but the Cowboys were driving. With 10 seconds left the Cowboys needed just six yards to score a touchdown and take the lead. Aikman fired a pass across the middle of the field to his tight end Jay Novacek but Turner stopped him on the one-yard line to preserve the win.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Browns were matched up against the New England Patriots. This was billed as a game between the student, Bill Belichick and the teacher, Bill Parcells. Interceptions by linebacker Pepper Johnson, safety Eric Turner and safety Louis Riddick helped lead the Browns past the Patriots by a score of 20 – 13 and a matchup against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For the third time during the season, the Browns and Steelers matched up against each other and all three games ended the same way, with a Steelers win. Vinny Testaverde was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, Derrick Alexander played like a rookie by dropping two big throws that came his way and the defense did not play up to their typically high level. The Browns’ loss was sad, but the team took a big step that season by just making the playoffs.

The postscript of the 1994 season is almost as fascinating as the season itself. 1995 was supposed to be the year the Browns would go further in the playoffs, perhaps even to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, we all know how that ended, with the Owner Art Modell announcing that the team would move to Baltimore.

Many of the characters in this article have gone on to have illustrious careers. Coaches like Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz have been successful head coaches since leaving Cleveland. Players like Carl Banks and Louis Riddick have found careers in the media and Pepper Johnson and Earnest Byner have spent some time on the sidelines coaching. Of course there was some heartache as well, as Eric Turner tragically died in 2000 from stomach cancer.

The reason why the 1994 season was so important to me is because that was the first year I really followed football. The ’94 Browns were providing a glimmer of hope and sadly amongst many fans they have been largely forgotten due to the ineptitude of the first three seasons of the Belichick era and the 1995 season which derailed any chance of sustained success, however, the 1994 team should be celebrated.

Images: fox

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