This was the Hall of Fame game, in the Hall of Fame city, inside the Hall of Fame Stadium.
It did not have Hall of Fame excitement.
Cleveland reserve quarterback Paul McDonald, who inherited Brian Sipe's 10-3 halftime lead, threw two touchdown passes to Ricky Feacher in the second half and the Browns went on to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 24-10, today before 23,921, the largest crowd of the 19 Hall of Fame exhibition games played here.
Once McDonald had found Feacher with the second touchdown pass with 13:36 left to play, expanding the Cleveland lead to a more restful 24-10, the game went from turnover to turnover to just plain over. As is the tradition of this game, the reserves took over in the second half and when they entered, much of the interest and many of the fans took off for Interstate 77.
"We had a pretty well-played game, especially since our veterans have only been here for six days," said Cleveland Coach Sam Rutigliano.
"We didn't run the ball well and we didn't stop them. Those are the two things we have to do and right now we are failing at them," said Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett.
Seven months ago, these were teams whose highways to the Super Bowl turned into cul-desacs at the divisional playoffs.
Cleveland had a 12-4 record in the regular season, but lost the AFC playoff game to Oakland when Sipe's pass Ozzie Newsome in the end zone with 42 seconds left was intercepted by the Raiders' Mike Davis. Oakland won in the Cleveland cold, 14-12.
On that same day, the Falcons, also 12-4, lost in the NFC playoff game when Dallas scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to win in the Atlanta sun, 30-27.
You would expect both teams would have been aching to start anew. They wouldn't admit it.
"I'm not commenting on the last play of last season. For six months, I've been in a different place mentally," said Sipe, who recived a standing ovation when his name was announced before the game. These were the same Cleveland fans who had jeered him after the interception in January. "Today was great because we played well, but not because of last year."
"Last year means nothing," said Rutigliano. Bennett said, "We did what we wanted to do. It was a nice start."
Indeed, it did seem to be a good start for the Falcons when Don Cockroft's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked, rendering insignificant the Browns' opening drive of eight plays that covered 52 yards.
On Cleveland's next drive, however, Cockcroft didn't miss. His 20-yard field goal with 4:07 left in the first quarter gave the Browns a 3-0 lead.
Steve Bartkowski, the quarterback who threw an NFL-best 31 touchdown passes last year, could lead the Falcons to only one scoring drive, early in the second quarter, when Mick Luckhurst kicked a 33-yard field goal to tie the score, 3-3. It wasn't much of a driver for Bartkowski, who completed 10 of 21 for 139 yards and one interception in the first half. The Falcons had recovered a Cleo Miller fumble on the Cleveland 30 to start things.
Sipe completed 13 of 15 for 140 yards in his first half. He had two passes intercepted, the second of which as an irrelevant lazy-lob bomb that was picked off by cornerback Bobby butler with only seconds left before intermission.
Charles White, the second-year back from Southern California, whose only likeness to O.J. Simpson and Mike Garrett is his alma mater, scored on a one-yard run with 7:40 left in the half to give Cleveland the 10-3 lead.
Then came McDonald. The lefty from USC completed nine of 13 for 133 yards. His only mistake came when he underthrew a 45-yard pass into the end zone by 10 yards. It was intercepted by Robert Murphy. But that was midway through the fourth quarter, when a turnover was the in thing to do.
Atlant reserve quarterback Mike Moroski completee only seven of 20 for 73 yards and had three intercepted in his half.
"I thought Moroski played well," said Bennett, thereby providing the true indication of what the game meant and how it went.