Every time the Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars meet, it is inevitable the tale of the infamous Bottlegate game of 2001 is resurrected.
So why not again as the two teams meet again Sunday in Cleveland? It lives not only in Browns lore, but National Football League lore as well. And definitely not in a positive way.
It was Butch Davis’ first season as coach of the Browns and he had them at 6-6 with four games to go and an outside shot at qualifying for the postseason entering the Dec. 12 home date with the Jaguars.
The expansion Browns had broken a six-game losing streak against Jacksonville earlier in the season, but the Jags led, 15-10, in this one with 3:02 left in the fourth quarter when the tale began to take shape.
Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch used an aerial onslaught to drive his team downfield, but stalled at the Jacksonville 12 and faced a fourth-and-2 with 1:08 to play. And then it happened.
Couch appeared to complete a three-yard pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan, who took two steps before being blasted by Jags safety James Boyd. The ball popped loose as he fell, but it was ruled a completed catch.
As the frenzy ramped up in the crowd, Couch immediately spiked the football on first-and-goal at the Jags 9 as referee Terry McAulay ran up waving his arms. The previous play would be reviewed.
Those were the infancy days of video replay as an officiating tool and communication between the replay official and referee was not nearly as smooth as it is now.
The rule back then, as it is now, is that when the next snap is made, what immediately preceded it is moot. And that’s when everything ground to a halt.
As the geeked-up crowd bellowed its displeasure, McAulay called for the replay and after review ruled the previous play an incomplete pass, turning the football over to the Jaguars. And that’s when it got really ugly.
Fans from all over Browns Stadium, unhappy a replay was called for in the first place, rained all manner and variety of debris onto the field, including hundreds, if not thousands, of beer bottles.
After it became untenable to continue, McAulay called the game with 48 seconds left and exited the field. The game ostensibly was over.
Word then came down from the NFL that it must be completed. The two teams returned to the field and the game was completed with the Jags taking two knees.
McAulay, who has subsequently refereed numerous games in Cleveland since then, was fortunate to escape any physical damage as he and his fellow officials, accompanied by the extreme wrath of the fans, left the field.
The embarrassingly ugly scene on the field naturally grabbed the attention of practically the entire scope of the sports world, shining the spotlight brightly on just how badly Cleveland fans behaved that day.
Browns President Carmen Policy sort of minimized the behavior of the fans, almost in a dismissive way. “Those bottles are plastic,” he said. “They don’t pack much of a wallop.”
It was just another dark chapter in the woebegone 19-year history of the new Cleveland Browns, one that very likely will live on for many generations whenever these teams meet.