By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
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Before they ever played a game in 1981, the Browns suffered a big loss when quarterbacks coach Jim Shofner departed to become offensive coordinator of the AFC Central rival Houston Oilers.
Shofner had been with the Browns in that capacity since Sam Rutigliano took over as coach in 1978 and was instrumental in the development of Brian Sipe into one of the game’s top quarterbacks.
Sipe had had an outstanding season in 1980, receiving the NFL Most Valuable Player award after leading the Browns to the division crown.
But Sipe, the offense and the Browns overall struggled in 1981 without Shofner there.
Shofner’s decision to rake the Oilers job was certainly understandable in that it was a promotion – he would be running the entire offense of a good club that needed to upgrade its passing game, which was his specialty – and it also allowed him to go home. He was born in Grapevine, Texas, went to high school in Fort Worth, and played at Texas Christian.
Still, it was not easy for Shofner to leave Cleveland. He had been taken by the Browns in the first round of the 1958 NFL Draft and played with them for six years (1958-63), starting the last five at right cornerback.
Shofner was a real ball hawk, getting 20 career interceptions, including 17 in a three-year stretch during which he tied for the team lead with eight in 1960 and finished second the next two seasons with five and four, respectively.
He went on to do a third stint with the Browns, coming back in 1990 as offensive coordinator. In fact, he ended up spending the last seven games that year as interim coach after Bud Carson was dismissed.
Also on this date, Feb. 3, in Browns history:
*In 1959, Eddie Johnson was born in Albany, Ga. A seventh-round pick in the 1981 NFL Draft out of Louisville, he came to the Browns as an undersized linebacker and never did get that big through his career, topping out at just 220 pounds spread over his 6-foot-1 frame.
But that never stopped him, nor did the fact the Browns brought in a lot of high-profile linebackers over the years hoping to replace him. He played nine seasons, through 1990, and outlasted most of those players. The hard-hitting Johnson started four straight years at left inside linebacker in the Browns’ 3-4 defensive scheme, then spent a season sharing the right inside spot.
Johnson’s pop on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau in the 1987 divisional playoffs forced an interception by safety Felix Wright that changed the game completely in the Browns’ favor in an eventual 38-21 win.
*In 1956, John Jefferson was born in Dallas. Drafted by the San Diego in the first round in 1978, he was one of the game’s top wide receivers while playing with the Chargers and Green Bay Packers for a combined total of seven years. He finished his career by playing briefly with the Browns in 1985.
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