Life After Football: Catching Up With Brian Sipe

NFL Football 1974-1983
by Mike Sandrolini

Brian Sipe leader of the "Kardiac Kids".

Brian Sipe, the Cleveland Browns' all-time leading passer, certainly has the pedigree for being a classic overachiever.

Although he led the NCAA in passing at San Diego State in 1971, Sipe was more or less a bottom-feeder on NFL draft boards when the 1972 draft rolled around. Scouts questioned his arm strength and wondered if his 6-1, 195-pound body could take NFL-type punishment.

The Browns selected Sipe in the 13th round, and unfortunately for Cleveland, the Mel Kipers of that era seemed to have Sipe pegged. Sipe spent his first two seasons on Cleveland's taxi squad. Meanwhile, his passion for the game was locked somewhere in the glove compartment, as was his outlook on life.

I didn't take my opportunity to play in the NFL very seriously," says Sipe. "Life was a big, selfish adventure. At most I thought I'd have a couple of years as a third-string quarterback in the NFL. I thought it would be a great party, then I'd move on."

The meter kept running until Sipe grew weary of just being along for the ride. "I realized that I was better than the guys that were playing in front of me," he says. "It also occurred to me that never again in my life would I have a chance to compete with the very best athletes in the world at anything. I was determined not to blow my opportunity."

Once Sipe cracked the Browns' starting lineup, he'd never be a backup again. Even though the Browns endured some heartbreaking playoff losses during the late 1970s and early 1980s, they became known as the "Kardiac Kids" for their clutch play at the crunch time. And leading the charge was Sipe, who emerged as one of the NFL's big-play quarterbacks.

Recently inducted into the Browns' Hall of Fame to honor his team records for passing yardage (23,713), touchdowns (154), completions (1,944) and attempts (3,439). Sipe left the Browns in 1984 and played one season for the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League (USFL).

Yet Sipe doesn't necessarily see himself as an overachiever. "Closer to the truth, I was probably underestimated," he says. "God gifted me as an athlete. [But] I relished the role as an underdog and an overacheiver. I'm okay with that."

During his final season of pro football with the Generals, Sipe and his wife, Geri, began attending church, at Geri's urging. Again, Sipe was just going along for the ride.

"I had been raised going to church, but bailed out on that deal when I was in high school," he says. "Geri thought it would be good for us to start going to church as a family."

However, when Sipe asked the church's pastor to conduct a christening for his infant son, Nolan, the pastor challenged Sipe on the condition of his faith.

Sipe was good at reading defenses as a quarterback. But this time, he couldn't call a time out or an audible. "I lied to him in order to do the christening," he admits. "The caterer had already been hired."

Brian and Geri began to attend a Bible study for couples after Nolan's christening. Sipe first viewed going to the study as atonement for not being up front with his pastor. "That was my tradeoff. [For] every bad thing I did. I did two good things," he says. "But throughout that Bible study God really started to work on me. I came to the conclusion that the Bible was the truth, and I had to do something about it." What he did was to trust Jesus as his Savior.

These days, Sipe and his family live in Del Mar, California. He runs his own residential home design and real estate firm, and he is head football coach at Santa Fe Christian High School. In 2001, Sipe guided Santa Fe to an undefeated record (12-0). The Eagles also enjoyed another successful campaign this past season.

Interestingly, Sipe says he didn't set out to become the Eagles' Head coach. He initially agreed to help coach the team's two quarterbacks 2 years ago, but did so reluctantly.

"When I retired in 1985, I made up my mind to put football behind me and find out what God had in store for me," he says. "But after I got around the players and saw how much it meant to them, I thought maybe my experience could be of greater benefit than what I could consider before."

Now Sipe wouldn't trade coaching for anything. "I feel a tremendous responsibility doing this, blending my faith with my talents," he says. "I sometimes feel a greater responsibility now as a head coach than I did as a player in the NFL because I represent something far greater than myself now.

Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.

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