The Drive -
Excerpted from this article written by MHR's Tim Lynch in 2008
The day was dark and dreary with a strong gust coming in off of Lake Eerie. There was a freezing rain the night before that caused the field to become a frozen wasteland. The wind chill factor was -5 degrees, but the incessant barking that began in the city the day before continued. The chorus of barking grew to a thunder as the game began. What was predicted to be a offensive shootout quickly turned into a defensive struggle as the weather pounded both offenses into submission.
I've always been curious why the Browns were known as the 'dawgs.' Shockingly enough, it was a relatively new phenomenon when the Broncos and Cleveland faced off in the 1986 AFC Championship game. Just a year earlier, corner Hanford Dixon coined the term and it miraculously stuck. The Browns equivalent (if there is one) of Mile High's South Stands, the east stands in Cleveland, quickly adopted all the woofing and whatnot that we associate with Cleveland's dawg pound.
The Browns struck first with a magnificent 86 yard drive capped by a six yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar to Herman Fontenot in the first quarter. However, the Bronco defense stiffened and shut down the Browns offense for the rest of the half.
The Bronco offense came alive in the second quarter. The Browns held at the goaline for the Broncos first drive, holding them to a 19 yard field from Rich Karlis. On Broncos next drive, they were able to punch it in for a touchdown with Gerald Willhite's one yard leap into the end zone. With the score 10-7, the Browns put together one final drive just before half time and capped it with a 29 yard field goal from Mark Moseley to tie the game.
Much of the third quarter was spent punting the ball back and forth, but midway through the fourth quarter the stage was set for an amazing finish. With the score tied at 13, Bernie Kosar and the Browns put together a drive that Brown fans everywhere would think would be the death blow of Elway and the Broncos. A 48 yard touchdown bomb from Kosar to Brian Brennan sent the Dawg Pound into a deafening roar. The ensuring kickoff was muffed by the Broncos and the Browns were able to pin them back at the one and a half yard line.
What followed was a fifteen play, ninety-eight yard drive that chewed up all but thirty-six seconds off the clock. The stage had been set for The Drive. As the Bronco offense trotted onto the field and huddled to call the first play, Keith Bishop will forever be remembered for saying, "We got these guys right where we want 'em!"
-First down and 10, Own 2 yard line. Elway faked a handoff to Willhite, then passed to the left to Sammy Winder for a meager five yard gain. This play is memorable because Bowlen yells out to the field, "Come on Sammy baby!" during the NFL Films replay of the game.
-Second down and 5, Own 7 yard line. Elway pitches the ball to Winder who rushes for a short three yard gain. The Broncos call a timeout as they face a critical third down.
-Third down and 2, Own 10 yard line. Elway hands off to Winder for a two yard gain and a barely gets the first down. The clock is beginning to become a factor here as the Dawg Pound begins roaring louder and louder.
-First down and 10, Own 12 yard line. Dan Reeves, determined to lose this game, has Elway hand off to Winder yet again for another short three yard gain.
-Second down and 7, Own 15 yard line. Elway takes the snap and is flushed out of the pocket, he takes off down field for an eleven yard gain and a first down.
-First down and 10, Own 26 yard line. Elway drops back and throws a deep pass over the middle to Steve Sewell who gots hit hard in the back, but holds onto the ball at the Broncos 48 yard line.
-First down and 10, Own 48 yard line. Elway tosses a pass to Steve Watson for a quick twelve yard gain to the Browns 40 yard line just before the two minute warning.
-First down and 10, Cleveland 40 yard line. Incomplete pass to Vance Johnson.
-Second down and 10, Cleveland 40 yard line. Dave Puzzuoli sacks John Elway for an eight yard loss, sending the Dawg Pound(who had been quieted during the drive) into a frenzy.
-Third down and 18, Cleveland 48 yard line. The deep snap hits Steve Watson in the hip as he crosses the line in motion, but Elway was able to snatch the ball out of the air. With the pocket collapsing around him, Elway throws a laser to Mark Jackson for a twenty yard gain and a first down. The Dawg Pound is forever deflated after this play, nothing it seems can slow Elway down.
-First down and 10, Cleveland 28 yard line. Incomplete pass to Watson.
-Second down and 10, Cleveland 28 yard line. Elway throws a strike to Sewell for a fourteen yard gain.
-First down and 10, Cleveland 14 yard line. Incomplete pass to Watson.
-Second down and 10, Cleveland 14 yard line. Elway is forced out of the pocket and runs nine yards, sliding feet first at the Browns five yard line.
-Third down and 1, Cleveland 5 yard line. Elway shifts to the left and throws a low heater to Mark Jackson in the end zone. Jackson slides low and snatches the ball eight inches off the ground for the touchdown with 36 seconds left. Extra point kicked by Karlis, game tied at 20.
vertime begins with the Browns getting the ball first. At this point, we must take the time to thank Marty Schottenheimer for "Marty Ball". Three laughable plays after the Browns get the ball, they punt to Elway and the Broncos. Elway takes over at his own twenty-five yard line and promptly drives the Broncos down to the Browns fifteen yard line. The overtime drive included a third down and twelve pass to Steve Watson who made a finger tip catch at the Cleveland twenty-two yard line, putting the Broncos into field goal range. A couple of plays later, the Broncos set up for the game winning field goal.
As Elway comes off the field he says to Rich Karlis, "It's just like practice, it's just like practice!". For Elway it may have been just like practice, but for Rich Karlis it was anything but. He hooked his kick and every Browns fan on Earth still believes to this day that it went wide, but the referees signaled it was good and the Broncos earned their second trip to the Super Bowl.
This game was the Elway's coming-out party and this game also goes down as one of sports All-Time Greatest Games. In fact it ranks 13th(3rd best NFL game) out of all sports in the twentieth century at SI's Century's Best.
...and I remember it like yesterday. Actually, something funny that sticks with me about the Drive and the Fumble were the full page Drew Litton-esque (heck, Litton may have penned them) sports cartoons that each team ran in the opposition's paper. For the Drive and the Fumble, I was 7 and 8-years old. Full-sized cartoons in the paper were kind of a big deal to me at that age.
With regard to the game itself, it still gives me goosebumps. I do remember watching it live with my parents, but I've seen it at least a hundred times whenever the DVR (set to record anything Broncos) nabs a broadcast of NFL's Greatest Games on ESPN Classic at some ungodly hour. It's worth watching again and again.
Excerpted from this article written by MHR's Tim Lynch in 2008
One of the greatest games in Bronco history will always be overshadowed by a game that took place almost exactly a year earlier. By the time the 1987 AFC Championship game came around, people around the country were still whispering about "The Drive". The coming out party for John Elway had happened a year earlier and the Denver Broncos were media favorites to win it all in 1987. Elway, coming off his NFL MVP season, had become one of football's best quarterbacks and the Broncos were dominating...in a paper tiger sort of way.
The thing is, the Broncos were not better the year before. The only difference was confidence and confidence is what led this team to believe they were better than they were. The Broncos came out and dominated in the first half. Their defense harassed and hounded Bernie Kosar for much of the first two quarters while John Elway led the offense to three touchdown drives.
People already began making plans for the Super Bowl. T-shirts and ball caps were being made. Bronco parties were turning into victory celebrations. A 21-3 deficit going into halftime against the Broncos defense of the 80's? Game over! The Browns were reeling, but as the Chargers of today found out when they replaced Marty with Norv, Schottenheimer knew how to keep games from being completely lost.
The Browns would strike first in the third quarter. Bernie Kosar would connect with Reggie Langhorne for an 18 yard touchdown to bring the Browns to within eleven points. John Elway would help/hurt his football team on the next series when he threw an 80 yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson. This helped the Broncos by increasing the lead 28-10, but it hurt the Broncos because that was to be about the only rest the Broncos defense would get until midway through the fourth quarter.
The Browns would score two more touchdowns to close the gap to 31-24. It was gut check time for both clubs and the Cleveland Browns struck first. Scoring on a 4 yard pass from Kosar to Webster Slaughter to tie the game up.
Then we get to witness one of John Elway's "fake" comeback victories according to a forum linked to a post by one of our good friends at The Phinsider. Take a look at this garbage for later angst. So according to their logic, this next drive had no significance to the outcome of the game. John Elway drove his team methodically down the field, eating up a large chunk of the fourth quarter, when he hit Sammy Winder for a 20 yard touchdown pass to take a 38-31 lead late.
Now enter Earnest Byner into the discussion. The dude had a monster day. He was the only reason Cleveland even had a chance to tie the game up at the end. Bernie Kosar and the Browns rode his back down the length of the football field to what certainly looked like a tying touchdown and a second straight overtime finish in the AFC Championship game. Then it happened. The leaping Bronco [DB Jerimiah Castille], the deafening cheer of the crowd and the exhausted, beaten man laying at the one yard line. It pains me, in some small way, to know that Byner would be remember for that play and that play alone. Then the fan in my kicks in and I grin at our good fortune. I will say this, I'd take an Earnest Byner on my football team any day.
So this Sunday, Denver rolls into Cleveland to play them once again. Let's face it, the Browns have been through a lot. From decades of ineptitude, to their team moving, to Elway eating destroying their will to live, to Red Right 88, they deserve a little sympathy... just not this weekend. Without the Browns, the Broncos wouldn't have the two greatest games in our history next to the Super Bowl victories. One day they'll get it on track and the rivalry of the 1980's will be reborn, but until that time, let's enjoy the rivalry that was... and kick their butts this Sunday.