The 1980s were a period of unprecedented success for the Cleveland Browns in the Super Bowl era. From Brian Sipe’s MVP in 1980 with the Kardiac Kids to five straight years in the playoffs led by Bernie Kosar, it would never again be so good.
Unfortunately it would also never be so heartbreaking. Two years in a row they would advance to the AFC Championship Game. Two years in a row they would be denied by John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Two years in a row it would come down to the final moments.
During this period, 1986 was the peak for the Cleveland Browns. They went 12-4, still the most regular-season wins since joining the NFL in 1950. Kosar had blossomed and they went 5-1 in the AFC Central. The Browns headed into the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, securing home-field advantage.
In the Divisional Round, Cleveland won a thrilling game against the New York Jets, 23-20, by scoring 10 points in the final four minutes to tie the game before winning in double overtime.
This set up what would become a familiar match up with Elway’s Broncos.
The game would prove to be as close as the one against the Jets. The Browns jumped to an early lead on a score by running back Herman Fontenot, but Denver struck back through a field goal from Rich Karlis and a touchdown by Gerald Willhite.
A field goal by Cleveland’s Mark Moseley had the game tied at 10-10 at the half. The teams traded field goals and then, late in the fourth quarter, the Browns scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass by Kosar to Brian Brennan. A miscue by the Broncos on the resulting kick off left them on their own two-yard line with 5:32 left in the game.
Methodically, the previously contained Elway chipped away at the Browns. A quick completion to get his back off the end zone. Then two runs and a first down. Elway’s arm and his legs soon had Denver at the 50-yard line with 2:29 left.
A big sack by Dave Puzzuoli put the Broncos on third and 18 with 1:47 left. Again Elway responded, completing a 20-yard pass to Mark Jackson. Another scramble and another pass and it was third and one at the Browns’ five-yard line with 0:39 on the clock.
Elway dropped back, then arrowed a pass to Jackson for the score. Karlis tied the game with the extra point.
The Browns failed to rally in overtime and lost the game on a 33-yard Karlis field goal that swerved tantalizingly close to going wide, but it would be The Drive that Cleveland would never forget. – MA
Next: No. 9: The Kardiac Kids