The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a 1000-yard rusher since Peyton Hillis in 2010, but back in 1985 they had two. Running backs Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner both eclipsed the 1000 yard mark as they became only the third backfield duo to have done so at the time.
Earnest Byner was a 10th round pick of the Browns in 1984 after a starring career at East Carolina University. In his rookie season he served as the kick returner and third string running back behind Boyce Green and Mike Pruitt, gaining 426 yards on 72 carries. He gave the Browns a glimpse of what was to come in the last two games of 1984 as he rushed for 291 yards on 36 carries. In the same year, his future teammate Mack was playing in the now notorious USFL for the Los Angeles Express. He had led the ACC in rushing touchdowns in 1983 at Clemson in another strong backfield tandem with Stacey Driver and was selected by the Browns with the 11th overall pick in the 1984 Supplemental Draft.
The pair of backs were a perfect combination of speed and strength. Byner’s quickness and ability as a receiver meshed perfectly with “Mack Truck’s” power, and they ran over, around and through the opposition. Their exploits carried a young up-and-coming Browns team led by first year Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer and quarterback Bernie Kosar to an 8-8 record and the playoffs.
Both lining up in the backfield at the same time, they went with the hot hand, often switching the ballhandler themselves coming out of the huddle. “People don’t realize that if Earnest was feeling it and the play was called for me, I would tell him, ‘Hey, keep doing it, man, don’t stop,’” Mack said. “And vice-versa.” Mack would pass 1000 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in week 14 and finished the year with 1104 yards, but Byner had to wait a little longer. In fact, he couldn’t have waited any longer. On the very last play of the regular season against the New York Jets, Byner carried the ball for 7 yards, giving him 1002 yards for the season.
Their remarkable season launched an era of Browns success, leading them to the first of five straight playoff appearances. The achievement wouldn’t be again matched until 2006, when Warrick Dunn and Michael Vick both rushed over 1000 yards for the Atlanta Falcons. – Murray Alexander
Next: No. 25: Playoffs vs. the Dallas Cowboys