October 5, 1986 – Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to anoint one regular season game from the 1980s as the “best ever”. The 1980s saw the Browns make the playoffs – wait for it – seven times! That is not a typo. The Browns made the playoffs in the Kardiac Kids season of 1980, they also made the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1983, and then there was the magical run from 1985-1989. Many fans who were born in the 80s may find it hard to believe that the Browns made the playoffs five consecutive years. There were a lot of fun, and memorable, games.
But if I have to pick one, it really isn’t that hard. I choose this game in October of 1986 when the Browns beat the Steelers for the first time ever in Three Rivers Stadium (this was the Steelers stadium prior to their current home Heinz Field).
The Browns had a history of losing games in Three Rivers Stadium – sometimes in bedeviling fashion. You have to understand that today many Steelers fans look at the Ravens as a bigger rival than the Browns. But back in the 80s the Browns-Steelers games were considered to be every bit as big as the Bears-Packers. But after having lost all 16 games that they had played at Three Rivers Stadium, the Browns were said to be under the “Three Rivers Jinx”.
The year before, in 1985, the Browns season ended in heartbreaking fashion, sound familiar. Despite their 8-8 record, the Browns won the AFC Central Division and had to travel to Miami to face the defending AFC Champions. In a game that served as their coming out party, the Browns took Dan Marino and the Dolphins to the brink before losing 24-21. But the season had seen the emergence of Bernie Kosar as the Browns starting quarterback and two 1,000-yard rushers in Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack. In 1986, the team was now Bernie’s to lead, but they got off to a 2-2 start.
Then they went to Pittsburgh to face a Steelers team that was struggling at 1-3. This was not the Steel Curtain Steelers of the 1970s, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The Browns jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but gave up two second quarter touchdowns and found themselves down 14-10 with less than a minute left in the half.
That’s when Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil announced that the Browns were not going to go away quietly, returning the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 17-10 halftime lead.
The second half was a battle of wills. The proud Steelers took a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter but the Browns got a field goal from Matt Bahr to close the gap to 21-20. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers extended the lead to four points with a Gary Anderson field goal. But on this day, the Browns were not to be denied. Kosar led the Browns on a drive that ended with an Earnest Byner touchdown run with 8:30 left giving the Browns a 27-21 lead. The drive was assisted by two Steelers penalties. One penalty negated a missed Bahr field goal. The other came right before Byner’s TD run when the Steelers jumped offsides giving the Browns the ball at the Steelers 4-yard line.
Would it hold up?
The Steelers mounted another drive and marched the ball to the Browns 29-yard line. The drive ended however when safety Chris Rockins recovered a Malone fumble.
The Jinx was no more.