It’s true that I’m a football fan. My team is the Cleveland Browns, a troubled franchise that is one of only four NFL teams (there are 32 football teams in all) to have never advanced to the Super Bowl. We can wax and wane effortlessly for hours as to the number of ways in which this team is troubled. But I prefer instead to share with you the closest the Browns have been to the Super Bowl. The following tale recounts what transpired during the closing minutes of the ball game and my sentiments as the game crumbled and fell away.
1987. January 11
I was in my second year in the dorms at UC Santa Barbara. The tv reception in my dorm room was poor, only ABC was rendered watchable. Sadly, Sunday football and the playoffs were on CBS and NBC. Since I didn’t get those channels, I had simply given up Sunday football as a viewing option. So much so, that I hadn’t been watching the football playoffs even though my Cleveland Browns were a viable participant.
I recall this particular Sunday morning, I was having breakfast at the on-campus dining commons with several chums. We got to talking about the AFC Championship game between my beloved Browns and John Elway’s Denver Broncos, winner would advance to the Super Bowl. As we dined someone mentioned that the Browns were ahead in the 3rd quarter! Game was still on when we got back to the dorms so we traversed the the tv lounge to catch the end. The game was being played in Cleveland, it was now in the 4th quarter and the Browns were leading 20-13!
The tv lounge was surprisingly packed. I ended up in the back of the room on the floor, but I didn’t mind because my Browns were winning and I figured it’d only be a few minutes to finish this thing off and I’d return gleefully to my dorm room to either study or take a Sunday morning skate through campus on my skateboard. And so I watched.
After a muffed kick return by the Broncos they were backed up to their own 2-yard line with five minutes to play. A field goal would not suffice. My confidence was strong knowing that they’d have to drive 98 yards for a touchdown just to tie the game. Giddy almost, was I. It was under these circumstances that Broncos QB John Elway took the reigns on a possession that would be dubbed The Drive.
The first play from scrimmage had Elway in his end zone to pass the ball, a short five yard catch. Then came a scramble, another pass, mix in a sack somewhere, more short catches, it was agonizing to watch them move the ball steadily downfield. When the Broncos converted the 3rd down and 18 from the Browns 48 yard line with 1:47 to play, that marked the onset of panic for me. They scored a touchdown with 37 seconds remaining to tie the score 20-20. This game was going to sudden death Overtime.
Bernie Kosar and the Browns had a quick three plays and punted. The Broncos went on to win 23-20. Cleveland Browns tanked in the playoffs again. My gripe with Elway before this game was that he had giant teeth and a too-confident swagger. To my grave disappointment his giant teeth would slide from the radar of angst as he completed the first of a three year annual decimation of my beloved footballers in the AFC Championship game.
Looking back 23 years later I am confused as to how I was not watching this game from start to finish. What was I doing with a leisurely breakfast in the dining commons with an important playoff game underway? An important playoff game hosted in Cleveland Municipal Stadium with Quarterback Bernie Kosar at the helm? I even recall talking smack to someone at a party the night before about how my Browns were going to ruin the Broncos. And then come game time I’m absent?
Two weeks later the New York Giants would beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI by a score of 39 to 20. The Drive still hurts to this day, thankfully though, not nearly as much as it did immediately after that game in the winter of ‘87.
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