John Elway Crushed Our Souls: One Cleveland Browns Fan's Painful Recall

Pat KondzellaCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2012

It was January 11, 1987, and it should be one of those moments of "you remember where you were when" John Elway smashed the dreams of Cleveland Browns fans everywhere.

I'll be honest here. I actually do not remember where I was, what I was doing or who I was with when I watched "The Drive," but I can retell and describe what I was thinking and what I was feeling 25 years ago Thursday when the Cleveland Browns hosted the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.

The game was played on a cold, dreary, foggy afternoon. The battle was a back-and-forth affair with the two teams trading field goals and touchdowns, and was tied 13-13 late into the fourth quarter.

With 5:43 left in regulation, 5'9", 178-pound Browns receiver Brian Brennan hauled in a perfectly under-thrown lob from side-slinging Bernie Kosar. Brennan came back for the under-thrown pass, Broncos defensive back Dennis Smith slipped trying to defend and Brennan scampered untouched into the end zone, making the score 20-13 after the ensuing extra point.

I was probably going nuts and dreaming of the Browns going to Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena.

Excited and pumped with adrenaline, I watched as Mark Moseley kicked off to Broncos kick returner Ken Bell. Fortunately for the Browns, Bell botched the return, Browns defenders swarmed him and the Broncos were pinned at the 2-yard line.

Elated, I'm sure I was thinking "We got it. They have 98 yards to go and a field goal isn't enough. We're good."

With 5:22 left in the fourth quarter, Satan (as I affectionately refer to him as these days) and the Broncos took over from their own 2-yard line.

Later it was reported that in the huddle Broncos lineman Keith Bishop said to his teammates, "We got 'em right where we want 'em."

What? Nah, they should have been nervous, tight and frustrated after that botched kickoff return. The Browns had them right where they wanted them. The Broncos were driving toward the loud end of the stadium, it was cold and gloomy and the Super Bowl was on the line.

They were 98 yards away and had to get into the end zone.

On 1st-and-10, Broncos running back Sammy Winder caught an insignificant 5-yard pass from Elway.

No problem, we had this. They still had to go 93 yards with only one timeout left.

This play was actually pretty big for the Broncos. It gave Elway and Co. some operating room. They weren't completely pinned against the goal line anymore.

Two Winder runs, an Elway scramble and two passes later and the Broncos were sitting at their own 48-yard line with the game at the two-minute warning.

No question I was a little...okay very nervous at this point. Denver was marching and had some serious momentum going their way.

Two minutes were left. We were still good. C'mon defense!!

On 2nd-and-10 from Cleveland's 40-yard line, the Broncos' momentum was stopped when Browns nose tackle Dave Puzzuoli broke through and sacked Elway for an 8-yard loss and gave the Broncos an impossible 3rd-and-18 from the Browns' 48-yard line.

This was it. No way they were going to pick up this first down. Impossible. Third-and-18?

Elway zipped it across the middle to Mark Jackson for 20 yards and a first freakin' down at our 28-yard line.

Uh, oh.

Really, really nervous at this time. Not good. The Browns were on their heels, Elway had the Broncos moving with precision and the breaks were going the Broncos' way.

On replay it was revealed that the snap to Elway (who was in shotgun formation) actually clipped Broncos receiver Steve Watson's hip as he was in motion between Elway and the center. The ball almost didn't make it back to Elway.

But it did, and Elway grabbed the ball in the air and threw a laser beam to Jackson before defenders brought him down.

A couple of passes and another Elway scramble for nine yards and the Broncos were at the mother scratching five!

I'm sure something to the effect of: "Oh God, I think I'm going to throw up" crossed my mind.

With 39 seconds left, on 3rd-and-1 from the 5-yard line, Elway gunned a low bullet that he threw so hard that Jackson almost let it slip threw his fingers.

Again, almost.

But Jackson caught the pass and the game was tied after the extra point. Fifteen plays, 98 yards and thousands of devastated Browns fans.

It was only a tie game, overtime was still to come. We could come back and still take this right?

Probably not what I was thinking. The game was for all intents and purposes...lost.

I knew it.

Both teams probably knew it.

Weeping Cleveland fans everywhere knew it.

Sure enough, in overtime, the Browns went three-and-out on their first possession, and Elway drove the Broncos 60 yards down the field to set up Rich Karlis' attempt at a game-winning, heart-stomping 33-yard field goal.

I watched the kick as it sailed wide left.

Huh? Why was the ref holding his arms up? It was good? How was that good? It was clearly wide left.

Are you kidding?

To this day, myself and Cleveland Browns fans everywhere still believe the kick was no good.

Mercifully, the Browns returned to the championship game the next season against the same Broncos. Wounds would be healed. Painful memories would be lessened after Earnest Byner ran in for the game-tying touchdown and the Browns won in overtime.

Ohhhhh Nooooo!! Wounds were re-opened and salt was poured in after Byner was stripped of the ball and the Browns lost.

Oy vey. Such is the life of a Cleveland fan.

What were your memories of this game? Sorry to re-open wounds. It's therapeutic.


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