Introducing “The Fumble” to Clevelanders is the equivalent to receiving coal in your stocking on Christmas morning. It hurts. You ask, “why me?” It sucks any positive energy you had right out of you and throws it away. “The Fumble” is a play in Cleveland Browns history that will go down as one of the most unfortunate, hope-snatching plays in NFL history.
It was January 17, 1988 in Denver, Colorado at Mile High Stadium where history was made, for the worse for Browns fans all over the country.
For the second straight season, the Browns and the Denver Broncos had met in the AFC Championship game, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.
To set the scene, one must take it back one year before that day to January 11,1987 where the Browns and Broncos were battling for their ticket to sports’ biggest game. Up by seven with five minutes to go, Cleveland had Denver pinned at their own two-yard line and the Browns leading 20-13.
Fast forward about five minutes and some change and Denver Quarterback John Elway had led the Broncos 98 yards down the field to find the end-zone and tie the game at 20. They would head to overtime and Denver would kick a field goal to come out victorious with the score 23-20. This would go down in NFL lore as “The Drive” and many consider it the most clutch drive ever seen in professional football.
Now let’s go back to 1988 where after four second-half touchdowns by Browns Quarterback Bernie Kosar, Cleveland had the game tied with Denver at 31 a piece in the middle of the fourth quarter.
With six minutes to go in the ballgame, Elway found Broncos Wide Receiver Sammy Winder on a 20-yard touchdown pass to put Denver back on top 38-31.
The following possession by the Browns is why all of the information provided previously, is relevant. Over four-plus minutes, Cleveland had managed to get the ball down to the Denver side of the field, to the eight-yard line.
Having 1:12 left in the ballgame, and Browns Running Back Earnest Byner accumulating 187 yards on 22 touches and finding the end-zone twice during the game, it was an easy call. The ball was going to Byner.
The Cleveland running back got the call to run right, it was all but certain that Byner was finding the end-zone.
That was until Broncos Defensive Back Jeremiah Castille came up and made the strip of a life-time, forcing Byner to fumble. Denver recovered the ball on the two-yard line. Denver would then give Cleveland an intentional safety which made the game score 38-33, which would end up being the final score.
The Browns once again found themselves so close to a Super Bowl berth, but once again came up short. The play would go down in infamy as “The Fumble.”
After the game Cleveland Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer came out and said, after reviewing the play, that it was not entirely Byner’s fault as Browns Wide Receiver Webster Slaughter looked as if he missed his block on Castille, allowing the defensive back to come in and make the play.
Denver would move on to the Super Bowl only to be embarrassed by the Washington Redskins 42-10.
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