1980: the “Red Right 88 Game”
In 1980, the Cleveland Browns had their best season in 15 years in the NFL. With 11 wins and five losses, they finish first in their division. Players have specialized in snatching late-game wins, earning them the nickname “Kardiac Kids”. And, at the end of the season, Brian Sipe, the quarterback of Cleveland, is elected MVP of the Championship. The Browns are obviously candidates for a spot in the Super Bowl.
They begin their journey in the play-offs at home against the Oakland Raiders. With less than a minute left in the game, Cleveland trailed 14-12 but were 13 yards from the Raiders’ end zone. That’s enough to score the winning field goal. But the team is playful and tries the touchdown. Big mistake. Brian Sipe’s pass, on a tactic called “Red Right 88”, is intercepted by the Raiders defense. Sudden end to a great season.
1987: the “Drive”
Cleveland went through the 1980s quietly. But in 1987, the Browns were back in the limelight again, with 12 regular season wins and a new division championship title. The team has a good quarterback in Bernie Kosar, reliable runners and receivers, and an excellent defensive back in Hanford Dixon.
Cleveland reaches the conference final for the first time since 1969. Facing him stand the Denver Broncos and John Elway, their brilliant quarterback. There are five minutes left to play, the Browns are in front of the score (20-13), and Elway and the Broncos have a recovery (a “drive”) of 98 yards to make to equalize. Undoubtedly doable today, but mission impossible at the time.
Yet John Elway will achieve one of the first masterpieces of his fabulous career. A five-yard pass to receiver Mark Jackson takes the two teams into overtime (20-20). Where Denver wins on a field goal and heads for the Super Bowl.
1988: the “Fumble”
Cleveland – Denver was a soap opera in the play-offs at the end of the 80s. In four years, the two teams would meet three times in the conference finals. In 1988, the end of the match is in favor of the Broncos (38-31). But Cleveland is going up the field and is only eight yards from the opposing in-goal, while there are only 1’12” left to play.
Bernie Kosar serves running back Earnest Byner, who overflows the defense on the left, collides Jeremiah Castille, Denver cornerback, and ends his race in the in-goal. Touch down ! Actually no. At the moment of impact, Castille managed to make Byner lose the ball (a “fumble”). Still missed for Cleveland, who finally lost 38-33.
The third opposition between the two teams will not suffer this time from any dispute. In 1990, Denver won 37-21. Small consolation for the Browns: the Broncos won none of the three Super Bowls they deprived Cleveland of.