A Look at “The Drive”
Ask any Cleveland Browns fan about “The Drive,” and you’ll hear a very agonized and tragic story that has haunted the town ever since.
The Browns’ best chance at Super Bowl stardom seemed to be within their grasp but disappeared after a Hall of Fame quarterback did the unthinkable in a sequence of plays known only as “The Drive.”
Although the Cleveland Browns remained a competitive and strong team in the post-Jim-Brown era, they had yet to earn a Super Bowl win.
However, a combination of a strong quarterback in Bernie Kosar and skilled receivers in 1986 helped the team gain a level of success that they hadn’t achieved in years.
For a start, they won their first playoff game since 1969 when they beat the New York Jets in an overtime game.
Kosar had a career season that year – he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and became the king of comebacks and thrilling last-minute wins.
During the Jets game, he set records with 33 completions in 64 attempts as he piled on 489 yards.
And in the AFC Championship Game, he would be facing off against the Denver Broncos and a young John Elway, a talented quarterback who also seemed to know how to win in tight spots.
The game was a brutal back-and-forth competition that saw both teams at their best for the season.
However, the Browns led 20-13 with 5:32 remaining after scoring and kicked the ball to Denver.
The Broncos struggled to get the ball into play and started on their own two-yard line. Cleveland fans were pleased, but Denver was confident in spite of their position.
“The Drive” As It Happened
The first play of “The Drive” was a five-yard pass that took Denver out of safety danger.
On second down and 5, running back Sandy Winder ran three years to the 10-yard line.
Winder ran again the next play to pick up two yards and the first down.
Now on the 12-yard line, the Broncos had a little breathing room – the next play was a winder run for three yards and the next an 11-yard Elway dash.
On the 26-yard line, the Broncos still had some room to go and some time to burn.
But on two consecutive passes, Elway moved the team 34 yards (22 and 12 yards, respectively) to put the team on their 40-yard line.
The two-minute warning occurred just after the play – the Broncos had moved over half the football field in about three minutes.
Many assumed they still did not have time to finish, but others noted the Browns had yet to force a fourth down.
They wouldn’t for the rest of the game.
At first down and 10, Elway missed a pass to Vance Johnson – one of only a handful of unproductive plays in “The Drive.” Cleveland’s Dave Puzzuoli then sacked Elway for an eight-yard loss that seemed to seal the deal on the game.
However, Elway connected with Mark Jackson on third down and 18 to get 20 yards and the first down on the 14-yard line.
After another incomplete pass – with 0:57 left – Elway scrambled for nine yards to set up a five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Johnson.
With just 0:39 left on the clock, kicker Rick Karlis added the extra point to tie the game 20-20.
Denver won 23-20 in overtime with a field goal.
Cleveland was stunned – though Denver would lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl 39-20 – Elway would later win two Super Bowls and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.
While Kosar went on to earn a Super Bowl ring in 1994, the Browns have still never won as a team.
Cleveland fans were heartbroken by the event and immediately developed a distaste for Elway and his team.
Elway would later call it his greatest drive and would gain a legend for his clutch play and ability to make unwinnable situations positive.
As mentioned previously, he would go on to win two Super Bowls and later became the general manager of the Broncos after retiring from playing.
The Cleveland Browns were upset by the loss but vowed to succeed next year.
And they did – they earned a solid 10-5 record under Kosar and beat the Colts easily 38-21 in their first playoff game to set up a rematch with Denver in the conference game.
Many fans at the time swore allegiance to the team and believed that, in spite of last year’s loss, the Browns would redeem themselves.
And in the Denver game, the Browns looked poised to tie the game, 38-38, to force overtime.
With just two yards left to score, the result seemed inevitable.
However, a play known as “The Fumble” lost them the ball, gave it to Denver, and set up a 38-33 loss after the Broncos took an intentional fumble and tried to force the Browns to pull off their version of “The Drive.”
Kosar tried his best, but the game was a loss, and the Browns have never been close to a Super Bowl since.