Today in sports history, the Cleveland Browns were hit with one of the most unlucky plays of all time. The play more commonly known as “The Fumble” would forever be immortalized in Browns history.
In the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Browns and the Denver Broncos, this play would forever change the course of two franchises.
In the previous season, the Broncos and Browns also met in the AFC Championship in Cleveland. After Broncos quarterback John Elway orchestrated “The Drive,” the Broncos moved on to Super Bowl XXI. The Cleveland Browns went home just short of glory once again.
In the 1987 AFC Championship, the Broncos looked poised to inflict heartbreak again, jumping out to a 21-3 halftime lead. Cleveland came storming back and found themselves down 38-31 with one last chance to tie the game. The Browns moved it all the way down to the Denver eight-yard line before tragedy struck.
On second down, running back Earnest Byner received the handoff on a trap play. He turned to the left and found plenty of running room. With just two defenders between him and the end zone, Byner decided not to try to bounce it to the outside and instead veered upfield. Denver defensive back Jeremiah Castille knocked the ball out of Byner’s hands at the three and recovered the fumble as Byner and the other defender went into the end zone.
With the ball deep in their own territory, the Broncos ran three plays straight to burn Cleveland of their timeouts. They later took a safety instead of punting out of their own end zone. After the Browns regained possession, a late Hail Mary from Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar came up short, giving the Broncos a ticket to Super Bowl XXII.
Upon further review of “The Fumble,” then-Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer stated that Browns receiver Webster Slaughter was supposed to block Castille but instead “watched” the play. The Browns fell just three yards short of their first Super Bowl appearance ever. They would reach the AFC Championship again in the 1989 NFL season only to lose to the Broncos yet again. To this day, the Cleveland Browns have never made the AFC Championship game again.