NFL Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos: Memories of The Drive

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John Elway Today

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s January 11, 1987 and the Denver Broncos are facing the Cleveland Browns for the AFC Championship. As a Broncos’ fan, that date is forever burned in my memory. For any Browns’ fans that are reading this, I sincerely apologize for bringing up these memories. However it is difficult to think of a Broncos/Browns game without my mind wandering back to that day almost 26 years ago.

There are countless places where you can read about that happened on that 98-yard drive that tied the game at 20; the Broncos eventually won the game in overtime. What I want to do is give you a look into the brain of a die-hard Bronco fan as that drive was unfolding. We’ll get to that in the slideshow itself but first, let’s set up the game and how it got to that point.

It was back and forth all day; the Browns jumped out early to a 7-0 lead but the Broncos use three second quarter takeaways to grab a 10-7 lead. The Browns tied it right before the break with a field goal from Mark Mosley, the last straight on kicker. The teams traded field goals in the second half and the score remained tied at 13 until the Browns scored on a long pass to take a 20-13 lead with 5:32 left to go in the game.

At this point, I am discouraged but not without hope; the Broncos had come from behind a lot with John Elway at quarterback. However what happened on the ensuing kickoff left me with very little hope and what followed will forever be known as “The Drive.”

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The Kickoff

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

As down as I was about the Browns scoring; I knew there was plenty of time left and that this is where Elway thrived. The thinking was, get the ball around the 20 yard line and let’s see what happens. Then Ken Bell botched the kickoff and the Broncos had the ball at the two yard line. At this point my heart has sunk and my hopes of moving onto the Super Bowl are almost completely gone.

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Some Breathing Room

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The initial first-down may have been the biggest one; it got the Broncos off of the goal-line and gave them some room to work. There was a five-yard swing pass to Sammy Winder, second from the right above, that got the Broncos out to the seven. That was followed by two runs that netted a first-down. I was happy that they got the ball off of the goal-line but they had only moved 10 yards and the clock was under four minutes. I remember thinking; they need to start getting bigger chunks of yardage.

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Picking up Momentum

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The next few plays that I vividly remember are the two where I started to think they had a chance to do this. The first was a first-down scramble by Elway to get the ball out beyond the 25 yard-line. Then Elway hit Steve Sewell for 25 yards and despite a big hit, Sewell held onto the ball. All of the sudden, the Broncos had the ball at midfield and there were still close to three minutes left on the clock. My thoughts at this point were they got my hopes up now; they better finish this.

Right before the two-minute warning; Elway hit Steve Watson on the sideline for another first-down and the Broncos were now at the Browns 40. On second and ten, however, Elway was sacked for a big loss and hope was fading again. As if third and 18 were not challenging enough; the Broncos flirted with disaster on the snap. Elway had put Watson in motion and the ball was snapped early, but it only grazed him and Elway was able to field the snap. He then found a wide-open Mark Jackson for 20 yards and a huge first-down. It was at this point where I started to feel that I was watching something special; something we would still be talking about 26 years later.

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Getting Close

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One of the most underrated plays of the drive is a screen pass to Sewell that took the ball from the 25 down to the 12 yard-line of the Browns. It was such a smart play by Sewell because the Browns thought he was going out of bounds at the 20 to save time, but Sewell knew that time was no longer a factor. He cut back to the inside and picked up another eight yards. Now the Broncos had first and ten from the Browns 12 with nearly a minute to go in the game. Following an incompletion, Elway scrambled for eight yards to set up third and goal. I am excited but nervous at this point; how awful would it feel if they came this far and then didn’t get in?

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David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos had traveled 94 yards, they needed four more and they got it on perhaps the hardest ball ever thrown. Elway dropped back to throw and threw, what he describes as “The hardest I’ve ever thrown a ball,” to Jackson in the back of the end zone. TOUCHDOWN! As excited as I wanted to be; I knew they had the make the extra point. The field was in horrible shape and there were dog bones everywhere from the fans. I think I was more nervous watching that extra point then I was on the touchdown play. No problems, though, it was good. At that moment I knew the Broncos were going to the Super Bowl. There was an overtime to be played but the game was decided on that drive.

Looking back on it now without the nerves; I am perplexed as to why the Browns’ fans grew quieter as the Broncos were driving. They should have been getting louder in an effort to help their defense but it was as if they knew what was happening. The Broncos, of course, were blown out two weeks later by the New York Giants but January 11, 1987 will always be a special day for Bronco fans. The Broncos probably will not need a 98 yard drive to beat the Browns on Sunday, but whenever these two teams hook up; the memories come flooding back.

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