It was a dreary, cold, dark, foreboding day in Cleveland. It was January 11, 1987 in Cleveland yet there was an excitement in the air…
Oh yes…the 1986 AFC Championship on the line and a trip to SuperBowl XXI in Pasadena awaits. John Elway and the Broncos are 98 yards away from the “Dog Pound” and the tying score with 5:43 seconds left…*sigh* Elway sent the entire state of Ohio into a catatonic shock that lasted thru the next football season and up to and thru Earnest Byner’s fumble in the following AFC Championship game in ’87.
However lets take you back to the game where John Elway had arrived. It was the moment forgotten once he performed “The Drive” that came a week prior. The 1986 Broncos had a maturing quarterback coming of age and if you remember were still smarting from posting an 11-5 record, while missing the 1985 playoffs on a tie break technicality.
Elway was typical of a young quarterback who struggled to be consistent throughout. After taking off on a 34 yard touchdown early in the game, he severely sprained his ankle. He hobbled and gutted it out against Andre Tippett and the Patriots defense. The big thing was he didn’t make the big mistake and struck when the defending AFC Champions blinked. Down 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter, Patriot LB Don Blackmon jumped offside. With a free play Elway fired deep to Vance Johnson to take a 20-17 lead.
Then Rulon Jones sack and safety of Tony Eason sent the Broncos to their first AFC Championship since 1977 22-17. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was a linebacker on both the ’77 and ’86 teams and was from Cleveland. Fittingly the last win he experienced as a player was “The Drive”, as the Broncos prevailed 23-20 in overtime.
Subsequently the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Pasadena to win Super Bowl XXI. This ring commemorates the accomplishment of getting there. Denver would get to more Super Bowls right? Elway was just a young pup…he’d have plenty more…right?
The one thing that was lost were the pundits made it seem that Elway was the only player on that team. They ran the ball by committee with Sammy Winder and Gerald Wilhite. Had solid receivers in Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Yet they had the AFC’s 3rd ranked defense, 9th overall which ranked higher than The Dawg Defense of Cleveland ranked 19th.
Pro Bowlers Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith, DE Rulon Jones, and CB Mike Harden led a resurgent “Orange Crush” defense. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as the group that carried Denver to Super Bowl XII. Of course I could be partial to the ’77 group since I lived there at the time and they were influential on a youngster.
This was the ring commemorating the ’86 Broncos who came out of a competitive AFC West to win the conference.
Epilogue circa 2010: John Elway should be thanking Art Modell and Lebron James for getting him off the hook. These are the most hated men in Cleveland now. I don’t think Elway golfs or vacations there…lol…but he has a fair chance of not getting stoned to death. So hated was Elway in Cleveland that in 1989 the Broncos were huddled in the “Dog Pound” end zone of Municipal Stadium when Elway gets conked on the head with a flashlight battery.
The debris became so great that Jerry Markbreit (referee) actually had the teams switch sides on the field. The Chancellor of Football had never seen that before in an NFL game or since. Cleveland won 16-13 for a measure of revenge yet lost again in the 89 AFC Title 37-21 to further fuel Elway angst in Ohio. I was one of ’em…and it took a long time to let it go.
Thanks for reading and please share the article.