The Drive

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Posted: June 18, 2017


The Drive refers to a series of offensive plays that happened during the final five minutes of the 1986 AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns on 11 January 1987.

Thanks to a sustained charge led by Broncos quarterback John Elway, the Broncos, who had been trailing for most of the game were able to tie the score with 36 seconds left and then win the game in overtime.

Buildup to the Drive

During the 1986 regular season, the Broncos topped the AFC West Division with an 11-5 record to book a playoff place after missing out the previous season. In the divisional playoff game, they beat the New England Patriots 22-17 to book a meeting with the Browns in the AFC Championship game. as for the Browns, the 1986 season had started tragically, with the death of defensive back Don Rogers in preseason. They finished the season with a franchise record 12-4 record, which placed them at the top of their AFC Central division. In the divisional playoffs, they edged out the New York Mets in a double overtime encounter, which gave them their first ever playoff win. John Elway who had joined the Broncos in 1983 was the undoubted star of the team and over the years had developed a knack for orchestrating last minute wins.

Cleveland, playing in their own backyard, started the game brilliantly, striking first through a touchdown from Herman Fontenot in the first quarter. The Broncos responded by tightening their defense and the teams headed to the half with no further changes to the scores. In the second quarter, the Broncos upped their charge and were rewarded with a 19 yard field goal from Rich Karlis. The Broncos then got a one yard touchdown through Gerald Willwhite to push the score to 10-7, though the Browns equalized with a 29-yard field Goal from Mark Moseley. Little happened in the third quarter but the game came to life midway through the fourth quarter as a brilliantly orchestrated Browns drive the resulted in a 48 yard touchdown from Brian Brennan. The Browns seemed to be heading for a sure win as they contained the Broncos easily for the following few minutes.

The Play Unfolds

With 5:32 left on the clock and the Browns leading 20-13, the Broncos began a series of 15 plays, which resulted in a ninety-eight yard drive and left just 36 seconds on the clock. With less than a minute on the clock, at third down and 1, on the Cleveland 5 yard line, Elway shifted to the left and threw a low pass towards Mark Jackson in the end zone. Jackson went low and snatched the ball just eight inches off the ground for the touchdown. Karlis kicked for the extra point to tie the game at 20-20 and effectively send the game into overtime.

Aftermath of the Drive

In overtime, three comical plays saw the Browns punt the ball on their first drive straight to Elway at the Broncos’ 25-yard line. Elway speedily drove the Broncos to the Browns’ fifteen-yard line, followed by a skillful pass to Steve Watson at the Browns’ twenty-two yard line. Once in field goal range, the Broncos set up for a field goal from Karlis. The game was won, the Broncos’ camp broke into celebration and the 80,000 Cleveland faithful stood silent in utter shock. In Super Bowl XXI, the Broncos played the New York Giants and lost 20-39. The Drive featured albeit with many inaccuracies in the movie Hot Tub Time Machine. The movie depicted the Browns as having won the game due to Jackson failing to catch the pass from Elway, having been distracted by a squirrel with the ball in midair. In addition, the game was depicted as having been played at night while in reality, it was played in daytime.

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