At 4:41 EST last Saturday afternoon, 4 hours and 11 minutes after his kickoff had started a game destined to become the third-longest in NFL history, the Cleveland Browns' Mark Moseley ended the bizarre proceedings by kicking the ball to the dawgs. Not like a dawg, which he had done earlier, missing a 23-yard gimme that would have put the brain-dead New York Jets out of their misery way back in the fifth quarter. To the dawgs, those bone-throwing crazies in the bleachers at the east end of Cleveland Stadium, whose lunatic barking and terrierlike razzing of the Jets' Mark Gastineau helped spark the Browns' wildly improbable comeback, a 23-20 thriller that officially ended at 2:02 of the second overtime, when Moseley's 27-yarder sailed straight through the uprights and into Cleveland history.
The Browns, who had lost six straight playoff games dating back to 1970, had been goners, no-hopers, when they took possession of the ball on their own 32 with 4:08 left in regulation. It wasn't so much that they trailed the Jets 20-10. Ten points isn't insurmountable when there is that much time on the clock and you have three timeouts, as Cleveland did. Nope. It was that they had absolutely nothing going for them. They hadn't scored since the 9:09 mark of the second quarter. Their running game had done zilch all day—21 yards on 15 carries. And Bernie Kosar, their golden-armed, lead-footed quarterback, who hadn't been intercepted since November, had suddenly thrown two in a row. The first came with nine minutes left and the score 13-10, after the Browns had driven to the Jets' two-yard line and seemed assured of a game-tying field goal. But on third down Kosar launched an incredible wounded duck that was caught in the end zone by the Jets' Russell Carter, a pass that Kosar later said was supposed to go out of bounds.
The Jets made three first downs before they were forced to punt, giving Kosar the ball again on the Browns' 17 with 4:31 left. In 531 attempts, Kosar had thrown only 10 interceptions all season for a 1.88 percentage, the best in the NFL—but immediately he threw another, his eight-yard look-in picked off by Jets cornerback Jerry Holmes at the Browns' 25-yard line.
It seemed to break the Browns' spirit. On the very next play the Jets' Freeman McNeil slashed off right tackle, broke wide and outraced the secondary for the touchdown that gave the Jets their 20-10 lead. "It was looking bleak for us," Kosar admitted. Some fans were heading for the exits.
The dawgs, however, were going nowhere. Dawgs—upper case—is the nickname of the Browns' defensive unit; whereas dawgs—lower case—are Cleveland bleacherites who sit beneath the scoreboard, dress up like canines (one actually wears a cardboard house on his head), cheer the defense and heave dog biscuits onto the field. When Kosar and the Browns trotted out with 4:08 left, needing two scores, the dawgs started snarling.
"They were chanting some pretty ugly remarks at Gastineau," said Browns All-Pro tackle Cody Risien. "The Jets were up by 10, and he was obviously playing hurt. I don't blame him for egging them on."
The Browns began their drive by marching backward. A holding penalty and a sack moved the ball back to their own 18, inspiring Gastineau, who was limping visibly, to approach the lair of the dawgs and windmill his arms, taunting them. The game was over, right? The ailing Jets defense had been heroic, so why not have a little fun? Gastineau was pumped, and the Browns were facing a second-and-Shaker Heights.
Needing 24 yards for a first, Kosar dropped back for the zillionth time—he would set playoff passing records for most attempts (64) and most yards (489), and tie one for most completions (33)—and threw incomplete. But Gastineau plowed into him late. Roughing the passer. Fifteen yards and a first down. "It was a very key play," Jets coach Joe Walton would say.
The play seemed to give the Browns—and Kosar—new life. "I saw a look in his eyes I'd never seen before," said Cleveland tight end Ozzie New-some, who was the game's leading receiver with six catches for 114 yards. "He was not going to be denied. He was going to find a way to win that football game."
Two plays later Kosar, who at 23 is 12 days younger than Vinny Testaverde, completed four straight first-down passes off the Jets' nickel-and-dime zones—two to Reggie Langhorne and two to Brian Brennan—to move the ball down to the Jets' three. Two more plays and Kevin Mack carried it over from the one, pulling the Browns to within a field goal, 20-17, with 1:57 left.
They had two timeouts remaining, but coach Marty Schottenheimer went for the onside kick. It was fielded well, and the Jets had the ball on the Browns' 45. It was here that the Jets gave away the game. Had they been able to make a first down after that kick, they would have won the game. But they didn't. Not even close. The Browns stuffed them on three straight runs, using up their timeouts, then took over on their own 33 with :51 remaining.
Wham! Kosar zipped one 25 yards down the middle, where pass interference was called on the Jets' Carl Howard. Bam! He lofted a beauty 37 yards down the sideline to wide receiver Webster Slaughter, who carried it to the Jets' five. Twenty-five seconds...twenty-two...the clock was running, and all of a sudden it looked as if the Browns were going to win this thing. And Kosar tried, floating a little pass to Slaughter in the corner of the end zone. Only he didn't get it high enough. Carter leapt and had it in one hand, only to have the ball jar loose when he hit the ground. Carter pounded the ground in frustration. There were 11 seconds left.
Moseley came out then. "All I was thinking was, Get the tie," Schottenheimer said later. "Everything was going our way. It didn't make any sense to go for the win right then." Moseley made the field goal. Overtime.
The Jets won the toss, but then they were wiped out. Three plays, fourth and four, punt.
Kosar—and make no mistake, it was he who was leading this bunch—picked up where he had left off, completing five of six passes to move the Browns from their own 26 to the Jets' 5. First and goal. Out trots the old pro, Moseley, for the game-winner. There is hugging on the sidelines and dancing in the aisles. Perfect snap, good hold, and....
He shanks it; the ball sails right.
Although the Jets were alive, their only hope, it seemed, was a turnover within field goal range, for they were going nowhere on offense, making just one first down and rushing for minus three yards in their three overtime possessions. "I've never seen the kind of push and penetration from a defensive line that we had in overtime," Schottenheimer said.
It must have been catching because all of a sudden the Browns rediscovered their running game. On the game-winning drive it was Mack over the middle for 4 yards, a pass for 6 yards, then Mack again over left tackle for another 8. Herman Fontenot took the ball up the gut for 7 more. Then Mack for 15, 4 and 7, until the Browns were perched again, first and goal, on the nine.
Moseley came out once more. "It was as if 80,000 people were riding on my shoulders, every one of them with a knife behind his back," he joked later. This time he was perfect. "It's like a nightmare," Gastineau said afterward. "I never felt this way."
Neither had any of the Browns nor, for that matter, the long-abused Cleveland fans. None of the players seemed to want to leave the field. They high-fived and hugged each other, celebrating, then stayed around to mingle with the jubilant fans, who had not been off their feet since the last two minutes of regulation play.
"I've never experienced or seen a comeback like that," Schottenheimer said. "After it was all over, just before we said our prayer in the locker room, I told the players to listen. You could still hear the people cheering for us. This is a victory, a game, a moment all of us will remember the rest of our lives."