By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
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The Browns had suffered a heartbreaking, 23-20 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game a year earlier almost to the day. So when the teams squared off in a rematch with the 1987 conference title at stake, coach Marty Schottenheimer’s club was determined to get the job done.
The Browns played the Broncos right down to the wire again on Jan. 17, 1988 at Mile High Stadium. However, they would lose once more, 38-33.
The Browns fell behind, 21-3, at halftime, only to put on a miraculous comeback and tie the score 31-31 in the fourth quarter.
But the Broncos went back on top, 38-31, on quarterback John Elway’s third touchdown pass of the day. Then defensive back Jeremiah Castille recovered a fumble by Browns running back Earnest Byner at the Denver 3 with 1:05 remaining to preserve the victory.
The Broncos led, 14-0, after one quarter on Elway’s eight-yard pass to wide receiver Ricky Nattiel and Steve Sewell’s one-yard run.
Matt Bahr got the Browns on the board with Matt Bahr’s 24-yard field goal, then Gene Lang scored on a one-yard run to put the halftime lead at 18 points, 21-3.
The Browns came storming back with a trio of third-quarter touchdowns, two on Bernie Kosar passes of 18 yards to wide receiver Reggie Langhorne and 32 yards to running back Earnest Byner, and Byner’s four-yard run.
Elway’s 80-yard pass to wideout Mark Jackson and a 38-yard field goal by Rich Karlis accounted for Denver’s points in the quarter.
That deadlocked the game at 31-31 and set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.
With just 4:01 left, Elway hit running back Sammy Winder for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Browns defense forced the Broncos to go three plays and out following Byner’s fumble, but instead of kicking the ball away and likely giving Cleveland good field position, Denver elected to have punter Mike Horan run out of the back of the end zone for an intentional safety to make it 38-33.
With little time to work with following the free kick, the Browns were unable to score and suffered another bitter defeat to the Broncos on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
After a slow start, the Browns offense in the second half played probably better than it had all year, moving the ball up and down the field and scoring at will.
Kosar and Byner performed especially well.
Kosar completed 26 of 41 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception for a quarterback rating of 105.3.
Byner led the Browns in rushing with 67 yards and a TD in 15 carries, and had a game-high seven receptions for 120 yards and a score.
Overall, the Browns rolled up 464 total yards to 412 for Denver.
But unfortunately for Kosar, Byner and the rest of their teammates, it wasn’t quite enough for a second straight season.
This date in history, though, has otherwise been a positive one for the Browns. It was on Jan. 17 that:
*Ray Renfro was among the Browns’ picks in the 1952 NFL Draft.
One of two players taken by the club in the fourth round, the North Texas State halfback was converted to wide receiver by the Browns and became one of their most prolific pass catchers ever. In a 12-year career that lasted from 1952-63, he caught 281 passes, the ninth-highest total in club history, is second with 5,508 receiving yards, third with 50 touchdown receptions and first with 19.6 average yards per catch.
Also selected by the Browns in that draft were Southern Methodist guard Herschel Forester, who played for the team for four years (1954-57) and was part of NFL championship squads in his first two seasons, Missouri safety Junior Wren (1956-59), who had 11 career interceptions with the team, Tennessee defensive back/kicker Bert Rechichar (1952), who held the NFL record for longest field goal (56 yards) from 1953-70, Loyola of California quarterback Don Klosterman, who went on to become a very successful general manager with the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Colts, and Boston University quarterback Harry Agganis, whose son, Mike, owns the Akron (Ohio) Aeros, the Class AA affiliate of baseball’s Cleveland Indians.
*Dick Ambrose was born in 1953 in New Rochelle, N.Y.
A 12th-round pick of the Browns in the 1975 NFL Draft out of Virginia, the linebacker, nicknamed “Bam Bam,” not only made the team that season but was a starter throughout a nine-year career that ended with his retirement following the 1983 season. He had five career interceptions, including two in 1978.
*Carlton Massey was born in 1930 in Rockwall, Texas.
An eighth-round choice of the Browns in the 1953 NFL Draft out of Texas, the defensive end played for the team for three seasons. He was part of NFL title clubs in his first two years, 1954 and ’55, when he was a full-time starter. He shared the position with Bob Gain in 1956.
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