The Drive Simulation from From image

Conference Championship Rewind: The Drive

Browns get a shot at redemption

By Joel Beall -
January 19th, 2011

The Righteous Brothers are enshrined in Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is apropos since their hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin" seems fitting for the city's destitute deposition. To say those around the Cuyahoga have encountered heartache is like saying Bill Belichick knows a thing or two about winning (well, save for his first go-around as head coach with, you guessed it, the Cleveland Browns).

The Fumble. The Shot. The Decision. The Drew Carey Show. But everything pales in comparison to what transpired on January 11, 1987 in old Municipal Stadium.

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Mention the date to any Cleveland zealot, and you're bound to receive a head shake, sigh, or a stare into the abyss. (Or in some cases, an aerial-bound object hurled at your head). Down 20-13 with just over five minutes remaining, John Elway submitted one of the sport's most iconic performances, engineering a 98-yard march with strikes and scrambles that spurred Elway and the Broncos into overtime, and more importantly, NFL lore. A Rich Karlis field goal in OT gave Denver a 23-20 victory, propelling the Broncos into the Super Bowl as Elway's "Drive" gained instant infamy in Cleveland. The loss spiraled the town into an endless array of agony: Byner's blunder, Jordan soaring over Ehlo, Renteria's liner over Nagy, LeBron taking his talents to South Beach. And Drew Carey.

But what would have happened if "The Drive" didn't come to fruition? Would the resulting karma have resonated with the Cavaliers and Indians, thwarting an additional two decades of devastation? Unfortunately our simulation engines can't compute the projected providence facilitated by a theoretical Cleveland victory. However, the WhatIfSports NFL simulation engine CAN resimulate the 1986 AFC Championship Browns-Broncos battle, a proposition we couldn't pass up. In the 1,001 simulation, the Browns come out on top 54.8 percent of the time by an average score of 26-24.

"The Drive" - 1001 Simulations
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
1986 Denver Broncos45.224Sample Box Score
@ 1986 Cleveland Browns54.826Simulate Game

Heading into the prize fight the Broncos were 11-5 on the season, capturing the West division and defeating the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. Elway would earn his first of nine Pro Bowl invitations, as the former Stanford signal caller had thrown for 3,485 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Denver defense employed stars such as LB Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith and DE Rulon Jones, all Pro Bowlers in their own right. For Cleveland, coach Marty Schottenheimer had his team on a role, winning the past six games prior to the Bronco matchup, including a 23-20 overtime barn burner against the Jets in the previous playoff round. Cleveland was led by QB Bernie Kosar, coming off a 3,854 yard-campaign. Aiding Kosar was running back Kevin Mack (10 touchdowns), wide receiver Brian Brennan (55 receptions, 838 yards) and tight end Ozzie Newsome (39 catches for 417 yards).

Broncs Cheer

John Elway Elway's drive silenced Municipal Stadium

Denver wasted little time in proving "The Drive" was no fluke, opening the game with a 74-yard march that was capped off by a Steve Sewell run up the middle. But before Brown fans could muster a, "Here we go again," Bernie Kosar answered with a 59-yard drive of his own, finding Reggie Langhorne from 17 yards out to tie the game at seven.

After holding the Broncos on the following possession, the Browns opened up the second quarter with a 50-yard field goal opportunity. Alas, Mark Moseley's attempt goes awry, giving Denver good field position. Elway capitalizes on this good fortune, hitting Sewell for a 41-yard scamper to take the lead. The rest of the quarter was quite the dozer, as the teams combined for five straight punts. Bronco booter Karlis managed to hook one through the uprights to end the half, sending Denver into the locker room with a 17-7 advantage.

The third quarter provided little action, as both defenses held their adversaries in check. But the offensive fireworks began in the fourth with Kosar's second TD pass of the day, passing to Herman Fontenot for a 17-yard score to cut the deficit to three. After Clay Matthews and company held Elway to a three-and-out, the Brownies found the end zone in just four plays thanks to a 51-yard screen to Brennan, bringing the score to 21-17 Cleveland.

But before Brown backers could celebrate, Elway reminded all why "clutch" is synonymous with his name. The Bronco QB guided his team on an eight-play, 62-yard drive, ending with a Mark Jackson 18-yard TD catch. With just 1:45 left on the clock, it looked like Cleveland's collective spirit was about to be broken again.

Yet Kosar would not let this come to pass, as the sports town equivalent of Charlie Brown was finally able to kick that blasted ball from Lucy's grasp. Running back Mack took a carry 43 yards to start the series, putting the Cleveland offense in attack range. Two players later, Kosar hit Brennan for a 30-yard gain down the sidelines, getting knocked out at the 3. The ensuing play, Newsome danced his way into the Promised Land with a 3-yard toss as the Browns went on to win 28-24.

Granted, it's all hypothetical. But for once, Cleveland finishes on top.

Joel Beall is a Content Writer for He can be reached at

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