Elway and dog biscuits: Reflections of Cleveland

by Gary Shelton on August 26, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Saturday, 2 a.m.

It was cold and dismal that day in Cleveland. A lot of people say it always. Even in June.

It hadn't been a great day. It was freezing, and the press elevator had gotten stuck, and another writer had started to freak out because of it. Ah, but outside, a classic was going on. Before the day was over, no one was going to be talking about the press elevator.

It was Jan. 11, 1987, more than 30 years ago, and John Elway was about to become immortal.

In the end zone, the Dawg Pound was working overtime. You couldn't walk on the

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sloppy sideline without stepping on dog biscuits — thrown from the stands. They made a nice little crunch as you walked. I remember looking at a fan and laughing. He barked at me. His point.

There have been a lot of bad days in Cleveland. This was the worst. This was the day that the Broncos pulled off The Drive, marching 95 yards on 15 plays to tie the homestanding Browns. The Broncos would go on to win in overtime, 23-20.

In those days, the media all stood around the sidelines late in games. And so I stood in the right corner and watched as Elway performed his magic. People forget. Elway hit a 20-yard pass to Mark Jackson on a third-and-18 during the march. Elway was six of nine for 78 yards through the air.

The Browns were no joke in those days. Marty Schottenheimer, the coach, got the team to four straight playoffs; they've made only three since he left in 1988.

Ah, but that team had the best shot. It held a 20-13 lead, one game from the Super Bowl. And it lost. It lost the next year as Ernest Byner fumbled near the goal line. And then, disaster.

Oh, the Browns used to have their way with Tampa Bay often enough. They beat the Bucs in Tampa Bay's first season. They lost in 1980 despite 343 yards from Doug Williams. James Wilder broke two ribs in a loss to Cleveland. They lost in in 1989 despite 370 yards from Vinny Testaverde. They lost to Testaverde in 1995. They lost in 2014 when Mike Glennon couldn't throw straight.

But a memorable trip by Tampa Bay came in 2006. I remember being in Cleveland on Christmas Eve that year. For some reason, the Bucs were completing a wretched season, and the Browns were winding up a disaster. Both teams would finish 4-12.

But an NFL event is a big event to a newspaper, and so we shipped a full crew to Cleveland.

And let me tell you, you have never seen writers type so quickly.

This was the Tim Rattay game. The season had grown so dark as fans watched Bruce Gradkowski wobble. At least Rattay stopped the bleeding for a while.

The Bucs would finish Jon Gruden's tenure in the next two years with 9-7 seasons. But two bad finishes (losing four of five in 2007, four of four in 2008) did him in.

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