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Giants Win in a Breeze; Browns Left in a Fog : Karlis' FG Gives Denver OT Victory

January 12, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — OK, Fido, this is where you get off.

Five minutes from glory, with a seven-point lead and 98 yards of buffer zone, the Cleveland Brown fans and their Dawg defense saw the heavens open and greatness intervene.

Who else could this be about but the (potentially) greatest of them all, John Elway?

Late Sunday afternoon, he hit the Browns with twin lighting bolts that they'll be talking about in Colorado until the Rockies crumble: The 98-yard touchdown drive for a tie with :37 left in regulation; the 60-yard drive to set up the winning field goal in overtime. Rich Karlis kicked it from 33 yards and the Denver Broncos were 23-20 winners and Pasadena-bound.

That's how quickly the dream died here. A TV interviewer suggested to Elway that he must feel for Browns fans.

"I'm sure they're disappointed," Elway said, grinning. "But after hearing them yell, 'Elway (bleep) all day, my heart doesn't exactly go out to them."

This is the stuff of legends, Bronco-style.

It was Cleveland leading, 20-13, with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, Bernie Kosar having just combined with Brian Brennan (he caught the ball) and Dennis Smith (he fell down) for a 48-yard scoring play. Denver's Ken Bell fumbled the ensuing kickoff and fell on it at his two, which is not what you would call a good omen were you a Bronco, nor good working conditions. The Broncos had scored only one touchdown all day, on a 37-yard drive after a recovered fumble.

"I think everybody dropped a couple inches when the ball was downed," rookie receiver Mark Jackson said. "We thought, 'Man, what else can go wrong?' "

First and 10--Elway reports for duty, cheerfully.

"He smiled," said Steve Watson. "He said, 'You guys work hard and good things are going to happen.' Then he smiled again. You wondered if it was out of exhaustion.

"I couldn't believe it. You figure we've got 98 yards to go and we haven't been moving the ball that well all day. He might as well be cool. I thought, 'If John is going to be cool, I can be cool, too.' "

Elway takes them up to the line and completes a five-yard pass to Sammy Winder.

Third and 18 at the Cleveland 48. He hits Mark Jackson for 20 yards.

"Dan (Reeves, Bronco coach) told me just to go for half of it," Elway said. "Orson Mobley (the tight end) was the primary target but the 'backers jumped him. Their safeties were sitting deep and Mark was open."

Said Jackson: "I hadn't had a great day. I hadn't had a great week of practice. I knew if they called my number, I had to deliver. When they called my number, I was kinda proud, being a rookie. . . . Usually John gives that play a quick read, from the top (deeper) route to the bottom (shorter) route. I was the guy who was 20 yards deep. If he wanted the first down, he'd be coming to me. I was bumped off the line. As I got to the top of the route, I broke and John had the ball right there. I didn't have too much time to think about it. John drilled me with the ball."

Second and 10 at the Brown 28--Elway hits Steve Sewell for 14 yards.

Second and 10 at the 14--He scrambles right for nine yards, sliding hard over the sideline ahead of two pursuers coming for all they're worth out of the secondary.

Third and one at the five--He throws a low rocket to Jackson running a slant pattern in the end zone. A moment later, Karlis' extra point ties the game.

"They were playing zone," Elway said. "The corner let Mark go and I just kind of put it in the hole.

"It was the best drive I've ever been part of. . . . I remember one against California where we had fourth and 17 at our 13 and ended up getting a first down and later a field goal. Then the fiasco started."

That was 1982, when he was at Stanford and Cal lateraled the kickoff back for a touchdown through the Stanford marching band, a legend of another kind.

All that remained Sunday was the overtime. With Elway smoking, no clock to fight and the Browns buckling, duck soup or in this case, doggie stew.

Second and five at his 30--Elway hits Mobley who makes a leaping catch for a 22-yard gain.

Third and 12 at the 50--Elway is chased out of the pocket, flees to the left sideline and then throws one across his body, hitting Watson who makes a leaping catch for a 28-yard gain to the 22.

"It was a tough catch," Watson said. "My vertical leap? It's been clocked at 23 inches."

The Broncos were within field-goal range but Coach Dan. Reeves had them run three running plays that reached the 15. Then he sent Karlis in to kick the game-winner, which he did, knocking it perhaps two feet inside the left upright.

"I thought he missed it," Elway said. "I thought he missed it to the left. But then I didn't hear any fans screaming."

Sobs don't carry as well. The Browns had the upper hand in the first half, when Denver's running game totalled 65 yards and Elway had 36 of that on two scrambles.

What couldn't the Browns afford to do? What hadn't they done all season?

All together now, turn the ball over.

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