Isaiah Crowell came close in 2016. Trent Richardson came close in 2012. Believe it or not, it’s been nearly a decade since a Cleveland Browns running back notched 1,000 yards rushing in a season. The last time was none other than here-today-gone-tomorrow, bulldozer-of-a-back, Peyton Hillis. It was 2010 when the former Madden star logged 1,177 yards (real yards, not pixel yards) and was turning heads nationwide. Seems like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? This especially seems the case in an era when it feels like every other team has a 1,000-yard rusher and we watch repeated highlights of Todd Gurley running like the devil’s chasing him. Despite all of that talent out there today, it’s easy to forget the glorious history we had in our own backyard.
It was 1985 and the Browns had assembled a tandem of backs that would make any GM drool with envy and any defensive coordinator cower in fear. Rookie Kevin Mack entered the fray fresh out of Clemson and second-year back Ernest Byner had already earned his stripes, so to speak, from his first full season in the NFL the year prior. For the halfway mark of the 80’s decade, these two would team up for some much-desired Sunday yardage, which is first an understatement and second a great set of weapons to have if you were head coach Marty Schottenheimer. If there’s a problem with that situation, it’s figuring out how to split the workload.
One thing is for certain, it was a slightly different era of football back then. Today, you have your primary running back and then other running backs, halfbacks, tailbacks, etc. to supplement the workload or punch through the hole for that crucial red zone gain. When I look back at old NFL footage, I see the video of the Dolphins’ Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris and the Steelers’ Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier all effectively racking up stats, so apparently, the workload wasn’t such a concern in the NFL 30+ years ago. Either that or Schottenheimer was a genius because by the time the 1985 season had come to a close, Mack and Byner did the unthinkable, each accumulating over 1,000 yards rushing.
Mack, the bruising power back of a runner, had gained 1,104 yards while Byner was close behind with his own tally of 1,002 yards. That example of destructive line-hitting power and display of elusive speed made the Browns only the third team in history to sport a duo of 1,000-yard rushers and it has only happened three times since (’06 Falcons, ’08 Giants, ’09 Panthers). With the more recent occurrences, I suppose that dissolves my workload theory above, though the 2006 Falcons did have Michael Vick running wild on opponents while also handing off to Warrick Dunn (the only pair on the list who weren’t both running backs). Either way, when you consider the NFL is nearly a century in age, it proves rather impressive when realizing such an accomplishment has only occurred in single digits.
Gotham has Batman and Robin. London has Holmes and Watson. The galaxy has Han and Chewie. While there are several dynamic duos familiar to our memory, Cleveland’s was a very real Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner. Sure, such a tag team of running may never happen again in the Browns’ storied history and I’m okay with that. What those two did is nothing less than astonishing and as rare as a canary diamond. Their vaunted efforts are just another pillar in several that support the greatness of the Cleveland Browns’ past.