“The Marathon by the Lake” One of the Greatest Games Ever Played

Updated: July 4, 2017

In my 22 years of being a Browns fan, I have not been blessed with great memories. I have far more optimism going into the draft than I ever do going into the actual season. During my lifetime, the Browns have only had two winning seasons, 2002 and 2007, and only one playoff bid, 2002. While I may not have the fondest of memories of my dear Cleveland Browns, my father certainly does, and there’s one game, in particular, he talks the most of.

It was frigid January day on the shores of Lake Erie and the Cleveland Browns were battling it out against the New York Jets in the first round of the NFL Playoffs. The Browns were coming off a 12-4 season under second-year head coach Marty Schottenheimer and looking for their first playoff victory in 18 years. A victory that they would have to earn.

The Browns were coming off, of their most successful seasons in years winning 12 games, something that would’ve seemed impossible for the Browns just a few years earlier. This was a new Browns team, with their young new quarterback Bernie Kosar out of Youngstown, Ohio. Kosar was the hometown kid who truly wanted nothing more than to play for the Browns. After leading the Browns to the playoffs, it seemed only right that the hometown kid would have a record-breaking day for the Browns.

The game initially looked like it was going to be an offensive shootout with the Jets scoring early and the Browns immediately following that up with a 98-year drive of their own to tie the game at seven. However, both defenses soon settled in and the game went to halftime tied at 10 apiece.

The 3rd quarter was once again a defensive battle much like the 2nd, with the Jets only being able to salvage a field goal, and the Browns going scoreless. This game appeared to be completely controlled by the defenses with both team’s offenses continuing to stall out early in drives. The Jets took a 13-10 lead into the 4th and that is when things truly got interesting. The Jets scored early into the 4th quarter off, of Freeman McNeil’s 25-yard rush to the end zone making it now a 20-10 Jets lead.

The Browns faithful were getting nervous they knew that their beloved Brownies needed to act fast to salvage this one. Hope seemed all but lost with 4:14 left in the game and the Jets still leading 20-10, but this was when the switch was flipped and Bernie Kosar became a Cleveland legend. Kosar quickly rallied his team straight down the field passing the ball all over and continuing a very strong air attack on the day for him. With the two-minute warning quickly approaching, the Browns were able to power in a touchdown courtesy of running back Kevin Mack to make it a 20-17 Jets lead and giving the Browns a small shred of hope.

All seemed lost when the Jets were able to recover the Browns on-side kick attempt and began their drive at Browns 45-yard line, but the Browns defense didn’t budge. The pushed the Jets back three yards and forced a quick three-and-out to give the Browns one final chance to win or tie the game less than a minute remaining. The Browns started the final drive of regulation at their own 33-yard line and 51 seconds to work with.

The Browns were able to get a little luck from a pass interference call and quickly moved them up to the Jets 42-yard line, with the clock continuing to roll down. After a beautiful pass from Kosar to Webster Slaughter got the Browns down to the five-yard line with just seconds remaining, coach Schottenheimer sent in his veteran kicker Mark Mosely to tie the game at 20 and send this one to overtime.

Overtime was where the Cleveland defense thrived continuing their fantastic day which included nine sacks on Jets quarterbacks Pat Ryan and Ken O’Brien. The defense was doing its job not giving the Jets an inch. It was now all up to the offense to send the Browns to the AFC Championship Game. The Browns offense was having success in overtime with Kosar continuing to air the ball all over the field with ease. They were able to march the ball all the way down to the Jets five-yard line with 8:53 left in overtime and the win seemed in their grasp.

Once again Mosely trotted out for the kick, this time the game-winner, and missed it wide right. The entire stadium was in shock and awe and they all thought their chances to win were now slim. Luckily the Browns defense continued to hold their own, not allowing the Jets offense to muster up anything offensively. They were once again able to get the ball back to Kosar and the offense at their own 31-yard line and 2:38 left in the first overtime.

The Browns finally wore down the Jets defense who had played well all game. Mack was able to run up and down the field on the defense and take the ball into Jets territory. The Browns gained 45 of their 75 rushing yards on the day on this drive alone. The Browns were down to the Jets nine-yard line and preparing for another attempt at a game-winning field goal; Mosely was nervous but ready to avenge his mistake.

The Jets called a timeout to once again try and get into Mosely’s head and give him more time to think about his last kick. However, this time Mosely would not be denied when he nailed the field goal to send the Cleveland faithful into a frenzy and the Browns into the AFC Championship Game by a final score of 23-20.

This game had everything you ask for in a playoff game. From the comeback, to overtime, to the eventual game-winning field goal, this had all the makings of classic. It even included a record-breaking performance from Kosar who passed for 489 yards, a record that still stands today. The game took 77 minutes and two seconds of game time and spanned over roughly four hours, making it the 3rd-longest game in NFL playoff history and dubbing it “The Marathon by the Lake.”

This was truly one of the greatest games, not just in Browns history but in NFL history. This game is one that my father talks most fondly of when discussing his greatest Browns memories even labeling this as “the greatest game he’s ever seen.” “The Marathon by the Lake” will be talked about for years to come by Browns fans and for good reason. The Browns of the late ‘80s blessed Cleveland with some of its most fond football memories. Memories that will last a lifetime for all Cleveland Browns fans.

-Intern Dan Lukus

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