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THESE DAWGS HAD THEIR DAY
Jill Lieber
January 18, 1988
Baring its teeth in the second half, a snarling Cleveland defense sent the upstart Colts whimpering home
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January 18, 1988

These Dawgs Had Their Day

Baring its teeth in the second half, a snarling Cleveland defense sent the upstart Colts whimpering home

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On the ensuing play, Byner took the handoff from Kosar and plowed into the end zone. Cleveland 21, Indianapolis 14.

And, thanks to Byner, the Browns kept right on crunching the Colts. Byner, who led the Browns in receptions this season with 52, was forced to carry the ground game when running back Kevin Mack went to the bench in the first quarter with a stomach virus. For the afternoon, Byner rushed 23 times for 122 yards. He also pulled down four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.

The Dawgs forced Indianapolis to punt on its next two series. They mauled Dickerson, who rushed for only 50 yards on 15 attempts on the day—his longest run was 14 yards—but caught seven passes for 65 yards. The Browns took those two punts and drove for a 22-yard Matt Bahr field goal and a two-yard TD pass from Kosar to Brian Brennan. And that was the game, although each team did score another touchdown.

"We answered one challenge after another most of the day," said Colts coach Ron Meyer. "When we couldn't stop Kosar and their offense, it was disastrous." And the Dawgs? "I don't care what the stats say," said Dickerson. "They have the best defense in the NFL. It's the best defense I've played against in a few years."

Indianapolis, which finished 9-7 overall, was making its first playoff appearance since 1977, when the franchise was still in Baltimore. Much of the credit for the Colts' surprising turnaround goes to Meyer, who took over as head coach in 1986, when the team's record was 0-13, and startled everyone by winning the last three games of the season.

Meyer stressed a collegiate approach with his young team. Loose, rah-rah and upbeat, complete with awarding game balls and Thursday afternoon pizza-and-beer parties in the locker room. He also had a knack for making optimistic predictions, including an AFC East title for his team this season. "Everything came true," said tackle Chris Hinton. At 26, Hinton, a Northwestern graduate, was experiencing his first winning season since his senior year at Chicago's Phillips High. "I want to ask Ron if he made a deal with the devil."

Cleveland's fans were thinking positive, too. Last week, several downtown buildings had GO BROWNS spelled out in huge orange letters. A bronze statue in front of the Federal Reserve Bank was adorned with an orange helmet and a giant white milkbone. Radio stations blared songs about the Browns, including the No. 1 hit, Bernie Bernie by The Bleacher Bums, sung to the tune of Louie Louie.

Dawg-mania gripped the city. Mayor George Voinovich declared Friday to be Browns Backers Day and paraded around town wearing an orange dog snout and brown basset-hound ears. A reporter on Cleveland's Channel 3 read the 7:25 a.m. news in a Browns sweater and cap, and 600 children at Captain Arthur Roth Elementary School attended classes in handmade paper headbands with floppy ears.

"Last year, all the hype caught us off-guard," Kosar said. "We had to spend too much time blocking out the periphery. We're oblivious to it now."

That allows the Browns to focus on the task at hand—finally getting to the Super Bowl. "Our goal is to win it," Clay Matthews said after beating the Colts. "Anything less and the season will have been for naught."

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