At 4:41 EST last Saturday afternoon, 4 hours and 11 minutes after his kickoff had started a game destined to become the third-longest in NFL history, the Cleveland Browns' Mark Moseley ended the bizarre proceedings by kicking the ball to the dawgs. Not like a dawg, which he had done earlier, missing a 23-yard gimme that would have put the brain-dead New York Jets out of their misery way back in the fifth quarter. To the dawgs, those bone-throwing crazies in the bleachers at the east end of Cleveland Stadium, whose lunatic barking and terrierlike razzing of the Jets' Mark Gastineau helped spark the Browns' wildly improbable comeback, a 23-20 thriller that officially ended at 2:02 of the second overtime, when Moseley's 27-yarder sailed straight through the uprights and into Cleveland history.
The Browns, who had lost six straight playoff games dating back to 1970, had been goners, no-hopers, when they took possession of the ball on their own 32 with 4:08 left in regulation. It wasn't so much that they trailed the Jets 20-10. Ten points isn't insurmountable when there is that much time on the clock and you have three timeouts, as Cleveland did. Nope. It was that they had absolutely nothing going for them. They hadn't scored since the 9:09 mark of the second quarter. Their running game had done zilch all day—21 yards on 15 carries. And Bernie Kosar, their golden-armed, lead-footed quarterback, who hadn't been intercepted since November, had suddenly thrown two in a row. The first came with nine minutes left and the score 13-10, after the Browns had driven to the Jets' two-yard line and seemed assured of a game-tying field goal. But on third down Kosar launched an incredible wounded duck that was caught in the end zone by the Jets' Russell Carter, a pass that Kosar later said was supposed to go out of bounds.
The Jets made three first downs before they were forced to punt, giving Kosar the ball again on the Browns' 17 with 4:31 left. In 531 attempts, Kosar had thrown only 10 interceptions all season for a 1.88 percentage, the best in the NFL—but immediately he threw another, his eight-yard look-in picked off by Jets cornerback Jerry Holmes at the Browns' 25-yard line.
It seemed to break the Browns' spirit. On the very next play the Jets' Freeman McNeil slashed off right tackle, broke wide and outraced the secondary for the touchdown that gave the Jets their 20-10 lead. "It was looking bleak for us," Kosar admitted. Some fans were heading for the exits.
The dawgs, however, were going nowhere. Dawgs—upper case—is the nickname of the Browns' defensive unit; whereas dawgs—lower case—are Cleveland bleacherites who sit beneath the scoreboard, dress up like canines (one actually wears a cardboard house on his head), cheer the defense and heave dog biscuits onto the field. When Kosar and the Browns trotted out with 4:08 left, needing two scores, the dawgs started snarling.
"They were chanting some pretty ugly remarks at Gastineau," said Browns All-Pro tackle Cody Risien. "The Jets were up by 10, and he was obviously playing hurt. I don't blame him for egging them on."
The Browns began their drive by marching backward. A holding penalty and a sack moved the ball back to their own 18, inspiring Gastineau, who was limping visibly, to approach the lair of the dawgs and windmill his arms, taunting them. The game was over, right? The ailing Jets defense had been heroic, so why not have a little fun? Gastineau was pumped, and the Browns were facing a second-and- Shaker Heights.
Needing 24 yards for a first, Kosar dropped back for the zillionth time—he would set playoff passing records for most attempts (64) and most yards (489), and tie one for most completions (33)—and threw incomplete. But Gastineau plowed into him late. Roughing the passer. Fifteen yards and a first down. "It was a very key play," Jets coach Joe Walton would say.
The play seemed to give the Browns—and Kosar—new life. "I saw a look in his eyes I'd never seen before," said Cleveland tight end Ozzie New-some, who was the game's leading receiver with six catches for 114 yards. "He was not going to be denied. He was going to find a way to win that football game."
Two plays later Kosar, who at 23 is 12 days younger than Vinny Testaverde, completed four straight first-down passes off the Jets' nickel-and-dime zones—two to Reggie Langhorne and two to Brian Brennan—to move the ball down to the Jets' three. Two more plays and Kevin Mack carried it over from the one, pulling the Browns to within a field goal, 20-17, with 1:57 left.