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Unbeaten, Unbelievable
Rick Telander
September 27, 1993
How can the Cleveland Browns be 3-0, and how about that Vinny Testaverde?
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September 27, 1993

Unbeaten, Unbelievable

How can the Cleveland Browns be 3-0, and how about that Vinny Testaverde?

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Does this make sense?

No, it does not.

The Cleveland Browns, notable mostly for two things in the last 35 years—Hall of Famer Jim Brown and the late-'80s teams that lost three "memorable" (adjective from the Browns' press guide) AFC Championship Games to the Denver Broncos—are about to do something out of character. With less than five minutes to go in this game with the 2-0 Los Angeles Raiders at the Coliseum, with the Raiders ahead 16-3 and the Cleveland offense looking as inept as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers', the Browns are about to go 3-0.

Impossible, isn't it? The Browns haven't opened a season with three wins since 1979. Quarterback Bernie Kosar has been so bad today—eight completions in 17 attempts for 72 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and three sacks—that he has been replaced by a scarecrow. Well, maybe not a scarecrow, but a human rag doll named Vincent Frank Testaverde, the 29-year-old former Heisman Trophy winner who was so buffeted by criticism during his six years with the Bucs that it seemed as though he might never function properly afield again. Who can forget the Tampa billboard that made fun of Testaverde's color blindness? Against a bright blue background were the words: VINNY THINKS THIS IS ORANGE.

But here Testaverde is now, acquired through free agency in March, comfortable at the right hand of Kosar, his old University of Miami pal, far from venomous Buccaneer fans, only blue sky above. And he's moving the Browns.

A 17-yard pass to wideout Mark Carrier. A 13-yard pass to running back Leroy Hoard. Oops, Testaverde gets sacked for a loss of three. No problem; two plays later, on third-and-13 at the Cleveland 37, he throws a 22-yard completion to running back Eric Metcalf. Then he tosses an 18-yarder to Michael Jackson—the wide-out, not the moonwalker. (More on both of them later.) Testaverde scrambles up the middle for 10 yards to the Raider eight. Then he's sacked back on the 12. On the next play he calmly Hips a touchdown pass to wideout Lawyer Tillman in the end zone. Twelve plays, 90 yards, 2:32 elapsed. Score: 16-10, Los Angeles.

Whoa. Early-leaving Raider fans, the ones hoping to beat Harbor Freeway gridlock, spin on their heels. The Raiders, who have been dumbly sitting on their lead like an old hen on an egg, can't blow this, can they? Not enough time is left, is there? Even Brown owner Art Modell will say later that he thought winning "was out of the question." Everyone is thinking the same thing: Testaverde's a bum. He doesn't have the stomach for this. He can't do this.

Can he?

On Saturday, Cleveland coach Bill Belichick pondered such a situation. "I want to tell you something," he said in his customarily intense fashion. "Testaverde is a player. This guy is good. People will see."

They're seeing right now, because here comes Testaverde again. In truth, just getting into this position called for a remarkable number of things to go right for the Browns. To begin with, Los Angeles is no longer the quarterbackless team that Cleveland whipped 28-16 in the third game of last season. That game marked the 1992 debut of young and distracted Todd Marinovich. He threw a Raider-record 59 passes, but he was waived this year by coach Art Shell, who told him, "Todd, you've got to find yourself."

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