Whether it was on the doorstep of the Super Bowl or in an early regular-season game when both teams were struggling, the Browns and Denver Broncos almost always had close, exciting games when they met over two decades ago.
It just seemed to be in their DNA.
Such was the case on Oct. 8, 1990, when the Browns erased a nine-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter and edged the Broncos, 30-29, on Jerry Kauric’s 30-yard field goal as time expired, keeping 74,814 fans at Mile Stadium and a Monday Night Football audience on the edge of their seats until the very end.
Never mind that the Browns improved to just 2-3 with the win and were headed to a 3-13 finish that cost coach Bud Carson his job halfway through the season.
Never mind that the Broncos were also 2-3 after having lost their second consecutive one-point decision, and were on their way to finishing 5-11.
In terms of thrills, this one had as many as any of the three AFC Championship Games the teams had played against one another in the previous four seasons. And that’s saying a lot, for the first two of those title contests, following the 1986 and ’87 seasons, were instant classics in every sense of the term.
And did we mention that this is one of just three wins the Browns have over the Broncos at Denver in 14 total tries (regular season and postseason), or that it was the first in 18 years?
Those factors certainly add to the significance of what the Browns did that night.
The game went back and forth throughout. John Elway, who had bedeviled the Browns in those three AFC title contests, opened the scoring with a 13-yard scramble for a touchdown. The Browns answered with Eric Metcalf’s five-yard run, but still trailed, 7-6, after one quarter when the extra-point kick was missed.
David Treadwell’s 20-yard field goal increased the margin to four points, but the Browns went ahead, 13-9, when Bernie Kosar passed 43 yards to wide receiver Webster Slaughter.
It was 19-13 Denver at halftime after Bobby Humphrey ran 19 yards for a touchdown and defensive end Simon Fletcher blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety.
The only score of the third quarter was Kosar’s 11-yard pass to fullback Kevin Mack, giving Cleveland a 20-19 advantage.
But when the fourth quarter began with wide receiver Mark Jackson running 16 yards for a TD on an end-around and then Treadwell’s 25-yard field goal, the Broncos seemed to be in good shape with a 29-20 lead with 7:21 remaining.
But Kosar, who finished 24-of-38 passing for 318 yards and three TDs, with two interceptions, led the Browns on an 80-yard march that culminated with his 24-yard pass to wide receiver Brian Brennan exactly four minutes later, making it 29-26 with 3:21 left.
Then it was the defense’s turn, and that group held up its end of the bargain as well, forcing the Broncos to go three plays and out after using just 1:12 off the clock.
Kosar and the Browns had been in this situation so many times in the previous five seasons that they felt no pressure. As such, they responded again in rapid-fire fashion. Taking over with 2:04 left, they marched 61 yards in 10 plays to set up Kauric for his game-winning kick.
Slaughter had a big game overall, catching seven passes for 123 yards and the TD. Brennan had five receptions for 65 yards and wideout Reggie Langhorne four for 60 yards.
Mack did the bulk of the rushing, getting 54 yards in 15 tries.
It appeared as if the dramatic victory might have put the Browns back on track, but it didn’t work out that way.
Still, defeating the Broncos at Denver -- and doing it on the game’s final play -- was memorable. In fact, it might have been the highlight of the season.