Looking back on it now, it's almost impossible to find a more emotional Cleveland Browns victory this century than the club's 24-21 triumph over the New York Jets in 2002.
The man responsible for bringing the Browns back to Cleveland in 1999, team owner Al Lerner, died on a Wednesday in late October 2002 at the age of 69 after a long battle with brain cancer. Browns fans openly wept in the streets and flowers poured into the team facility in Berea.
Four days later, with heavy hearts, flags flying at half-staff and an "AL" tribute patch sewn prominently on their jerseys, the Browns flew into New Jersey for a late midseason battle with Jets. This wouldn't be an ordinary, ho-hum game for Cleveland. Not when you dedicate a performance on behalf of Mr. Lerner.
But a Santana Moss 63-yard punt return 39 seconds into the game and Laveraneus Coles 37-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Chad Pennington had the Jets soaring into the locker room with a 21-6 halftime lead.
That feeling wouldn't last for New York.
The Browns rallied from 18 points down behind fourth-year quarterback Tim Couch. He went 32-for-48, for 294 yards and two touchdowns through the air – also adding a nifty two-point conversion pass to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt to tie the score at 21 apiece. The Browns outgained the Jets 93-2 yards in an inspiring third quarter.
But there was still work left to do in the fourth. In what can be described as a clinic in milking the clock, Couch drove the Browns all the way into Jets territory while tearing up 8:33 off the clock. Phil Dawson connected on a 35-yarder, giving Cleveland a 24-21 lead.
The problem – 3:30 remained on the clock for Pennington and the Jets.
New York moved the ball into considerable range for veteran kicker John Hall. Lining up for the 44-yard field goal with 16 seconds left, unsung hero Courtney Brown broke through and blocked the kick.
The win lifted Cleveland to a 4-4 record and eventually the playoffs – the first and only postseason berth since Lerner delivered the NFL back to the city.
"I told the football team that Al Lerner's life was about things like today,'' head coach Butch Davis said in his postgame press conference. "Perseverance, character and never ever surrendering. I know for a fact that Al is proud of the football team today, the way it began to fight.''