Earnest Byner still remorseful for The Fumble


Three decades ago, Earnest Byner had the most heartbreaking play in Cleveland sports history when he committed The Fumble, dropping the ball on the 1-yard line with 1:12 left in the AFC Championship Game. Cleveland hasn’t gotten over it, and neither has Byner.

The upcoming documentary Believeland, which debuts next Saturday night on ESPN, focuses on the failures of Cleveland sports teams and includes a recent interview with Byner, who chokes up as he recalls his own feelings and the response he got from Cleveland fans to The Fumble.

“I messed it up. I messed it up for everybody,” Byner says in the documentary. “I got letters. Some hate mail. I can remember reading a letter from a guy, an old guy, ‘You tore out my heart. You messed up my dream.’ It was like I intended to hurt him. But know that you’re not the only one that’s bothered. I love the game. I loved playing for you all. And I’m sorry for letting you down.”

The moment before The Fumble remains the closest the Browns have ever been to a Super Bowl. Although Byner would later win a Super Bowl ring and make two Pro Bowls with Washington, he’s still best remembered for his time in Cleveland, for the one play he wishes he could have back.

98 responses to “Earnest Byner still remorseful for The Fumble

  1. It sucks for fans soon after, but at some point, you need to let it go. One play does not define a win or loss. I hated Billy Cundiff for missing a crucial game-tying field goal against the Patriots in 2012 for quite some time following the loss. I’m over it now, as that’s part of sports.

  2. It’s stories like these that make me question my own love of sports.

    To send someone hate mail because of a game most people watch on a freaking TV is pathetic. “Your dream” as a fan? LOL. Byner put in countless hours in his life to get to that point and you’re thinking about your dream?

  3. I was at the game in as a kid in the opposite end zone stands. Great memory w Dad.

  4. As a life long Browns fan who attended most of the games that season, I remember thinking that the only reason the Browns had made it that far was because of Byner.

    44 – thanks for all your effort. I’m happy you finally got a ring.

  5. I STILL remember the heart that Ernest Byner ran with back with the Washington Redskins. He is my all-time favorite Skins tailback b/c every time he ran I KNEW he would some how fight through a tackle for an additional 2 yards. Almost EVERY time. One fumble doesn’t make a player. It’s what you do after the fumble. Superbowl champion? Ok, that will do.

  6. “Russell Wilson will have similar nightmares 3 decades from now”

    I doubt it. Russell Wilson will be sitting on some beach, sipping mai tais, counting his billions 3 decades from now. Besides, he blames the coach for calling that stupid play.

  7. Remember if He scored the TD it still would have just tied the game, who knows what would have happened after that. We never would have had a chance in that game without Enrnest .One play does not lose a game, Go Browns.

  8. And Byner was the reason we were still in that game, played a tremendous 2nd half. Stinks many have forgotten that, he was a good player who played with great heart.

  9. Sports teams have iconic moments that, like it or not, often define the team for decades. The Browns will always have The Fumble. The Steelers will always have The Immaculate Reception.

  10. Browns fans serve a very important role in society. Every fan of other suffering fan bases can always look to them and say “it could be worse”

  11. It was the Golden Age of the Browns in my lifetime, better than the Cardiac Kids. Never would have gotten that close without Byner, true Browns fans still love him.

  12. Red Sox fans gave Bill Buckner a standing ovation a couple of years after the ’86 World Series. Maybe the Browns could provide an opportunity for the same thing to happen for Byner – I’m sure most Browns fans are over it and would express their appreciation for all the good things he did for them.

  13. They would have gotten destroyed in the superbowl anyhow. Cleveland and Denver were pretty much equal teams in those days, and Denver was the AFC’s human sacrifice to the NFC in the 80’s. Crazy how they met in the AFC title game 3 times. The 3rd time- Denver beat Cleveland 37-21 (or something like that) but then they go on to play the niners and lost 55-10 anyway. Sigh

  14. As a life long Browns fan, I’ll never get over it, as horrifying as the Brian Sipe interception in the 1980 playoffs.
    The Paul Brown curse is alive and well. 🙁

  15. Cleveland fans are number one in HATE. They hate their owner, their players, their life.
    Why do bad things happen to the Browns?

  16. This is not surprising, Last year, some radio jock was going on about Jan Stenerud’s missed field goal in what turned out to be the NFL’s longest ever football game (6 quarters, on Christmas Day, 1971.)

    Jan called in to say that, yes, it still haunts him.

  17. Russell Wilson won’t have nightmares decades from now. He probably hasn’t even had one since that day. He has won a ring and will win more. Even if he doesn’t win another ring, he’s just not made that way. I agree with the man who says, all this makes me question my fandom and love of sports. It’s just a game. We really have went too far with our love of sports in America

  18. Believe me, the Drive was worse. We had that damn game won. Byner’s TD would have only tied the game. I HATE BEING A BROWNS FAN!!!!

  19. Millinials don’t share the same view of botched execution of plays or say these things… Just look at Sanchez… He is completely over the ButtFumble. As a fan, I respect Byner for saying this because I want to hear that the players care as much as I do. With Sanchez, it still feels like a shoulder shrugged ‘ oh well, my bad’…

  20. Had he scored it would have only tied the game assuming the extra point. No guarantee of a victory.

  21. It’s been said many times, but obviously requires one more time.

    They wouldn’t have been anywhere near that Super Bowl without Byner. Tough break. Move on.

  22. If Byner had scored (and Cleveland had won in OT), the Browns would still have faced a dominant Washington team. AFC was definitely playing for second in the 80s.

  23. Hey Shogun, you’re WAY off. What hurts the most is we were the best team in the NFL those 2 years. Problem was that Denver had Clark Kent at QB and the great, but very stubborn, Marty Schottenheimer wouldn’t game plan accordingly.

  24. Perhaps the Browns should be more known for their morons to varying degrees: Modell, Policy, Dwight Clark, Homegrin, Butch Davis, Haslam, etc etc

  25. The only way these past nightmares go away for fans is you must win a championship.
    Raiders fans were tortured from the mid-sixties until the mid-seventies until their Super Bowl XI win.

  26. If Webster Slaughter would have faked a route or blocked that CB never would have ran in to cause that fumble but instead he just stood there and watched alerting the CB that it was a run play. It was all very unfortunate

  27. Well, Mr. Byner is and has been a member of the Ravens Ring of Honor, right next to the old Colts’ HOFs, Ray, Ogden, and many other famed Ravens players.

  28. If Byner scores its a tie game with 1:12 to go and John Elway has 3 timeouts to drive for 3 points. It was game over regardless.

  29. Can’t be as bad as SB50. You know poor old Cam will have to look at his SB50 MVP cleats every day for the rest of his life knowing they have to stay in the box.
    I wonder how much they would go for on EBay?

  30. I got a chance to speak with Ernest quite by chance at the car dealership where I was sales manager as he was waiting for service to be performed on his vehicle before he left for Washington.

    I shook his hand and told him that in my opinion he had no reason to be ashamed of what happened in that game. I told him that if it were not for his incredible effort that day the Browns would not have been close enough to Denver for that play to even matter.

    I felt that way then, and I feel that way even more now.

  31. I watched that game with friends and remember getting excited as Byner went towards the goal line. Unfortunately he no longer had the ball. He was a large part of why we we at the point in the game we were. Most Browns fans loved him even five minutes after the fumble. I loved that he returned to Cleveland after Washington. That man had skills and passion.

  32. I remember watching this game as a kid. I understand why it is so tough for Browns fans to take. That is a brutal way to lose. That said, people forget that TD wouldn’t have won the game, it was to tie. As a Broncos fan, I recall Byner shredding us in the 2nd half. He was the only reason Cleveland got back in that game. I feel bad for him. He was a really good player. I wish people would let it go.

  33. guvsta says:
    May 7, 2016 9:25 AM
    If Byner had scored (and Cleveland had won in OT), the Browns would still have faced a dominant Washington team. AFC was definitely playing for second in the 80s.
    Just like the Raiders were going to get smoked by the Skins, but instead blew them away, 38-9.

  34. pensfan1 says:
    May 7, 2016 9:10 AM
    And Pete Carrol keeps saying “The Call” won’t be his legacy.

    If Pete keeps saying this he realizes ” the call” will indeed be his legacy.

  35. It’s okay, Earnest. You redeemed yourself by helping my REDSKINS win a Super Bowl. Sorry, Cleveland fans. I know it was painful for you.

    But I’m a Browns fan now, too. You got RG3, who will show you what a talent he is when healthy and not saddled with bad coaches.

  36. I disagree with the point in the article that the Fumble game was the “closest” Cleveland ever got to the Super Bowl.

    If Byner had scored it would have only tied it.

    But, in the Drive game the year before, Cleveland was leading before Elway led the 98-yard drive. Heck, Cleveland was leading with 37 seconds to go in regulation.

    I’d say leading in the closing moments is closer to the Super Bowl than being behind with the possibility of tying it. And don’t forget: Cleveland was the AFC Championship Game on three other occasions, which is also pretty close.

  37. I met Earnest Byner one time. He was down to earth and came across as a real nice person.

  38. Byner and Mack have had my respect for a long time. As a Gary Danielson fan, I jumped on the Browns bandwagon in 85, then he got hurt and Kosar had to start against the Dolphins in the playoffs. Almost won it too.

    Don’t even care about the fumble anymore, but those 3 years were amazing to be a Browns fan.

  39. Man, it was painful to see it when it happened. But even if the Browns won that game, we would have been blown out by the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s better they didn’t make it. Still love ya Byner. Always a good player, and a classy guy.

  40. Dumbpollack says “the problem is Denver had superman at qb.” Well….ya. That automatically disqualifies the Browns as being the best team in the nfl for those 2 years. Denver went to 3 superbowls in the 80’s, Cleveland didn’t even earn the right to lose in the superbowl. Secondly, that fumble would have only tied the game. Cleveland fans are in denial, if you were the best team then you would have won atleast one superbowl

  41. All true Browns Fans have long forgiven Earnest. Like a family member forgives another family member. He is and always will be part of the family, we will always love him. I hate these articles that suggest otherwise

  42. That’s rough, but can you imagine what Viking fans must go through on a yearly basis.
    I can imagine you packer fans sitting at your comp panting, just waiting to say anything on any story to knock on the NFC North Champions. THE NFC NORTH CHAMPIONS!!! Let that sink in before you go puking your nonsense all over these pages. Some of you sure are pathetic in your attempt to make yourselves feel better…SKOL!!!!!

  43. How was that the closest they have been to the superbowl? They lost in OT after giving up “the drive” in the previous year’s championship game which was closer than this seeing as they were leading late while this possible TD and the PAT would have merely tied them.

  44. As a Browns fan this didn’t nearly kill me as much as the drive. Hell if it wasn’t for Byner, the Browns would not have been back in the game. Can’t put it all on him.

  45. Byner was a special back and back then so were the Browns. Dog pound was another special place. Hopefully all that comes around again.

  46. If a player like Byner fumbles during a play that’s part of the game you really can’t get mad about it. When a player “fumbles” because he’s showboating and drops the ball at the one yard line instead of taking it with him into the end zone, he should be immediately cut from the team.

  47. Just don’t watch ESPN, nothing good or honest ever happens there.

  48. When that fumble happened, my buddy Thomas said “there is our new running back” as Redskins fans we were happy to take him in.

  49. Any real Browns fan knows the team wouldn’t be anywhere near the chance to advance to a Super Bowl without Byner. Dude was a stud.

  50. “The Browns will always have The Fumble. The Steelers will always have The Immaculate Reception”

    The Eagles will always have Donovan McNabb throwing up at the line of scrimmage.

  51. So today i wrote: Sports is a business it’s a job it’s more then a game which is true yet i got 10 thumbs down really you don’t agree but some of you idiots are on a sports site just sayin LOL.

  52. “Denver was the AFC’s human sacrifice to the NFC in the 80’s”

    Ha! I thought that was the Buffalo Bills. Scott Norwood, anyone?

  53. lionsntigersnbearsohmy says:
    May 7, 2016 12:12 PM

    I can imagine you packer fans sitting at your comp panting, just waiting to say anything on any story to knock on the NFC North Champions. THE NFC NORTH CHAMPIONS!!! Let that sink in before you go puking your nonsense all over these pages. Some of you sure are pathetic in your attempt to make yourselves feel better…SKOL!!!!!


    THE NFC NORTH CHAMPIONS!!! Wow! I guess when that is your team`s defining accomplishment, it explains why the Minnesota team has endured 50 plus years of futility and ineptness.

  54. To me it looked like the defender knocked thr ball lose. Didn’t look like he flat out dropped it. Great play by the Denver player. Anyway, he won a SuperBowl ring with my Redskins. #HTTR #ForgiveByner

  55. steves11 says:
    May 7, 2016 5:30 PM
    “Denver was the AFC’s human sacrifice to the NFC in the 80’s”
    Ha! I thought that was the Buffalo Bills. Scott Norwood, anyone?
    “HA”… Get your decades straight dude.
    The Bills went to 4 straight super bowls in the 90s.

    Not the 80s…

  56. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t that the Super Bowl where the Skins destroyed Denver 44-10 ( The Browns would of gotten smoked too). It was the Redskins yeat. Byner was a really solid back and we love him in DC and I’m sure Cleveland knows how hard he played for them.

  57. Kids today don’t understand the pain Browns fans have had to deal with. Browns and Bills have been kicked in the nether regions by the football gods since the late 80’s. Kids think the Browns are terrible but they’ve really been on a string of “how does that possibly happen” moments actually going back to “Red Right 88” in 1981. Then you’ve gotten

    “The Drive”
    “The Fumble”
    “The move”
    “The coach you had prior to the move winning a bazillion superbowls”

    “Butch Davis firing the defensive coordinator while you’re winning a playoff game” gate

    Colts purposely loosing the final game of the 2007 season so they would have to face the Titans again and keeping the Browns out of the playoffs” gate.

    That thing where Bruce Arians shines all his rings while repeatedly telling the media how he wanted the Browns head coaching job.

    And that streak the current Browns have of loosing 10 or more games every season with most being by a touchdown or less scored on them in the last two minutes of the game.

    Thankfully though the Browns will always have ESPN and NFL Network making documentaries to remind them about all these things about every other year.

  58. Earnest Byner was little more than a supremely untalented coach’s and owner’s pet who really had no business on the field;

    he was slow, small, with limited field vision and less power for breaking tackles;

    he was basically a shifty sideways runner with small hands, an average first step and virtually no blocking ability;

    the play in question illustrates all his flaws in a nutshell–attempting to tuck the ball while attempting to cut for the end zone was simply too much for a sub-NFL level athlete with doll-sized hands and slow feet;

    Byner looked fast only in relation to his bull backfield mate, Mack, a pulling-guard sized downfield punisher with surprising foot speed;

    it’s hard to have sympathy for Byner, long in over his head, or the team putting some of rather mediocre skills in a position only supreme athletic talent could succeed;

    cleveland probably could’ve traded with Oakland for a Heisman trophy-winning RB reduced to lead blocking for Bo Jackson and given Marques the ball on that play, and they would’ve waltzed into the super bowl and almost certainly won it;

  59. and Byner was little more than a good locker room presence the year Washington won the super bowl;

  60. I am Raider fan and I remember that game like it was yesterday..Byner was a great player the Browns wouldn’t even be in that game if not for him and Mack the other RB…and they had 2 great corners that carried there Defense…I give Byner a lot credit so much respect for him I know it hurt but he did have a great game til the end there…It shouldn’t even came down to that really but it did and I still think Byner just had bad luck I remember that safety Lilly he wasn’t even that good and he closed his eyes and knocked the ball out…just bad luck for Byner but hes got my respect as one heck of a running back the guy was tough no nonsense coming at you…the good old days you got to love it

  61. Coach Marty had two star RBs on that team and they both had fumbling problems because of the careless way they carried the ball away from their bodies. Kevin Mack actually used to throw forearm shivers with his right arm (even when he had the ball in that arm), which made it easy for defenders to then pop loose another fumble.
    When Byner was traded to Wash, I told my buddies “you watch … no way will Joe Gibbs tolerate fumbling, he will immediately address Byner’s fumbling issues … Joe will show him how to protect the football before week 1”. Sure enough, you never again saw Byner swinging the ball away from his body with the Redskins and his days as a fumbler were over.
    Joe Gibbs was a detail-oriented man. Coach Marty didn’t solve the problem with EITHER of his RBs and the proof is right there on tape for everybody to see.

  62. Years later, when Coach Marty became head coach of the Redskins, I remember reading a story where some of the Super Bowl Champion players were laughing at Marty on his 1st day at practice as their coach. Marty was trying to impress the players with his knowledge … so he stops practice and struts over to Hall of Fame CB Darrell Green and tells him, “your stance is all wrong … here’s how it should be done”, and Marty gets down into a stance and starts back-peddling like an old man. The players burst out laughing at Marty. “Can you believe this guy? He’s actually trying to show up our Hall of Fame CB who was one of the best cover-corners in the history of the NFL! We all instantly knew this guy was a jerk”.

  63. So many comments on here, I haven’t been able to check. Did anyone mention that, in reality, the year before was likely the closest they ever got? If my memory serves me correctly, that was Byner going in for the tie, not the win.

    The Drive had the Browns up with under 2 minutes to go and John Elway pinned on his own 2 yard line.

  64. I’d also like to point out that I never blamed Byner and I always loved the guy. Rooted for him in Washington as well. I don’t know a single Browns fan that doesn’t love him, nor do I know a single Browns fan who blamed him for it. To echo what everyone else said, he was the reason we were in position to tie that game.

  65. Both Mack and Byner were stud running backs that any team would have loved to have.

    If we had another chance for a do over on that play, there is no doubt that all of the Browns fans would have wanted Byner to get another chance to carry the rock across the goal line.

    The Denver defense just got a lucky break at the right time.

  66. wiseone50- “Lucky break”? Are you trying to say that the DB who avoided Webster Slaughter’s block and then came over and precisely punched the ball from Byner’s hand was just “lucky”? You’ve obviously never played cornerback or you would know just how perfectly he executed his responsibilities on that play. I loved Byner and still do, but he got sloppy on that play. “Luck” had nothing to do with it.

  67. Oh and much love to Browns fans. It’s great watching the Cavs win one, and seeing Byner in the parade.

    As a Seahawks fan, I know what it’s like to wait decades for a championship. When you finally get that one, it’s pure ecstacy. I was drunk and dancing in the streets until 5am, with about 500,000 other fans. Even the cops were toasting champagne and dancing by the bonfires. It was GLORIOUS.

    I’ve rooted for the Browns for years, because their fans are world class. Let’s hope they can get a SuperBowl championship soon and break that drought.

  68. first and foremost, the cavaliers won NOTHING, the NBA GAVE IT to them;

    this championship is the biggest hoax since Lewiston, Maine, 1965;

    no team cruises to a 2-0 championship lead and then lays down four out of the next five games, including twice on their home floor where they were virtually unbeatable during the season–least of all one that scores so prolifically and to an aging not quite super star and a ragtag collection of players known league wide for their comical lack of defensive skills…

    that just doesn’t happen, friend…something stinks like a Jake LaMotta fight;

    the NBA have reduced themselves to dribbling roller derby with this travesty, even worse than the Dallas Mavericks “winning” one with Dirk Nowitzki, who couldn’t out-rebound FDR and wouldn’t go in the paint if his name was changed to Sherwin Williams;

    second, Earnest Byner was a classic case of an under-talented coach’s pet put into an athletic position way over his head–cleveland could’ve had any number of superior talented RBs in trade and that fumble never would’ve happened, but they didn’t and so suffered the consequences;

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