In a new ESPN documentary Believeland about the long championship drought experienced by teams from Cleveland, former Browns running back Earnest Byner revisits a play that’s become known as The Fumble.
Byner lost control of the ball on the doorstep of the Broncos end zone late in the 1988 AFC Championship game, Denver recovered and kept the Browns out of the Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion for the second straight year. In the documentary, Byner gets emotional remembering the play and the reaction it elicited from Browns fans nearly 30 years later.
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill hasn’t had the same kind of distance from his own playoff fumble and it hasn’t taken on the mythic proportions of Byner’s turnover, but he can likely relate to the outsize role that takes hold after a play like that. Hill said his fumble with 90 seconds to go in what turned into a loss to the Steelers is “the elephant in the room any time I walk in somewhere.” He says he’s determined to avoid making that the defining moment of his career.
“I’ve overcome some tough obstacles in my life, and that play, as big as it is, and as big as that moment was for our city and our team, that’s not the hardest thing I’ve had to go through in my life,” Hill said, via ESPN.com. “It’s just adversity in my career, and I can let that play define me, or I can move past it and be the player this organization and this team knows I can be.”
The Steelers’ comeback started with Hill’s fumble, but a pair of personal fouls on the ensuing drive set up the winning field goal so Hill’s experience wasn’t directly analogous to what happened in Byner’s situation. Despite that, Hill probably wouldn’t mind if there were some similarities in the aftermath as Byner went on to win a Super Bowl, be named second-team All-Pro and make a pair of Pro Bowl teams after losing the ball in a fateful fourth quarter.