Cleveland vs. Denver, 1987 AFC Championship
Our first famous fumble is courtesy of Earnest Byner, running back for the Cleveland Browns in their AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988. The game had been a series of stops and starts for the Browns. Having trailed the Broncos 3-21 at halftime, the Browns came back to eventually tie the game at 31. Denver went ahead 38-31 with four minutes left in the game, then the Browns drove to the Denver 8-yard line with 1:12 left. Browns quarterback handed off the ball to Byner, who ran toward the end zone. At the 2-yard line, he was stripped of the ball and fumbled. The Broncos recovered the fumble and went on to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl. This moment in the game has since been known as “The Fumble.”*
While this fumble is famous for its fatal outcome, and its overshadowing of an otherwise spectacular game for Byner, the next two blunders are known for their abject stupidity.
Cowboys v. Buffalo, Super Bowl XXVII (January, 1993)
In the last moments of Super Bowl XXVII, the Dallas Cowboys had a commanding 52-17 lead over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills, playing for pride, were attempting to drive down the field when they fumbled near midfield. Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett recovered the fumble and began running toward the Bills’ end zone for a clear touchdown. As he got to the 10-yard line, however, he slowed down and held the ball away from his body in early celebration. What he didn’t know is that Bills wide receiver Don Beebe had been chasing him and was quickly closing the distance. Just before Lett’s hand reached the goal line, Beebe swatted the ball out of his hand. The ball rolled through the end zone and out of bounds, resulting in a touchback, giving the Bills the ball on the 20-yard line. Fortunately for Lett, his showboating didn’t cost the Cowboys the game, but he will forever be known for this classic blunder.**
Philadelphia vs. Dallas, September 15, 2008, Monday Night Football
Before a national television audience, and against their division rivals, the Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson committed an error that was perhaps more moronic than Lett’s. After catching a 60-yard pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb, Jackson was racing for the end zone to score an easy touchdown when he spiked the ball in celebration . . . at the 1-yard line! Fortunately for Jackson, the official at the spot signaled a touchdown and none of the Cowboys players in the area jumped on the ball. Therefore, when the Cowboys successfully challenged the touchdown, the result was that the Eagles had the ball on the 1-yard line, where they were able to run the ball into the end zone on the next play.
One might forgive Jackson, to an extent, for being a young, inexperienced player overly excited about scoring on national television. However, he did almost the exact same thing in a high school all-star game! Check it out:
*This is not the first time that the Broncos crushed the Browns’ hope for a Super Bowl appearance. Faithful Naptime Huddle readers will recall that it was one year earlier that John Elway led the Broncos on “The Drive” against the Browns in the last moments of the game to win the AFC Championship.
**This wouldn’t be Lett’s last, or even worst, lapse in judgment. The very next season, on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys were leading the Miami Dolphins by one point with 15 seconds left in the game. The Dolphins tried to kick a field goal, but the kick was blocked. Lett tried to pick up the loose ball but muffed it, and the Dolphins ended up recovering the football. They made their second field goal attempt and won the game. If Lett had only fallen on the ball instead of trying to pick it up, the Cowboys would have won.