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Way Back When: Remembering 'The Fumble'

Photos from the Broncos' regular-season and postseason games against the Browns, going back to the 1986 AFC Championship Game.

In the world of sports, you know you are dealing with a special game when it has its own moniker.

The Broncos defeated the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship Game three times in the 1980s, with the first of that trio dubbed "The Drive," followed by "The Fumble."

The latter was played in Denver on Jan. 17, 1988, and it was a great 38-33 win by the Broncos.

It was a great offensive show, with future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway throwing three touchdown passes, including an 80-yarder to wide receiver Mark Jackson.

Elway accounted for 281 passing yards and scrambled for 36 more, but Cleveland passer Bernie Kosar put on a great passing display as well.

Kosar had 26 completions for 356 yards and three scores, so the two quarterbacks combined for six touchdowns and nearly 700 yards.

Denver had a 21-3 lead at the half, and it seemed commanding until the Browns scored three third-quarter touchdowns, two on passes by Kosar.

Denver held a 38-31 lead late in the game when Kosar and the Browns advanced to the Broncos' 8-yard line with 1:12 remaining, setting up the play that would give the game its notable nickname.

Cleveland running back Earnest Byner had a great game that day, finishing with 67 yards rushing and 120 reception yards, scoring twice for the Browns.

But despite his 187 yards and two touchdowns, he had a real bad play with 1:12 left.

Byner took a handoff from Kosar and was headed for the end zone when Denver cornerback Jeremiah Castille stripped the ball and recovered it at the 3-yard line.

Many fans and media had not even seen it happen until the replay, so quickly did Castille steal the ball.

Denver took a late safety to account for the final score, but the heroics belonged to Castille.

He had been a fine player at Alabama and played two seasons for Denver, starting 15 games in 1988. 

But Jeremiah was the quiet type, very religious and reserved. He was requested to speak very few times by the local press.

But after his famous forced fumble and the ensuing recovery, I naturally approached Castille to ask him to discuss his heroics with the press.

However, he remained as stoic as ever, amazing considering he had made one of the greatest plays in Denver history.

I implored, I pleaded and I logically explained the magnitude of what he had done, but all Jeremiah would offer me was, "Thanks, Jim, but I just am not going to speak to the press."

And he never did.

Others spoke for him, or tried to, but not a word from Jeremiah Castille, who had forced and recovered "The Fumble" in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.

He had two tackles and perhaps the greatest playoff takeaway in Broncos history, and he didn't want any of the spotlight. But it's impossible to forget Castille's impact and role in adding to the lore of the historic series between the Broncos and Browns in the late '80s.

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