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.