The legend of John Elway started long before a cold January day in Cleveland, 1987. The gunslinger out of Stanford had, after all, led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in each of his first two NFL seasons (’83 and ’84).
But it was that game-tying, 98-yard, 15-play touchdown drive — now known simply as “The Drive” — in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter of the 1986 AFC Championship against the Browns that propelled Elway’s legendary status and set up a run of three AFC titles in four years for Denver.
On the receiving end of the touchdown pass was a rookie wide receiver — a sixth-round draft pick out of Purdue — named Mark Jackson.
Now, 31 years after he made the most-famous catch in Denver sports history, Jackson jokes that “there would be no John Elway without Mark Jackson.”
On the anniversary of “The Drive,” Jackson and his co-host Gil Whiteley re-lived the historic drive, play by play, on their radio show, “Anything’s Possible.” Give a listen in the podcast below as Jackson shares unique details about each play and what was going through his head as he made Broncos history.
“The Drive” – Play-by-Play
Trailing 20-13 in Cleveland, rookie running back Gene Lang muffed the ensuing kickoff before Elway took over, first-and-10 on their own 2-yard line, with 5:32 to play in the game.
- First down and 10, Denver 2-yard line. Sammy Winder 5-yard pass from Elway.
- Second down and 5, Denver 7-yard line. Winder 3-yard run.
- Third down and 2, Denver 10-yard line. Winder 2-yard run.
- First down and 10, Denver 12-yard line. Winder 3-yard run.
- Second down and 7, Denver 15-yard line. Elway 11-yard run (scramble).
- First down and 10, Denver 26-yard line. Steve Sewell 22-yard pass from Elway.
- First down and 10, Denver 48-yard line. Steve Watson 12-yard pass from Elway.
- First down and 10, Cleveland 40-yard line (1:59 left). Incomplete pass by Elway, intended for Vance Johnson.
- Second down and 10, Cleveland 40-yard line (1:52 left). Dave Puzzuoli sack of Elway, 8-yard loss.
- Third down and 18, Cleveland 48-yard line (1:47 left). Mark Jackson 20-yard pass from Elway. (Low shotgun snap. Dick Enberg mentions drops)
- First down and 10, Cleveland 28-yard line (1:19 left). Incomplete pass (throwaway) by Elway, intended for Watson.
- Second down and 10, Cleveland 28-yard line (1:10 left). Steve Sewell 14-yard screen pass from Elway.
- First down and 10, Cleveland 14-yard line (:57 left). Incomplete pass by Elway, intended for Watson.
- Second down and 10, Cleveland 14-yard line (:42 left). John Elway 9-yard run (scramble).
- Third down and 1, Cleveland 5-yard line (:39 left). Mark Jackson 5-yard pass from Elway for the touchdown. Rich Karlis then adds the extra point to tie the game.
In overtime, Karlis kicked a 33-yard field goal to win the game. It was Denver’s first road playoff win, after being 0-4 previously, and booked the franchise’s second trip to the Super Bowl — the first of Jackson’s career.