Several days ago our friend here at BIGPLAY, Rod Bluhm posted on Twitter that Earnest Byner could use our prayers. I don’t need to know the reason; if Byner needs them he can expect them from me. He is a hero of mine, and there is a reason for that. So I feel that a fitting BIGPLAY debut for me should be the Byner story I want to tell.
Sadly many stories about Earnest contain the f-word. This article will not contain that word. He deserves better, I always preferred the stories that talked about Byner and Kevin Mack both hitting 1000 yards rushing as teammates in 1985. But I always did feel bad, one play did make Byner’s first run with the Browns tougher than most.
Many people forget that after several productive years with the Washington Redskins, Byner came back to the Cleveland Browns for a second time. He came back at a great time, the Browns were trending up. By 1995, the Browns were even considered a Super Bowl contender. Of course, as we all know that season didn’t exactly go as planned. The Browns announced their intended move to Baltimore, and we didn’t take it well. Things got dark around here. Thankfully Byner was present for the Browns’ darkest day.
December 17, 1995, was the date my Byner story takes place. It was to be the last ever home game for the Browns. It would be an understatement to say that the fans were not on their best behavior that day. In my personal experience, I likened it to being within a riot among friends.
We trashed the place. Seats were thrown onto the field. There were explosions. 55,875 angry, heartbroken people going crazy in a giant oval building, in the middle of it all a football game. Byner was the featured running back that day, racking up 121 yards rushing with an additional 7 catches out of the backfield. The Browns players had proclaimed all week how important it was to them to win this game for the fans. And with perhaps the wildest home field advantage of all time, beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-10.
As time expired I grew worried about tens of thousands of emotionally charged fans leaving that stadium at once. Most players couldn’t have gotten off that field quick enough. Who could blame them? I assumed that the fans would probably do the same. So in an effort to stall our departure, as we were leaving the stadium I asked if I could go back down a ramp and look at the field one last time.
As I walked down I was surprised, people were gathering in the front rows of the lower deck. I noticed one player was walking laps around the perimeter of the field, shaking every person’s hand he could. That player was Earnest Byner. I found it wonderful and overwhelmingly human. This wasn’t a fanbase supporting a player, this was a player supporting a fanbase. But most importantly, it was calming.
The city never went crazy, the large crowd slowly left the stadium. I watched Earnest make those fans feel better. There were many reasons that he could have washed his hands of this town when he left here. But there he was, shaking our hands instead. That day being the last player on the field seemed a little more important to him than most. He sent us on our mission that day. We worked to keep the name in Cleveland, and ultimately get our team back in Cleveland.
Obviously those dark days are long behind us. Byner rejoined us a proud member of the Dawg Pound. His Browns legacy is certainly unique. In my opinion he’s the only alumni who can genuinely claim to have saved the city. Because on our darkest day he was our lone beacon of light. So yes, when Earnest needs support, I will send him as much as I can muster. Because I lied, I am going to use the f-word. These days Earnest is our friend.