The Night Santa Claus Came Early – By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Being a fan of the Cleveland Browns doesn’t always lead itself to masses of happy memories in recent times. Fans of the team will tell you that you need an awfully thick skin and often a great sense of humour to be able to survive week to week. But every cloud has a silver lining and for us in the dawg pound it means cherishing even the smallest of positives.

Image Credit – Jason Miller/Getty Images

Christmas Eve 2016, the Browns coming in at 0-14 host the San Diego Chargers inn their final home game of the campaign. Only a trip to Heinz field left on the schedule and the Browns never beat the Steelers! This was it, realistically, the final chance to avoid a winless season to join the infamous 2008 Detroit Lions side in going 0-16.

Being Christmas Eve I had made sure the kids were in bed early for the visit of the big man overnight and I settled in for the game. Just over 4 minutes on the clock and the Chargers had waltzed down the field and Antonio Gates was in the end zone. The feeling of inevitability was impossible to prevent and even the Christmas tipple wasn’t helping.

It’s the hope that kills you though! The Browns hadn’t read the script and powered by 2 rushing touchdowns from Isiah Crowell found themselves 20-10 up halfway through the 3rd quarter. Throughout the season there had been some competitive games and surely it was about time they found a way to get over the line. Queue the comeback……..

Image credit – Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

An 11 play drive covering 75 yards was punctuated with Tyrell Williams finding the end zone and all of a sudden the 2 score game was once again in the balance. I had seen this movie many times before and I didn’t like the ending that was about to play out in front of me. The good guys were about to lose yet again despite the promise of success throughout.

The 4th quarter seemed to take an age with neither team able to move the ball with any consistency. It had the feeling of a slow death though as the Chargers gradually won the field position battle. It culminated in Britton Colquitt having to punt from the Cleveland 3 yard line with just 5 and a half minutes left on the game clock. A punt return set the Chargers up on the Browns 33 yard line and in a position to strike.

The defence held and out trots Josh Lambo to tie it up. Maybe we will win it in overtime? At least we haven’t conceded a touchdown. Hang on a minute, it’s been blocked! Big Jamie Meder gets his paw up and rejects it. Just over 3 minutes to run out the clock and we have done it, just 2 first downs…..more hope.

3rd and 7, only the 2 minute warning to come, convert and it’s over. Kessler drops back……sacked! Of course he was, we can’t win, even at Christmas we don’t get nice things. Ball punted away, just under 2 minutes for Phillip Rivers to lead the inevitable game winning drive. I turned to “Santa’s tipple” that the kids had left out and decided it was better for me to drown my sorrows than it was for a bloke driving a sleigh.

Every second seemed to take an eternity to tick off the clock despite the Chargers having no timeouts. 3 incompletions in a row though and its 4th and 10, just 1 more stop. Rivers takes the snap and of course finds Antonio Gates for 25 yards. I knew it was inevitable, ball spiked still 45 seconds to go. The next 45 seconds though were a complete blur.

Because the ball was spiked it was already 2nd down and a botched snap brought up 3rd down. Rivers of course found Antonio Gates, again but he was shy of a 1st down. The Chargers couldn’t clock it as it was 4th down and Rivers legs it off the field screaming for the field goal unit to get on. The clock that had felt like it was running slow seemed to go into even slower motion as bodies were running everywhere, but of course they got the kick off just in time.

Image Credit – Ken Blaze – USA TODAY/SPORTS

IT’S NO GOOD! Off to the right and the Christmas miracle had indeed been realised. The sense of relief, the sense of shock and the sense of unrivalled joy hit me all at once. I screamed that loud at the sight of that ball missing the uprights I quite possibly woke up every kid in the street but I didn’t care. My team had won and in that moment 14 weeks of misery was forgotten. The infamy of a losing season was no more, because surely it would never get so close to realisation again. Oh………..

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