Earnest Byner was born on September 15, 1962. After playing college football at East Carolina, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns during the 1984 NFL Draft in round 10 with pick 280. In all, Byner played 14 seasons in the NFL from 1984-1997 with the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, and Baltimore Ravens.
Byner Makes a Splash
During his rookie season, Earnest Byner did not play much, early in the season. During the final two games of the season, Byner carried the ball 15 times for 103 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh, then carried the ball 21 times for a career best 188 yards, caught 3 passes for another 31 yards and scored 2 touchdowns in a win at Houston.
In 1985, Byner was part of something special in Cleveland. For the first time since the 1972 Dolphins, a team had two 1000-yard rushers in Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack.
Earnest Byner – All-Purpose Running Back
Very few running backs in the NFL are “complete” backs. That will never be said about Earnest Byner. Not only is he a great runner who routinely bulls over tacklers to keep the chains moving. He also is a great blocker and is an excellent receiver, possessing extremely soft hands. Byner is simply a great football player. He can give a team whatever it needs from the running back position.
Earnest Byner and “The Fumble”
It was January 17, 1988 and the Cleveland Browns traveled to Mile High Stadium to play against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Just a year earlier, the Broncos won the game known as “The Drive,” when Elway led a 98-yard drive. This time, the Broncos got off to an early 21-3 lead. John Elway turned a Kosar interception and a Kevin Mack fumble into two early touchdowns. Then the Cleveland Browns began their comeback. (1)
Earnest Byner caught a 32-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-17. Then he capped off another drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 28-24. After a Denver field goal, Byner caught a huge 54-yard pass to set up the Browns next touchdown and tie the game at 31-31. After Elway led the Broncos down the field for a touchdown to take a 38-31 lead, the Browns drove all the way down the field. It was first and five from the Denver 7-yard line. The Browns called a trap play for the star of the game, Earnest Byner. The hole in the middle of the field was not open and he cut the play to the left. As he was running for an apparent touchdown, Jeramiah Castille stripped the football away and recovered the fumble. "I was going for the touchdown, obviously," Byner said, "and the ball came out. So what can I say? . . . I tried to split two guys and the ball just popped out." After Byner's fumble, Kosar went to put his arm around him. "I felt bad for him," Kosar said, "and I told him that that play did not lose this game for us." (2)
In a way, Kosar is right. Had he not thrown an interception earlier in the game or had Kevin Mack not fumbled in the first half, maybe they would have already had the game in hand. Unfortunately for Byner, the game will always be known as “The Fumble,” and many fans will look at that play as the defining moment. I guess his 15 carries for 67 yards and his 7 catches for another 120 yards and 2 touchdowns don’t count.
Byner to the Redskins
In 1989, Earnest Byner went to the Washington Redskins. It was the rebirth of his career after being labeled with “The Fumble.” Earnest Byner became a big time player for the Redskins going to the Pro Bowl following the 1990 and 1991 seasons, gaining over 1000 yards in each season. He helped lead the Redskins to another Super Bowl victory, defeating the Buffalo Bills 37-24. Byner had a solid game running 14 times for 49 yards and caught 3 balls for 24 yards and a touchdown. Finally he had redemption. Byner is now considered one of the “Greatest 70 Redskins.”
One of Byner’s best moments came on December 2, 1990 against the 9-2 Miami Dolphins. Earnest Byner carried the ball 32 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns. He helped the Redskins jump out to a 35-6 lead and held on to win 42-20 to drop the Dolphins to 9-3. "Earnest came to me last night and told me, `I want to carry the load,' " Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. Byner was the first running back all season to break the 100-yard barrier against the Dolphins. (3)
Earnest Byner had a fine career with many ups and downs. He played so many great games, but he will always be haunted by one play, “The Fumble.” Despite that, Byner is one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, especially when you consider his versatility. For his career, Byner ran 2095 times for 8261 yards, caught 512 passes for another 4605 yards and scored 71 touchdowns. He was also 3-10 passing for 90 yards and 3 touchdowns. When Byner retired, he was the 16th all-time leading rusher in the NFL.
By A. Goodin, 20Yardline.com
Earnest Byner Bibliography:(1) The Washington Post, January 18, 1988 “Broncos Outdo ’87, Retain AFC Title”
(2) The Boston Globe, January 18, 1988 “CLEVELAND LETS IT SLIP BRONCOS RECOVER IN TIME”
(3) Chicago Sun Times, December 3, 1990 “Byner, Skins Rip Dolphins”