The Cleveland Browns made the wrong kind of NFL history on Sunday night. Running a draw play on fourth down and nine, they became the first NFL team to decide that pounding the rock on fourth and very distant was a good idea. According to ESPN Stats & Info, No NFL team had attempted a draw on fourth or nine and more since at least 2007, when ESPN started tracking such calls.
ESPN Radio’s The Dan LeBatard Show was discussing this statistic on Monday and decided to invite one-time Michigan defensive lineman Trevor Pryce to join them. Pryce, a Wolverine from 1993 to 1994 who featured in 13 games before transferring to Clemson, wanted to discuss an even wackier play from his NFL career that spanned from 1997-2010.
The two-time Super Bowl champion went on to remember a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos on Halloween 1999. “As a professional athlete, there’s certain plays you remember, you don’t remember the games, you remember like a play you made in the Super Bowl,” Pryce told LeBatard and company. “After some kind of unfortunate events, the Vikings are in 3rd and 56, look it up.” (Editor’s Note: The Vikings actually had 3rd and 37, but the sentiment of 3rd and ridiculously long holds.) “I come off the field and there is a certain package with only three defensive lineman, it is 3rd and 56. They give, I don’t even remember the running back, they give the running back the ball because they want three yards, he scoots, he scoots, he gets ten yards, he scoots some more, he gets 15... 58 yards later, first down,” laughed Pryce, who was standing on the Broncos sideline watching the play unfold.
The running back that carried the ball on that 3rd and incredibly long was none other than former Michigan Wolverine Leroy Hoard. Hoard played as a fullback and running back late in the Bo Schembechler era. He began his playing career in 1987 as a sophomore backing up Jamie Morris, and was the starter by his senior year, rushing for 832 yards and six touchdowns during his senior season. He also collected Rose Bowl MVP honors as a junior in 1989.
Hoard was winding down a ten year NFL career in 1999. Famously known for his exploits as a goal line specialist, legend has it Hoard once said “Coach, if you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.”
After Pryce’s interview, Hoard joined the program to give his side of that play. “They sent me in the game because I think Robert Smith was hurt” recalled Hoard. “They sent me in there, and so, I break through, I’m like hey now, five, ten yards, I’m breaking free! Then my worst case scenario, I broke free,” Hoard said with a chuckle. “My little fat legs were going as fast as they possibly could, I am exhausted, I think somebody grazed my shoulder pad, and I fell down. When it was all done, I had fifty-something yards, all I remember is when I get to the sidelines (wide receiver) Cris Carter said ‘Hey! You should’ve pitched it to me!’ But I could not wait for somebody to tackle me,” spoke Hoard of his career-long run. “I started thinking, what do you think was harder? Me getting 53 yards on a 3rd and 37? or us getting to 3rd and 37?”
Hoard and Pryce began bantering back and forth about the play as they remembered what was ultimately a simple call for a draw play that ended in an extraordinary result and a new career-long run for Leroy.
“When they gave Leroy the ball, we’re like okay, little jelly roll is gonna get the ball and fall forward for four yards, they’re gonna punt from their end zone, our offense is gonna be set up,” recalled Pryce. “Our offense had gotten up off the bench, their (coaches) like ‘alright okay, defense is back up!’ and I was like what. just. happened?” said Pryce.
“I couldn’t have been too much of a jelly roll, nobody wasn’t catching me!” Hoard retorted. “The only reason why they caught me is because my body was not designed to run that far, when I got to forty yards, I’m telling you it was fear.”
“Here’s the thing, nobody blocked for him, the offensive line just sat there,” replied Pryce. “(Left Tackle) Todd Steussie and (Offensive Guard) Randall McDaniel just kind of stood there but to everybody’s shock, Leroy is running down the field. There is nobody around him for 25 yards.”
“I was more impressed that there was nobody that could catch me!” Hoard said. The run ultimately ended after a 53 yard gain as Hoard was dragged down by Broncos defensive backs Dale Carter and Tory James.
While in the end, it was a play that only the most die-hard of pro football fans will remember, the LeBatard Show did fans a service on Monday morning. The program reunited two former Wolverines to talk about both sides of one of the more unlikely third down plays in NFL history.
You can listen to the full interview featuring Hoard and Pryce on ESPN Radio here.