With Las Vegas making the Denver Broncos the prohibitive favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, I thought I would take a few articles to look back in Broncos’ history and review some of the greatest seasons in team history.
This blog post looks back at the 1997 and 1998 Broncos.
In an earlier post I covered the disappointing end to the Broncos’ 1996 season. I argued that the loss to the Jaguars cost Denver the first three-peat in Super Bowl history. Others would argue that the loss provided the motivation for the Broncos needed to win back-to-back championships. Either way, there is no doubting the greatness of the 1997-98 Broncos.
Thanks to the NFL’s top scoring offense and sixth-ranked defense, the 1997 team started 11-2, with the only losses coming to division rivals Oakland and Kansas City on the road. The loss to the Chiefs was a bad blow as it would be the difference between home field advantage and having to go the wildcard route. After consecutive losses at Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Denver defeated the Chargers to finish 12-4, second in the AFC West behind the 13-3 Chiefs.
The playoffs became a revenge tour. In the first round, Denver avenged the loss to the Jaguars by humiliating Jacksonville 42-17. It was such a rout that Terrell Davis sat out most of the second half.
Next up was the Chief in Kansas City. I actually attended that game and the fans in Arrowhead were likely the loudest they have ever been. That is, until Steve Atwater broke up an Elvis Grbac fourth down pass and the Broncos held on for a 14-10 upset. Then you could have heard a pin drop.
The AFC title game was another chance at revenge, this time against the Steelers. In the regular season, Kordell Stewart and Yancey Thigpen torched the Denver defense. This time the defense came to play, forcing three interceptions and two fumbles. Despite the turnovers, thanks to the stout Pittsburgh defense, Denver’s lead was only 24-21 late in the game. Denver had a third and long and needed one more first down to seal the victory. John Elway famously told Shannon Sharpe to ignore the play and “get open”. Sharpe made a one-handed catch off of his shoulder pad and got the first down and Denver was on its way to another Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl could have been one more stop on the revenge tour had the 49ers beaten the Packers in the NFC championship game. However, the Packers won 23-10 to qualify for a second straight trip to the title game. They were favored by 14 points over the Broncos. Fans know what happened next. The Broncos offensive line battered the bigger Packers defense for four quarters, paving the way for Davis to rush for 157 yards and three touchdowns and Super Bowl MVP.
Owner Pat Bowlen lifted the Lombardi Trophy and handed it to Elway, exclaiming “This One’s For John!”
Fortunately for all Bronco fans, the former No. 1 pick from Stanford did not decide to hang up the cleats and came back for one more run in 1998. The offense slipped to second behind the Vikings juggernaut and the defense slipped to eighth. This did not stop the Broncos from starting 13-0. At that point, there were visions of an undefeated season. Alas, it was not to be as the Broncos were tripped up by the 5-8 Giants in the Meadowlands.
After a loss to the Dolphins, the Broncos beat the Seahawks in the final game of the regular season to finish 14-2 and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In that game, Davis surpassed the 2000 yard barrier and earned the AP Most Valuable Player Award.
The playoffs were fairly anticlimactic. After a 38-3 demolition of Dan Marino and the Dolphins, Denver beat Bill Parcells and the Jets in the AFC title game. Following the game, Elway took a victory lap around the old Mile High Stadium. It was pretty clear that the Super Bowl would be his last game.
Prior to the game against the Jets, the Falcons upset the 15-1 Vikings in the NFC title game. Many pundits believe that the Vikings could have beaten the Broncos in the Super Bowl and while I believe that the game would have been much closer than the actual Super Bowl, I maintain the Broncos were not to be denied in their quest to deliver a second ring to Elway.
SB XXXIII was as anticlimactic as the playoffs. The Falcons were never in the game and quite frankly if it was not for a couple of missed Jason Elam field goals and a couple of long kickoff returns, it would have been one of the biggest Super Bowl blowouts ever.
Elway was named the game’s MVP and would retire in May of that year. After the debacle that was wrought by the mistake of hiring Josh McDaniels, Elway returned to manage the football operations of the team. So far it has been a masterstroke, as the team is on the cusp of a third Super Bowl title.