When I was seven years old, the world of sports opened up to me with a clarity I have yet to realize in any other form in any other portion of my life. At seven years old, sports, all sports (at least the four major North American sports) made sense to me.
That year, I watched so much baseball and basketball and football and hockey, I became a pocket sized human almanac. My newly found favorite players were all from my newly found favorite teams. It was 1982 and I fell in love with sports.
Cal Ripken, Jr. was a rookie for the Baltimore Orioles. It seemed right that we would mature together. The next year, my favorite baseball player won AL rookie of the year honors and my favorite team won the World Series. So far, so good.
My favorite basketball team was the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1982, they won the NBA Championship (over the 76ers) and my favorite player, Magic Johnson, won his second finals MVP. Wow, look at me go.
I chose the Pittsburgh Penguins as my favorite NHL team after watching them beat up the Washington Capitals one night in 1983. The next year, they would select my favorite (or favourite for you hockey fans) hockey player, Mario Lemieux, with the number one pick overall. Lemieux would lead the Pens to back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.
My father was a Baltimore Colts fan. I chose the Washington Redskins. In 1983, the Baltimore Colts finished 7-9 (fourth in the AFC East) and the Redskins defeated the Dolphins 27-17 in the Super Bowl. I was really good at this.
By 1987, my father’s Colts had left Baltimore for the greener (indoor) pastures of Indianapolis and the Washington Redskins were on their way to a second Super Bowl appearance (technically, in 1988).
It was January 31, 1988 and the Redskins (11-4) would face the Denver Broncos (10-4-1), lead by NFL league MVP John Elway.
The Redskins won Super Bowl XXII, 42-10. The score isn’t important. Doug Williams would become the first black quarterback to start and to win a Super Bowl. He would be named Super Bowl MVP. None of that is relevant to this story.
Ten minutes into the game, Denver was up 10-0 after Elway tossed a 56 yard TD to Ricky Nattiel on the first play from scrimmage and a 24 yard field goal attempt by Rich Karlis. And with players like Elway and Vance Johnson on offense and guys like Karl Mecklenburg, Rulon Jones, and Tony Lilly on defense, I was sure the AFC champs had all the breathing room they needed.
The Broncos sat there, on the sidelines, cool and collected. They looked like paratroopers waiting for a jump or firefighters on their way to a blaze. Only the task at hand mattered. As the fans celebrated, the Broncos just sat there and anticipated the next play. They were professionals and they knew there was more football to be played.
Then came the most points ever scored in one quarter. On five consecutive possessions, the Washington Redskins scored 35 unanswered points. As a Redskins fan, I was in heaven.
That’s when something else grabbed my attention. The Denver Broncos were not broken. They were not distraught. They were not finished.
The game of football is played for a full 60 minutes (in regulation). Whether the score was 10-0, 10-10, or in this case 42-10, the Denver Broncos had a game to play. The sideline mirrored that first quarter, up by ten team. Cool, calm, and collected.
True, at this point the Washington Redskins defense was pinning their ears back and pursuing aggressively, but John Elway and the Bronco offense went out there and played each down like it was the first. On their last possession of the game, Elway was sacked twice. He didn’t show anger or frustration. He exuded maturity, responsibility, and sportsmanship.
In losing the Super Bowl, by all rights a blowout, the Denver Broncos showed the league how a true champion should carry themselves. It’s easy to look good winning. It’s tough to look good when you’re down.
With John Elway as their quarterback, the Denver Broncos always looked like a class act. That day, John Elway became my favorite football player and the Denver Broncos, my favorite team.
Retrieved May 13, 2009, from NFL.com.
Retrieved May 13, 2009, from NFL.com.
Retrieved May13, 2009, from USAToday.com.