Forever My Favorite: The 1997-'98 Denver Broncos

brian clothierContributor IMay 29, 2009

31 Jan 1999: Quarterback John Elway #7 of the Denver Broncos celebrates the first touchdown during the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Broncos defeated the Falcons 34-19 to win their scond consecutive Super Bowl.

I really enjoy these assignments where I get to talk about my favorite subject, me.  It’s an opportunity for me to impart all my opinions on the world, making it a better place.

So now I’ll tell you my favorite football team and why they should be yours, too.

As I stated in a previous article, I became a Denver Broncos fan in January of 1988.  The Broncos had just been destroyed by my other favorite football club, the Washington Redskins, in Super Bowl XXII.  That day, I found a new respect for this team.

A team that lost the game with dignity.  A team that kept its pride and held their collective heads high when they fell short of their goal.  A team that said, “Congratulations, but we’ll be back.”

Well they did come back...twice.

After an early exit in the 1996 NFL playoffs (a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars), the 1997 Broncos were back with a vengeance.  Posting a record of 12-4, the Broncos made the playoffs as a wild card team.

Their opponent in the first round would be the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Things would finish a little differently this time, as the Broncos rolled to a 42-17 victory.

Denver would then dispatch the (AFC West Champion) Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers en route to a matchup with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers (13-3).

Super Bowl XXXII, ten years after losing that game to the Redskins, they were to challenge for the Lombardi trophy again.

So there they were.  The Denver Broncos, four times defeated in the big dance, now up against the defending Super Bowl Champions (and 11 point favorites).

The Packers had noticeable talent on both sides of the ball.  Brett Favre, the gunslinger, was surrounded by sure-handed targets.  Mark Chmura was a Pro Bowl tight end.  Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks were known for making the big plays downfield. 

And in the background, fullback William Henderson and running back Dorsey Levens had the option of making the catch or running the ball down opponents’ throats.

On defense, Green Bay had a host of terrors.  Among them were safety Eugene Robinson, cornerback LeRoy Butler, defensive tackle Santana Dotson, and defensive end Reggie White (later inducted into the Football Hall of Fame).

Luckily, the Broncos came prepared.  Lead by a defensive backfield consisting of Steve Atwater, Tyron Braxton, and Darrien Gordon, the Broncos were the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL. Up front, Denver had newly acquired defensive end Neil Smith, defensive end Alfred Williams, and a linebacking corps that had John Mobley and Bill Romanowski.

The No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL that year was lead by (future Hall of Famer) John Elway.  Elway had lead the Broncos to three previous Super Bowls. 

All three were losses. 

And to be fair, those Denver teams were John Elway.  This was the first time the QB would have a host of talent around him.

Pro Bowl running back Terrell Davis would have 15 touchdowns and 1,750 yards on the ground that season.  He also would amass 287 yards in the air on 42 passes.

The wide receiver group consisted of such talent as Ed McCaffery and Rod Smith.  They were joined by Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe.

The offensive line was anchored by two Pro Bowlers as well, Tom Nalen and Gary Zimmerman.

Green Bay jumped out to an early seven point lead in the game, but it would soon be answered by a Terrell Davis TD run.  Then, Denver would go up by 10 before the Packers knotted the score at 17.  In the end, the Broncos would prove to be too much and they’d put the game away, 31-24.

The 37 year old Elway had won his first Super Bowl and Denver was alive with celebration.  Everyone was excited for John Elway, a quarterback who had played his entire career in Denver and failed three previous times to capture the Lombardi trophy. 

Now, he could retire “on top.”

There was just one thing...he didn’t retire.  Elway and the Broncos would return the following year to finish what they started.  It was time to defend that League championship.

The encore was better than the previous performance.  The team was 14-2 in 1998.  They were second in the league in offense and eighth in the league on defense.

Terrell Davis ran for 21 touchdowns and 2,008 yards on 392 carries that year and won the League MVP award.  Davis would lead the team in scoring with 138 points.

He would never return to that glory as an ACL and MCL injury would shorten his career.

McCaffery and Sharpe both caught 64 passes that year.  The team leader was Rod Smith with 1,222 yards on 86 catches.

The challenger in Super Bowl XXXIII was the Atlanta Falcons (also 14-2 in the regular season).  The “Dirty Birds” had grown a following because of a silly celebration dance and a high-powered running back, (Pro Bowler) Jamal Anderson.

They were lead by Head Coach Dan Reeves.  Reeves was the coach in Denver the three times Elway and the Broncos failed to capture the Super Bowl title.

The squad also had a Pro Bowl quarterback (Chris Chandler) and the second ranked defense in the league.  That defense included Pro Bowler Jesse Tuggle, Ray Buchannan, and Eugene Robinson.  Robinson had played for the Green Bay Packers team that lost to Elway and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.

There was no denying John Elway in this Super Bowl either.  He received the Super Bowl MVP and the Broncos won 34-19.  The 38 year old Elway retired after 15 years in the league.  He left on his terms, with back-to-back Super Bowl victories. 

A lifetime of “almost” cashed in at the end.

John Elway is the reason I became a Denver Broncos fan.  And after ten years, my loyalty was paid and paid again.  Elway gave me my two favorite teams in football and my greatest football moment.  The 1997-98 Denver Broncos, forever my favorite.  They should be your favorite too.



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