The 1998 Denver Broncos: The Greatest Team in Orange and Blue History

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IMay 12, 2009

While the 1997 Broncos were the first to win a Super Bowl in Denver, the year that followed, 1998, was the greatest team ever assembled in orange and blue.

Everything fell into place in 1998, as the city of Denver and the whole Rocky Mountain region was a mile high over the Broncos first ever championship season.

As Denver was defending champs, they knew they would get every team’s best, every game—but they didn’t falter through most of the season, starting a remarkable 13-0.

The run was 18 straight games dating back to the ’97 postseason, tying the NFL record then.

The 1998 Broncos were a team through-and-through, starting from the top at Pat Bowlen and going all the way down to Keith Burns' special teams standout.

Front Office

Pat Bowlen, Broncos owner in 1984, when he bought the team from Edgar Kaiser and saved it from possible bankruptcy.  He showed he was one of the best owners in sports, getting the Broncos to their fifth Super Bowl in 15 years.

Bowlen fired Wade Phillips after a two year experiment process and brought in Mike Shanahan to run the team as head coach and general manager. Shanahan brought winning ways, acting as the 49ers' offensive coordinator in 1994 (when they won the Super Bowl), and his desire to do things his way—the right way.

Shanahan and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak were revolutionaries of their time, and 1998 was the year Shanahan became “The Mastermind.”

Shanahan’s offensive vision was crystal clear, and when he combined his brain with the Broncos’ brawn, it was all over for any opponent that stood in their way.

The Players

The ’98 Broncos were a talented, athletic, and dominant group, especially on offense.

Starting with John Elway, the Broncos sent seven offensive starters to the Pro Bowl after their dramatic season was all said and done.

Elway, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, had a solid year with 2,800 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions all coming on only 12 games played after Junior Seau injured Elway’s ribs in week 13.

Bigger than his statistical performance though, was Elway’s leadership—guiding the team through a historic season, and taking questions from the media to relieve pressure off of teammates.

I remember Elway being interviewed on MNF in week 10 and Al Michaels asking him if the Broncos will go undefeated. Elway answered, “We have to go 10-0 before we can go 16-0.”

While John Elway was the undoubted leader and commander of the Broncos, their most important player in 1998 was definitely Terrell Davis.

Davis was a star that burned so bright he could only sustain his luster for a short time in the NFL.

Davis, noted sixth round draft pick out of Georgia in 1995, turned into an elevating icon that got better year after year.

From 1995-98 Davis improved his running yards steadily, with 1,100, 1,500, 1,750, and finally 2,008 yards in 1998. Davis was only the fourth running back in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards in a season at the time.

To add to his amazing total in yards, Davis had 21 touchdowns, a 5.1 yard/carry average, and ran for 125 yards per game!

TD had so many TDs he beat Jason Elam, the Broncos kicker, in scoring.

His superior running ability in 1998 led him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, got him the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award, and the NFL MVP trophy as well.

In 1998, not only was Terrell Davis the best running back in the league, he was the NFL’s most dominant player overall.

Along with the Broncos tremendous running game was their numerous passing threats that allowed Elway to decide how he wanted to beat opposing teams’ defenses.

Ed McCaffery and Rod Smith each had 1,000 yard receiving seasons, only the second tandem to accomplish the feat in NFL history at the time. Either Smith or McCafferey could go deep or run crossing patterns in the middle of the field, causing headaches for secondaries all season.

Shannon Sharpe was also on the team, the tight end credited with revolutionizing the game for the position. Sharpe was dominant in ’98 creating matchup problems for defenses, because he was too fast for a linebacker and could beat safeties too.

Sharpe finished the season with 768 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Possibly the best and most underrated part of the ’98 Broncos offense was the offensive line. Centered by Tom Nalen, it included fellow Pro Bowlers Dan Neil and Tony Jones. The Broncos O-Line of the late 90s was overbearing to almost any defensive line as they opened huge holes for TD to run through and kept Elway off his back.

In all, the 1998 Broncos scored 501 points, a Denver record and a staggering number when you think about it.

Denver not only won in ’98, they blew teams out regularly having 12 points per game average. Some of the biggest routes include a 41-16 shellacking of the Eagles, a 40-14 beating of the Raiders, and a 38-16 commanding win over the Redskins.

After finishing with an NFL and Broncos best 14-2 record, Denver asserted their supremacy over teams in the playoffs as well.

In a rematch with the Dolphins, who had beaten Denver three weeks prior, the Broncos took control from the beginning, winning in commanding fashion 38-3.

In the AFC Championship game, the NY Jets put up a stronger fight, but Vinny Testeverte’s untimely turnovers sealed the deal for New York as Denver won again 23-10.

The Super Bowl was intriguing because it matched up Elway versus his old coach and one time nemesis Dan Rieves, the then coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Broncos dodged a bullet of sorts when the Falcons out kicked the Vikings in the NFC Championship game—The Vikings were the only team to score more than Denver in 1998.

In the lead up to the game, Elway dispelled rumors that the two still feuded and Elway let his play talk for him.

The performance was a career best for John Elway, as he threw for 336 yards, a touchdown, and ran for another score to easily overcome the Falcons 34-19.

Elway became the Super Bowl MVP and ended up riding his back-to-back championships into the sunset,into Canton, and the Football Hall of Fame.  

In all, the 1998 Denver Broncos sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl, including Elam who kicked an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal in week eight against Jacksonville.

The team has one Hall of Famer in Elway, but should have at least a few more in the coming years joining him.

Davis may not make it, but should get some consideration.

Sharpe is an almost lock, and so is Nalen, eventually.

Others that should get a look over include Rod Smith, Steve Atwater, and Elam.

The 1998 team set many Broncos records including: overall scoring, points per game, wins, wins in a row, and finished off back-to-back Super Bowls.

If Elway doesn’t retire, who knows...the Broncos were so good they could have possibly been the first ever three-peat Super Bowl Champions.

It’s a fond idea to mull over in the Rockies, just as the 1998 Broncos should always be remembered in a fond way.

Never, before or since, have the Broncos come close to the amazing production of 1998, but we can all hope they can again soon.


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