SUPER BOWL XXIV RUNNER UP 1989 DENVER BRONCOS

Whenever the 1980’s Denver Broncos are brought up the first player that comes to mind is John Elway. Rightfully so as he led one of the NFL’s most successful teams during the decade. However his teams did have some great talent on them. Did you know LB/DE Karl Mecklenburg, FS Dennis Smith, and SS Steve Atwater have been Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists in the last couple years??

sb24denIf we rewind the clock to 1989, Atwater was a wide-eyed rookie learning the ropes under Smith’s tutelage. Big hits rang up all year as receivers ducked for cover against these big safeties. Smith was a Pro Bowl player in 1989, the 3rd of 6 trips to Hawai’i after an 82 tackle 2 interception season. The intimidation factor they brought led the Broncos to a #3 defensive ranking overall or #2 in the AFC, and yielding the fewest points in the league with 226 points.

Meanwhile Mecklenburg was a Pro Bowl player with 143 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. The 1989 season was the 4th of his 6 Pro Bowl trips and where there are a ton of vids showcasing Smith and Atwater, Mecklenburg is largely forgotten in circles outside of Denver. This vignette from ’86 showcases his talent best

In each of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl seasons they fielded a top 10 defense. Unsung players like Simon Fletcher and Michael Brooks made the back 7 one of the best during this era.

sb24den2Another factor in 1989 was the Broncos finally landing a top running back in rookie RB Bobby Humphrey out of Alabama. He was Denver’s first true breakaway threat since Floyd Little. He rushed for 1,151 yards and 7 TDs after starting the season on the bench. Denver climbed to #6 in rushing where they had ranked 20th in the 1st Elway era Super Bowl team in 1986.

Yet alas this team ran into one of the all time great teams in Super Bowl history. This is the championship ring won by Denver after beating Cleveland for their 3rd AFC championship in 4 years.

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SUPER BOWL XXI RUNNER UP 1986 DENVER BRONCOS

It was a dreary, cold, dark, foreboding day in Cleveland. It was January 11, 1987 in Cleveland yet there was an excitement in the air…

xxireflectionOh yes…the 1986 AFC Championship on the line and a trip to SuperBowl XXI in Pasadena awaits.  John Elway and the Broncos are 98 yards away from the “Dog Pound” and the tying score with 5:43 seconds left…*sigh* Elway sent the entire state of Ohio into a catatonic shock that lasted thru the next football season and up to and thru Earnest Byner’s fumble in the following AFC Championship game in ’87.

However lets take you back to the game where John Elway had arrived. It was the moment forgotten once he performed “The Drive” that came a week prior. The 1986 Broncos had a maturing quarterback coming of age and if you remember were still smarting from posting an 11-5 record, while missing the 1985 playoffs on a tie break technicality.

Elway was typical of a young quarterback who struggled to be consistent throughout. After taking off on a 34 yard touchdown early in the game, he severely sprained his ankle. He hobbled and gutted it out against Andre Tippett and the Patriots defense. The big thing was he didn’t make the big mistake and struck when the defending AFC Champions blinked. Down 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter, Patriot LB Don Blackmon jumped offside. With a free play Elway fired deep to Vance Johnson to take a 20-17 lead.

Then Rulon Jones sack and safety of Tony Eason sent the Broncos to their first AFC Championship since 1977 22-17. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was a linebacker on both the ’77 and ’86 teams and was from Cleveland. Fittingly the last win he experienced as a player was “The Drive”, as the Broncos prevailed 23-20 in overtime.

Subsequently the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Pasadena to win Super Bowl XXI. This ring commemorates the accomplishment of getting there.  Denver would get to more Super Bowls right? Elway was just a young pup…he’d have plenty more…right?

The one thing that was lost were the pundits made it seem that Elway was the only player on that team. They ran the ball by committee with Sammy Winder and Gerald Wilhite. Had solid receivers in Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Yet they had the AFC’s 3rd ranked defense, 9th overall which ranked higher than The Dawg Defense of Cleveland ranked 19th.

super-bowl-logo-1986Pro Bowlers Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith, DE Rulon Jones, and CB Mike Harden led a resurgent “Orange Crush” defense. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as the group that carried Denver to Super Bowl XII. Of course I could be partial to the ’77 group since I lived there at the time and they were influential on a youngster.

This was the ring commemorating the ’86 Broncos who came out of a competitive AFC West to win the conference.

Epilogue circa 2010: John Elway should be thanking Art Modell and Lebron James for getting him off the hook.  These are the most hated men in Cleveland now.  I don’t think Elway golfs or vacations there…lol…but he has a fair chance of not getting stoned to death.  So hated was Elway in Cleveland that in 1989 the Broncos were huddled in the “Dog Pound” end zone of Municipal Stadium when Elway gets conked on the head with a flashlight battery.

The debris became so great that Jerry Markbreit (referee) actually had the teams switch sides on the field.  The Chancellor of Football had never seen that before in an NFL game or since.  Cleveland won 16-13 for a measure of revenge yet lost again in the 89 AFC Title 37-21 to further fuel Elway angst in Ohio.  I was one of ’em…and it took a long time to let it go.

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