SUPER BOWL XXXII CHAMPION 1997 DENVER BRONCOS: Curse of the 1983 Draft

Thirteen losses in a row??  Are you kiddin’ me?? Hard to believe but from 1983-1997, the AFC lost every Super Bowl and many in decisive fashion.

xxxiiThe NFC’s dominance in the Super Bowl had reached an embarrassing level and let’s face it the Green Bay Packers were poised to become back to back champions.  Brett Favre, at the height of his powers, having collected his 3rd straight MVP trophy was leading an offense that was stronger than the one that won the Super Bowl the year before.

Dorsey Levens was having a career year in rushing with 1,435 yards.  Reggie White, had former Philadelphia Eagle Seth Joyner join him with Green Bay in a quest to get a ring like White, Sean Jones, Keith Jackson, Andre Rison, Desmond Howard, and Eugene Robinson had the year before.  This team had just run roughshod over the San Francisco 49ers 23-10 in Candlestick to take the NFC Championship…What happened?

First, let’s take you back to 1983. The great quarterback class that brought Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, and Todd Blackledge all to the AFC.  From that time on the conference made personnel moves and strategies based on being downfield passing attacks.  Subsequently the teams also geared their defensive personnel to stop that kind of approach.  They had thinner, lankier linemen to pass block and defenders to rush the passer and cover running backs.

Think back to the Patriots DE Garin Veris, Denver’s DE Rulon Jones, Dolphins DE’s Kim Bokamper, Cleveland’s Al “Bubba” Baker. All AFC defensive line prototypes you didn’t see in the NFC.

Their less fortunate Earth bound NFC brethren stayed rooted in running the football. They were stouter in the types of linemen they kept and played stronger at the line of scrimmage.  How do we know this?  From 1983-1997 there were really only two running backs that led the NFL in rushing from the AFC: Marcus Allen ’85, Eric Dickerson in ’88 after being traded from Rams, and Christian Okoye in 1989. In Okoye’s case, he carried the ball 90 more times and only outrushed Barry Sanders by 10 yards.  On the last day of the season with Okoye’s day completed, Sanders was 10 yards away in a late game with several minutes to go, yet was uninterested in the rushing title.

xxxii2When you think back to the Super Bowls during the 13 game losing streak, what became apparent was how much more physical the top NFC teams played. They simply overpowered the AFC Champions on the line of scrimmage.  This was the curse of the great quarterback class of 1983. Yes they made it to the top of their conference yet it wasn’t a coincidence that they were a combined 0-9 in the Super Bowl during that stretch.  So what did they need to do?  Well…to get John Elway a Super Bowl ring, Denver had to build him an NFC team.

Since the advent of Free Agency in 1993 the physicality of the NFC started to have an effect on the AFC as players switched sides.  The teams were getting more physical by the year and if you look at the 1997 Denver Broncos, a significant number of new players on their roster had come from NFC camps. CB Tim McKyer, LB Bill Romanowski, FB Howard Griffith, WR Ed McCaffrey, OL Mark Schlereth, OL Brian Habib, RB Dereck Loville, and DE Alfred Williams to name a few, had come over to give Denver a stronger more physical team.

They drafted Terrell Davis, a north/south NFC power-type runner more suited to the NFC East than the pre Mike Shanahan Broncos.  The AFC began to change & starting with the ‘95 Steelers, the AFC Champion arrived much stronger on the front lines than their predecessors in previous Super Bowls.  The inability to control the line of scrimmage is what doomed the AFC in those 13 previous Super Bowls.

Couple that with the sentimental favorite to win it all, John Elway. We forgot that it had been 8 years since Elway was called “The Duke”, a nickname of late 80s fame when he had gone to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.  We kept waiting for THOSE Bronco teams in orange jerseys to show up with a pedestrian running game.  Unfortunately so did the Green Bay Packers who woke up in the second half of Super Bowl XXXII tied 17-17, and were facing Terrell Davis running north and south on them. This brought the linebackers up and allowed Elway to complete several choice seem passes to Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe which led to the famous diving, helicopter spinning, run of Elway’s that told Bronco nation that THIS Super Bowl was going to be different.  Much different!!

The galvanized Broncos, from that point on were physically punishing the Packers defensive front and Davis controlled the rest of the 3rd quarter and most of the 4th after Brett Favre had driven down to tie it at 24.  Everyone seems to forget that the Broncos were on the verge of blowing out the Packers. After Terrell Davis scored to give the Broncos a 24-17 lead, Tony Veland forced Antonio Freeman to fumble the subsequent kickoff and Tim McKyer recovered at the Packer 17 yard line.  Only Eugene Robinson’s timely interception at the goal line kept Green Bay in it.

As for Howard Griffith, the fullback who led Terrell Davis into the endzone on his 3 TD runs, go back and look at his blocking in that 4th quarter on that last drive.  Go back and watch on one play where not only did Griffith block two different Packers on a sweep to the left but WR Ed McCaffrey absolutely “de-cleat” Packer linebacker Brian Williams as Davis ran for a big first down that demoralized the Packer defense. Why do I say this?  This was the point that Green Bay realized their defense was dead.  The next play after Davis went left (again) thru a gaping hole for 17 yards to the 1 yard line, Coach Holmgren told the defense to “let them score” knowing they were powerless and give Favre some time.  Denver held them on downs and the celebration began.

xxxii3To win “This one’s for John”, Denver Bronco’s first Super Bowl triumph, they had to build Elway an NFC team to do it.  They played and looked like the Giants, Redskins, and 49ers that had manhandled them on the front lines in previous Elway led Super Bowls.

So yeah, Super Bowl XXXII was different, much different.  It actually featured 2 teams from the NFC…just ask the Packers front line…

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Legends of The Fall: Dan Marino

When you ask someone what their definition of a great quarterback is, you invariably wind up with several answers. The one attribute in everyone’s criteria is that of a great passer. It can be argued that Dan Marino was the best pure passer in NFL history.  Everyone mentions his quick release but forgets how fiery his delivery of the football was.

Marino's legendary release.

Marino’s legendary release.

To define his quick release, for the football coaching impaired, is the time it took to complete his throwing motion. The easiest way to measure this back then were to slow film down to individual frames. The average QB release would take 15 frames where Marino was routinely between 8 & 9. So the ball was coming out half a second sooner.

The direct results were more passes getting downfield and less sacks. If we look at his peak years of 1984-1986, Marino was only sacked 48 times while attempting 1,754 passes. The Dolphins led the league in fewest sacks all 3 seasons. Yet through that explosive delivery was the zip and hutzpah he put on the football. For he had one of the strongest arms in league history.

Unlike Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who had league rules altered year after year to make them record breakers, Marino came in and shattered records through sheer ability. People talk of the great class of 1983 and most want to talk about John Elway first. Oh yeah?? Take a look at something:

  • Marino ’84-’86 – 1076 of 1754 for 13,967 yards & 122 TDs
  • Elway ’84-’86 –  821 of 1489 for 9,974 yards & 59 TDs

* To match Marino’s 122 TD total you would have to have Elway’s total from 1984 to the 13th week of the 1990 season! Almost 4 more years!

During this time both Marino and Elway had taken their teams to Super Bowl XIX and XXI respectively. Of these vids, if you only watch one, watch the 1986 vignette. Yet I digress… take a look at Marino’s record breaking fast pitch 1984:

Then you have 1985 where he led the Dolphins back to the AFC Championship Game. Had they won, we would have had a rematch between Marino and Chicago’s 46 defense in Super Bowl XX. Considering Miami gave the 18-1 Bears their only defeat, its something to think about.

Then you have perhaps his greatest season in 1986:

What made his 1986 season special is he was truly all they had and teams still couldn’t stop him. In 1984 he still had many teammates who had made it to Super Bowl XVII the year before he was drafted. The Killer Bs defense was there but aging. By 1986 most of those teammates were gone as a rebuliding phase had started. Still he went 378 of 623 for 4,746 yards and 44 touchdowns. The 44 was 8 more than the previous record and he was within 56 yards of Fouts’ other mark of 4,802.

Dan Marino bust

Also because it was the second time scaling those heights. He had set the record of 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in his 1984 campaign. He shattered the old record of 36 touchdowns which had stood for 21 years. He did it in his first full season as a starter. Not his 7th or 8th when Manning and Brady finally topped his mark.

Ultimately it was the fact that the game had passed by Don Shula as to why Marino didn’t make it back to the Super Bowl. The rest of his career the Dolphins failed to get a prime time receiver or runner. In 1995 they were the poster child for why the quick fix free agent route wasn’t the best place to build a team.

Yet when you look back at the promise of a young Dan Marino, the sky was the limit. He was definitely a legend of the fall.

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