SUPER BOWL XXXIII RUNNER UP 1998 ATLANTA FALCONS

What a ride….What a nice ring too!!  Some teams are like machinery that keep chugging along and others are like comets…not to be seen again.  This 1998 Atlanta Falcon team was not a comet, however they did get in the way of one.

xxxiii11Were they one of the best that didn’t win a Super Bowl?  It’s debatable. The Falcons rode a workhorse in Jamaal Anderson and channeled a “win one for the Gipper” emotion after Dan Reeves open heart surgery, to make the most magical season happen in Falcon history.  To go from 7-9 in 1997 to 14-2 in 98 was quite an accomplishment.  In taking down the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 in overtime for the NFC Championship, they are seen as pulling off a monumental upset when if you look at the tale of the tape, maybe it wasn’t such a big upset after all.

Upon further review, the 1998 NFC Championship pitted the best records EVER to meet for a conference title. The Minnesota Vikings at 15-1 were hosting the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons in the Metrodome. The combined 29-3 records was equaled in 2004 by the Patriots and Steelers. The Vikings were the sexier team since they broke the scoring record (556 pts. breaking Redskins record of 541) which included Randy Moss’ electrifying rookie season with 1300 yards and 17 TDs. Couple this with NFL Comeback Player of the Year in MVP Randall Cunningham. Add future Hall of Famer Cris Carter, HOF John Randle and Robert Griffith (All Pro Safety) wow…the Vikings were a meteor.

xxxiii8Yet you have to understand where the spirit of the Atlanta Falcons came from.  To do that let me welcome you to “The Second Chance Saloon”.  All the principles of this football team were retreads that were unsuccessful at becoming a champion elsewhere yet combined with others in the same position, & melded into a tremendous fighting force.

First you had Chris Chandler, a career journeyman who played for 5 teams before landing in Atlanta.  Outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who had been a pro bowl player and perennial Super Bowl runner up with the Buffalo Bills, found new life in Atlanta once his tenure ended with the Bills.  Wide receivers Tony Martin (66 rec. 1,181 yds  6 tds) and Terrence Mathis (64 rec. 1,136 yds 11 tds) were castoffs of the Chargers and Jets respectively.  Martin was the deep threat that scored the deciding touchdown in the Charger’s 94 AFC Championship win over Pittsburgh. Mathis was a serviceable 3rd receiver for the Jets who finally became a starter in Atlanta.

Morten Anderson the Saints all time leading scorer.  Ray Buchanon, the cornerback who had spearheaded the ’95 Colts run to the AFC Championship, came along with his spirited attitude along with Colt teammate CB Ashley Ambrose. Eugene Robinson the veteran safety had played in the last two Super Bowl seasons with Green Bay was a steadying force at FS.

Rich Brooks the former St. Louis Rams coach who replaced Reeves as the interim coach during his time away recovering from heart surgery. Reeves? Well…

The casual football fan will remember Reeves as coach of the Denver Broncos for most of John Elway’s career. He had come from the Tom Landry coaching tree after his playing days with the Dallas Cowboys. After failing to win it all in 3 attempts with the Denver Broncos the team took a new direction in 1993. His former QB Coach then Offensive Co-ordinator was Mike Shanahan.

xxxiii15The Falcons rode a bruising running game by Jamal Anderson, who had over 1,700 rushing yards that year, to bludgeon defenses.  Chris Chandler played efficiently, new deep threat Tony Martin coupled with Clarence Mathis to form a complete offense.  They were more steady than spectacular.

As many sporting events and teams go…emotion and playing for a cause greater than themselves propelled them into the playoffs where they ran into Minnesota and one team HAD to lose.

The most important play of the game came during the late 2nd quarter when the high flying Vikings got too greedy. Up 20-7 the Vikings, at their own 20 with just seconds left in the first half, decided to come out passing. Chuck Smith had a sack and forced fumble that kept the Falcons within striking distance at the half, down 20-14. The Falcons would go on to win 30-27 in OT

Two great stories approached the 1998 NFC Championship Game with the winner to take on the defending champion Denver Broncos, in Super Bowl XXXIII.  One of the greatest NFC Championship games took place and an upset that may have kept a sexier matchup of high powered offenses from meeting in the Super Bowl but wasn’t as big an upset as others make it out to be.

 

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SUPER BOWL XXXIII CHAMPIONSHIP 1998 DENVER BRONCOS

Talk about a curtain call.  How many of us had a former boss that we wanted to show them what we were about??  Super Bowl XXXIII was John Elway’s last game and it came courtesy of Dan Reeves…yikes.

xxxiii12I still thought the 98 Vikings were the best team that year but guess what?  History doesn’t care what The Chancellor thinks so after a 34-19 win over the Falcons; this was the crowning jewel for becoming back to back champions! And just like what happened with the early 90’s Cowboys we’re left with the glut of never ending questions when we’re drinking and talking football…”Would they have three-peated if___?”  In this instance had John Elway come back….would they have?  Well that wasn’t rhetorical, what do you think?

xxxiii3After 36 seasons and 4 other failed Super Bowl appearances the Broncos were champions.  Elway was now a champion and didn’t have to answer those questions anymore.  The organization, city, everyone celebrated the triumph in XXXII over the Packers. They were supremely ripe for a letdown.  Yet once the press conference to announce Elway’s return for his 16th season came, it seemed like the Broncos would be a good defending champion.  Who knew they would go on to be one of the strongest ever??

They leaned on their celebrated running game that had matured thru the previous post season.  Terrell Davis came into 1998 running strong. The Achilles heel from the season before was stopping the run, the best thing to do was to get an early lead and impose your running game on your opponent while forcing them to pass.  The Broncos did this with great aplomb as Davis became the first 2,000 yard rusher in the AFC since OJ Simpson in 1973.

So the Broncos went from defending champion to a team that threatened to run through the season undefeated.  The champagne on ice the ’72 Dolphins put away until the last team loses was ice cold as the Broncos raced out to a 13-0 record.  There was a strange feeling when the Broncos entered Giants Stadium during that 14th game. They had already wrapped up the AFC West Division where they had been a wildcard entrant the year before.

For the first time in the latter half of 1998, Denver faced a team that was not intimidated by them.  The Giants pulled off the upset when Kent Graham hit Amani Toomer with a late game touchdown 20-16.  The dream of the undefeated season had melted away, and after a Monday night loss to the Dolphins, there was concern the Broncos had lost their edge.  The playoffs beckoned yet Shanahan started resting his players. Countenance turned to anguish as some Denver fans remembered the ’96 finish and upset to the Jaguars at home in the playoffs.

xxxiii15Uh….well Denver faithful didn’t need to worry.  Something about that embarrassing loss brought the fire out of the Broncos who ran roughshod over the Jags 42-14.  Next up were the Cinderella New York Jets, who came in with Bill Parcells trying to become the first coach to take 3 teams to the Super Bowl.  In Elway’s last game at Mile High Stadium they prevailed 23-10 in a defensive struggle.

Next up, Super Bowl XXXIII and an old ally in former coach Dan Reeves.  In the end, Elway threw for 336 yards in an MVP performance in his last game.  Elway retired 4 months later and left us to ask that proverbial question…Would they have three-peated had Elway played another year??

What do you think??