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??

 

 

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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…

Terrell Davis Belongs In The Hall of Fame


Terrell Davis in Super Bowl XXXII

When you think back to the Denver Broncos of the late 90s, Terrell Davis is usually the first player you think of.  He brought an NFC toughness to the AFC in terms of running the football.

You have to remember that the NFC was in the midst of a 13 game winning streak before the Broncos broke through with their win in Super Bowl XXXII.  The AFC had been filled with primarily scat backs and finesse runners when Davis was drafted in the 6th round of the 1995 draft.  He ran with power between the tackles and had the speed to pull away once he made his upfield cut.

For four years he was one of the best runners in football. An all time great until a knee injury in ’99 derailed a promising career.  Just like Gale Sayers he was a whirlwind of production before that injury so why should he be denied Hall of Fame consideration??

In 1995, Davis became the lowest draft pick ever to rush for 1,000 yards when he bolted for 1,117 on a Denver team that was retooling itself. Coach Shanahan had just come over from the World Champion 49ers and combined a single back set and merged it with a version of the “west coast” offense. Davis was an affective runner in that system but it was once the team moved to an offset I formation with the addition of FB Howard Griffith in ’96 did Davis’ production reach the stratosphere.

It was the ’96 season that Davis wrested the mantle of best power back from a fading Emmitt Smith with a 1,538 yard, 13TD rushing performance. If we add in his receiving totals he had 1848 all purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns. Yet despite the 13-3 record, his ’96 Broncos were upset in the divisional round of the playoffs by Jacksonville 30-27.

Davis in the ’97 AFC Divisional Playoff win over KC 13-10

Davis’ numbers would have been higher for the ’96 season yet Shanahan rested he and most of the starters after jumping out to an 11-1 start.  The team rusted before the playoffs and Davis lost 3 second halves where he could have piled up more yards and should have been an 1,800 yard rusher.

The ’97 season saw the Broncos move to a 12-4 record yet were cast in the roll of wildcard by virtue of Kansas City’s 13-3 record. Again Davis was the driving force running for 1,750 yards and 15TDs leading the AFC in rushing and the NFL in touchdowns. He then ran for over 100 yards against the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Steelers enroute to Super Bowl XXXII. Now their physical running game would be put to the test against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and their mammoth defensive line.

In one of the best performances in Super Bowl history, Davis ran for 157 yards and a Super Bowl record 3 touchdowns propelling the Broncos to a 31-24  upset win.  Davis had a superb performance and may have broken Tim Smith’s record of 204 yards had he not missed the 2nd quarter with a migraine headache. In the game he punished the Green Bay defense with physical, tackle breaking runs that broke the former world champions down. He was MVP of the NFL’s signature game in his own hometown what more could be on the horizon??

One year after the sporting press celebrated Barry Sanders rushing for 2,053 yards in ’97, there was speculation that Terrell Davis could repeat that feat in 1998. Terrell Davis and his Broncos ran out to a 13-0 record and threatened the ’72 Dolphins unbeaten streak but an upset by the Giants then the Dolphins relegated the AFC West champions to a 14-2 record.  Davis ran for over 170 yards in the final game of the season to finish with 2,008 yards, 23 TDs and he was voted NFL Most Valuable Player in the process.

His total was even more impressive than Eric Dickerson’s, Barry Sanders or O.J. Simpson’s total for one reason: his 2,000 yard season came with his sitting out over 8 quarters in blowout wins. With his average per game divided out over a 14 game season his numbers project out to 2,294 yards and 26 TDs. Had that happened he would have broken Emmitt Smith’s record of 25 TDs and Marshall Faulk never would have had the record in 2000. Keep in mind he attained all this while playing for a defending Super Bowl champion with a bullseye on their back for the entire season. Something the other 2,000 yard rushers didn’t have to contend with.

After leading the Broncos to another Super Bowl triumph in the XXXIIIrd edition, a 34-19 win over the Falcons. Davis was on pace for a record setting career yet in the 3rd game of the ’99 season he tore ligaments in his knee making a tackle against the Jets and was never the same player after a year and a half off to recover. He retired after the 2001 season with 7,607 yards rushing and 60TDs in 7 seasons.

Now it’s at this point where you have to realize the greatness of Davis. At the current rate he was running the ball at the time of his injury, he was on pace to gain 12,824 yards in only EIGHT years! Only comparison to that  is Jim Brown who ran for 12,312 in 9 years. This was a north south runner who didn’t rely on moves to gain his yards so its very likely that he could have maintained his pace. His 56 touchdown total swells out past 110 given he would have made it injury free for those same 8 years. Thats production..

Here is another talent who didn’t play for a long career but as a comet burned bright as any ever seen in the football heavens. He was the power and impetus for a two time league champion, a celebrated 2,000 yard rusher, a Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP. What more could he have done? Those 3 years (96-98) he was an All Pro and Pro Bowl performer.

Just like Gale Sayers his career was cut short and he was never the same yet Davis deserves the same Hall of Fame distinction. He wasn’t as flashy as Sayers but he was more productive with a bullseye on his back and powered a league champion. That has to be worth something more than distinction. He was a great player and ambassador of the game. Never an off field issue uttered with his name and came off as an affable likeable player and person. He has to be considered the top Bronco running back of all time and that includes Hall of Famer Floyd Little who came three decades earlier.

Yet thats another debate for a different day…For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I present to you: Terrell Davis