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By: Eli Nicholson
This win was a non-negotiable for Denver.
It’s hard to picture a higher note to end a career on than a second consecutive Super Bowl win, which must have been what QB John Elway was thinking when he closed the curtains on his time in the NFL (as a player, anyway) following Super Bowl XXXIII.
There aren’t enough words to describe the long-awaited victory that Super Bowl XXXII brought to Denver, much less the enduring pride of being just one of eight occurrences of two consecutive Super Bowl wins ever (6th franchise to do it).
Elway’s talent was never questioned in Denver or around the league, but part of me wishes I’d been old enough to see when the stars finally aligned for his last two seasons and he brought two shining Lombardi trophies to a years-in-waiting fanbase. Denver’s loyalty, and the undying drive for excellence among the players (and head coach Mike Shanahan), were unmatched. Re-watching the game is magic; but I can imagine it’s impossible to truly relive that unless you saw it in real-time.
Broncos 1998 season
Mike Shanahan’s troupe was hungrier than ever coming off their first Super Bowl win. With greats like John Elway, RB Terrell Davis, WR Ed McCaffrey, TE Shannon Sharpe, among many others, Denver refused to leave without a second-consecutive Super Bowl win under the belt.
It was an almost-perfect season for the Broncos, beginning with a 13-0 record before finally losing to the New York Giants. The very following week, they would lose to the Miami Dolphins in a final installment to Miami’s thirty-year butt-kicking on us.
John Elway ate and left no crumbs that year with a total of 210 completions of 356 attempted (59.0% completion rate), 2,806 passing yards, and 22 touchdowns. Terrell Davis “broke the bank” by finishing with 2,008 rush yards in a career-best that earned him MVP status, as well as NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He was the fourth player to ever break the 2,000-yard rush record.
1998 playoff run
Given their no. 1 seed standing, the Broncos didn’t need to bother with Wild Card Weekend that year, and they skipped straight to the Divisional Round where they won with home field advantage against the Miami Dolphins (38-3 final score). It was the first time they’d beaten Miami since 1968.
The AFC Championship was similarly played at Mile High Stadium, with a final score of 23-10 against the New York Jets. Thus determined the Super Bowl XXXIII lineup: Denver Broncos vs Atlanta Falcons.
POSTSEASON BONUS: Pro Bowl appearances
The Broncos also featured numerous Pro Bowlers that year, including John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, K Jason Elam, FS Steve Atwater, OLB Bill Romanowski, LT Tony Jones, LG Mark Schlereth, and C Tom Nalen.
Of these, three were also honored with All-Pro status: Davis and Sharpe on first-team, and Elam on second-team.
Atwater, Davis, Elway, and Sharpe have all been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Super Bowl XXXIII recap
With John Elway facing off against his former Broncos coach, Dan Reeves, this was supposed to be a matchup to remember; but honestly, it was a bit one-sided.
Miami, FL’s Pro Player Stadium was a warm 73°F that day, not all that different from the year before when it was 63°F weather in San Diego. The Broncos lost the coin toss, so the Falcons started out with the ball and managed to secure a field goal, making them first on the score board. Of course, that initial victory would be short-lived for Atlanta.
Denver scored a touchdown run by Howard Griffith after Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe tag-teamed carrying the ball down field. This was about when we lost one of our biggest assets: Shannon twisted his left knee on that particular drive and it was devastatingly announced shortly after that he’d be ruled out.
Sharpe made a total of five catches for 62 yards before exiting the lineup for the remainder of the game.
The remainder of the half saw an interception by John Elway, an Atlanta fourth-and-out that was forced by Denver’s defense, a successful 26-yard field goal by kicker Jason Elam, and the infamous 80-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Rod Smith that was unviewable from television sets at home due to poor commercial timing.
Going into halftime, the Falcons managed to score another field goal to raise their score a bit, but it was 17-6 at that point. Of course, bigger second-half comebacks than that have happened, but we all know that’s not how this one ended.
Denver started with the ball at the second half, but Elam missed his field goal attempt so the ball was turned back over to Atlanta. The two teams went back and forth for some drives, each unable to convert, before Howard Griffith ran the ball in with a one-yarder again.
Then there was, of course, the moment when Elway himself slammed into the endzone for a three-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Broncos guard Mark Schlereth recalled falling down next to him in the end zone, when a picture was snapped of them, in a moment that they realized would seal the victory, even before Elam’s final field goal.
“We ran a quarterback draw, and we both fell in the end zone. We’re kind of face-to-face. And we’re pinned by other bodies,” he shared, “And there was this real poignant moment where he was looking at me and I was looking at him like ‘Hey man, we just won another championship — back-to-back World Championships, really strong football moment.’”
“And he’s just looking into my facemask and I said, ‘Hi buddy, how are you?’”
As he remembers it, the anticlimactic question from Schlereth sent Elway into a loud laughing fit. With a big grin on his face, Elway declared, “You’re an idiot.”
Denver’s players shone brightly during that entire contest, which ended in a final score of 39-19. Elway threw for a total of 336 yards. Terrell Davis, the league MVP of that season, recorded 25 rushes for 102 yards (average of 4.1 yards per carry), while WR Rod Smith finished the game with five receptions for 152 yards. WR Ed McCaffrey (yes, Christian’s dad) completed five catches for 72 yards.
And the offense wasn’t the only treasure, either. Denver’s secondary forced four turnovers (three of them on back-to-back possessions of the second half) on the Falcons and held the Falcons to just one touchdown and two field goals. They were constantly getting the ball back into Elway’s hands, and that kind of relay is what drew me to football in the first place; it really is the ultimate team sport.
“You couldn’t have planned it more perfectly—no wind during the game, warm weather, a full moon—and now it pours, like a great, big release,” Elway said after, in a rain downpour that waited until after the game finished (via Sports Illustrated Vault).
“I never, ever thought I would be the Super Bowl MVP,” he said, in perhaps the strangest sentence there is to read. The idea that someone like John Elway wouldn’t dream of being the Super Bowl MVP is mind-blowing; but at the same time, that level of disbelief just goes to show the years and years of hard work that went into just getting that first Super Bowl win, and the next. To be sure, he closed out his career in perfect style.
For those of you that watched this game when it first aired, and felt all the emotions completely raw and playing out before your eyes — what was it like? What are some of your favorite memories from that day? It had to be special.
Originally posted on Mile High Report