On December 27th, 1998, the Denver Broncos didn’t have much to play for during their regular season finale. They had clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs several weeks earlier when their record reached 13-0 after an epic victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. But when the Seattle Seahawks arrived at Mile High Stadium on that cold December afternoon, there was an electricity in the air. This game wouldn’t affect the playoff picture at all, but it could rewrite the history books when all was said and done, and everyone associated with the game knew it.
It was somewhat important to the Broncos in that they desperately needed a tune-up heading into the playoffs. The swagger that had carried them to a 13-0 start had disappeared after back-to-back road losses to the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos needed a solid win to build some confidence for their playoff push, and a victory would drive their final record to 14-2 which would be the best mark in team history.
But the real reason the Denver fans were riled up was the fact that Terrell Davis was within striking distance of a 2000-yard rushing season. There had only been 3 of those seasons in league history up to this point, and Davis needed 170-yards rushing in order to become the 4th player on that list. And although it was overshadowed by Davis’ pursuit, John Elway was only 4 passing touchdowns shy of 300 for his career. If he could hit pay dirt 4 times in what everybody assumed would be the last regular-season home game of his career, he would become only the 3rd player to ever reach that milestone.
Seattle took the opening kickoff and returned it to the Broncos 44-yard line. This set up a 26-year old Jon Kitna with great field position right from the start, but the Seahawks went 3 and out. The Broncos took over and methodically moved down the field. After the drive stalled, Jason Elam pushed his 42-yard field goal try wide left. The Seahawks responded by putting together a long 12-play drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Ricky Watters. Davis started to pop some big runs on Denver’s next drive, and the announcers started their countdown to 2000 yards.
The 2nd quarter would start with a Davis fumble after a dump pass from Elway, and the Seahawks had some momentum going as nervousness started to spread throughout the crowd. But a quick defensive stop got the Broncos on the move once again. The drive would end with a 33-yard Elway touchdown pass to a diving Rod Smith that tied the score at 7. The Mile High crowd got back into the game and the defense produced stops on the next 2 Seahawk possessions. Elway responded with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe with a minute to go until halftime. After an interception by Glenn Cadrez, Elam missed a 55-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half and the Broncos went to the locker room with a 14-7 lead. Davis needed 88 rushing yards in the 2nd half to reach 2000, and Elway was only 2 passing touchdowns short of 300 for his career.
The Broncos went right down the field on the opening possession of the 2nd half and finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Davis. They Broncos were playing with some swagger once again and looking like Champions. Tension started to build in the crowd with every Davis rush as they realized he was getting close. There would be no more scoring in the third quarter, and the 4th would begin with the Broncos leading 21-7.
With just less than 12-minutes left in the game, on 4th-down and goal from the Seahawks 1-yard line, John Elway faked a handoff to Davis and bootlegged out to the right. He might have been able to run it in, but he was throwing the whole way and hit a wide-open Shannon Sharpe in the back corner of the endzone. The play moved Shannon Sharpe past Kellen Winslow for 3rd place all-time for receiving yards by a tight end, but more importantly, it put John Elway into the 300-touchdown club. The announcers had yet to mention this milestone during the broadcast, but after the commercial break they became wise to the piece of history they just witnessed and gave Elway his due. That touchdown also made the 1998 Broncos only the 6th team to ever score 500 points in a season.
Now the Broncos offense had only 1 goal remaining, and after the Seahawks next punt, the crowd was stirring with anticipation as Davis needed only 31-yards rushing to reach 2,000 for the year. He got 8 yards on the first play of the drive as the crowd started chanting, “TD, TD, TD, TD!” After a big 2nd-down rush, Davis needed only 11 more yards. The crowd was getting louder as electricity started to build in the stadium. The Seahawks had become powerless as the offensive line was bending the defense to their will. No one could have stopped the Broncos at this moment. Davis’ third rush in a row put him just 7 yards short. Every person in America knew that Davis was going to get the ball. On 2nd-down and 6 from the Seahawks 48-yard line with 9-minutes remaining, Elway brought the Broncos to the line and waved for the crowd to quiet down because they were already buzzing. Davis took the handoff from Elway and started left. After a slight hesitation, Davis took it straight up the field and burst through the Seattle line for a 15-yard gain that gave him 2,008 rushing yards for the season. The entire stadium went bonkers. Davis got mugged by his teammates and the game was stopped while Davis took a bow and the crowd showed their appreciation. He looked tired, relieved, and somewhat stunned by what had just taken place. What a moment at Mile High Stadium! The Seahawks would actually mount a comeback in the waning moments of the game, but they failed to recover an onside kick at the end and the Broncos won it by a final score of 28-21.
Click here and jump ahead to the 29:00-31:00 minute marks to see the play that put Davis over 2,000-yards rushing for the season.
Elway would finish the game with 338 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions while Davis posted 178-yards rushing. In 2 games against the Seahawks in 1998, Davis compiled a staggering 386-yards rushing to go with his 2 total touchdowns. Rod Smith finished the game with a career high 9 catches for 158 yards and 1 touchdown, and Shannon Sharpe caught 2 touchdowns including the 300th of Elway’s career. Mike Shanahan executed a masterful game plan. He obviously knew how close both players were to their individual milestones and made sure they got them. You have to give Shanahan a lot of credit for turning a great season into one that no one would ever forget.
The best season in team history was complete. A 14-2 overall record, a 2000-yard rusher, Elway joining the 300-touchdown and 50,000-yard passing clubs, an NFL record 63-yard field goal by Jason Elam, the only 8-0 division mark in team history, their 24th straight regular-season home victory, etc., etc. A true dream season if there ever was one. The fact that the Broncos ended the season with their second of back-to-back Super Bowl Championships makes it one of the best seasons in the history of the NFL, and one that will be remembered for as long as football is played.
Topics: Denver Broncos, Glenn Cadrez, Jason Elam, John Elway, John Kitna, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Mike Shanahan, Mile High Stadium, New York Giants, Rod Smith, Seattle Seahawks, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis