In a little less than twelve hours the Denver Broncos will participate in their seventh Super Bowl. Hopefully, if things go as planned, the Broncos will earn their third Vince Lombardi Trophy! My how things change in a year! Last year at this time, as the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were getting ready for Super Bowl XLVII, most citizens of Broncos Country were in a dazed and confused state of mind after the home divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This year, however, the Broncos are champions of the American Football Conference and are set to take on the Seattle Seahawks to determine the 2013-14 NFL champion. To help pass the time between now and kickoff of Super Bowl XLVIII, revisit the Broncos first six Super Bowls. Tonight, another chapter will be added.
(Originally posted on Predominantly Orange February 3, 2013)
Super Bowl XII – January 15, 1978
After defeating the Oakland Raiders 20-17 in the AFC Championship, the Broncos advanced to Super Bowl XII to face America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. Looking back on this game, it almost appears that the Broncos were happy to just to have made it to the big game, rather than thinking they had a legitimate shot against the Cowboys, who were playing in their fourth Super Bowl. Super Bowl XII, like Super Bowl XLVII, was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was attended by 75,583 people. Trailing 13-0 early in the third quarter, the Broncos scored their very points of the game when Jim Turner successfully kicked a 47-yard field goal, bringing the Broncos to within ten points. Midway through the third quarter, Roger Staubach connected with Butch Johnson for a 45-yard touchdown pass, and a 20-3 lead for the eventual Super Bowl XII champions. If the pass play, in my humble opinion, would have occurred today, the officials may very well have overturned it given the use of replay and the stringent rules now in place regarding what actually defines a catch. Unfortunately, Super Bowl XII was played in 1978 and not 2013, so the play stood. With only 1-1/2 quarters to go, and down seventeen points, it looked bleak for the Denver Broncos. Approximately a minute and a half after the Cowboys touchdown, the Broncos closed the gap once again when Rob Lytle plunged in from one-yard, making the score 20-10. With just under eight minutes remaining in the game, the Cowboys dug into their bag of tricks and successfully executed a halfback pass for a touchdown. The play, a 29 yard toss from Robert Newhouse to Golden Richards, sealed the win for the Cowboys 27-10, and handed the Broncos a loss in their very first Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Bronco fans, losing in the Super Bowl would become the norm over the next several years as the team attempted to win their very first championship.
Super Bowl XXI – January 25, 1987
Two weeks removed from what is known as “The Drive”, John Elway was making his first of five Super Bowl appearances in Super Bowl XXI against the New York Giants. The Broncos opened the scoring four minutes into the game when Rich Karlis kicked a then record tying field goal of 48-yards giving the Broncos a 3-0 lead. New York and Denver exchanged touchdowns before the end of the quarter, which allowed Denver to take a slim three point lead into the second quarter. Little did Bronco fans know this at the time, but the start of the second quarter was also the start of the Broncos decline, as well as their chances of their first Super Bowl win. The only scoring in the second quarter was a safety by the New York Giants when Elway was sacked in the end-zone by safety George Martin with just under three minutes to halftime. A key momentum changer in the game occurred early in the second quarter when the Broncos were unable to score a touchdown from the one-yard line after three running plays and then failed on the 23-yard field goal attempt. To say that the Giants owned the Broncos and the third quarter is an understatement! When the second half of the game started, the Broncos were definitely in the ball game thanks to their slim 10-9 lead; when the third quarter ended, it was very evident that the Broncos second Super Bowl loss was soon going to be a reality. The Giants put up seventeen unanswered points in the third quarter giving them a comfortable 26-10 lead with only fifteen minutes remaining. The dreadful third quarter may have ended, but not the onslaught by the New York Giants. Early in the final quarter, Phil Simms connected with Phil McConkey for a six yard touchdown pass and a 33-10 lead. The Broncos sandwiched another New York touchdown with scoring drives of their own – a 28-yard field goal and a 47-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Vance Johnson. Those ten points, although not enough to win the game, did make the final score somewhat more respectable (39-20) but it did little to console Bronco fans as they would have to deal with another Super Bowl loss and being second best. Most Bronco fans probably thought it couldn’t get much worse than a 39-20 drubbing in the Super Bowl but they would find out a year later in Super Bowl XXII that it could.
Super Bowl XXII – January 31, 1988
In 1987 Elway became known for “The Drive”; in 1988 Cleveland Brown running back Earnest Byner became known for “The Fumble” in the second consecutive AFC Championship between Denver and the Cleveland Browns. After recovering the Byner fumble, the Broncos went onto win 38-33, sending them to Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, California against the Washington Redskins. Bronco fans were hopeful that this would be the year that the Broncos were finally able to capture their first NFL championship and put those horrible feelings of past Super Bowls behind them. Two minutes into the game, the hopes of Bronco fans seemed legitimate as John Elway connected with Ricky Nattiel for a 56-yard touchdown pass that gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead sending Bronco fans everywhere into a frenzy I’m sure. The Broncos added a field goal before the end of the quarter, which gave them a comfortable feeling with the game 25% complete…… and then the second quarter happened! It is difficult to describe the events of those fifteen minutes but it is fairly accurate to say that the second quarter in Super Bowl XXI is one of the most depressing time periods in Denver Bronco history. When all was said and done, the Washington Redskins had managed to add 35 unanswered points to the scoreboard in one quarter. The tidal wave of Redskins points was led by Washington quarterback Doug Williams, who had four touchdown passes in the second quarter, and was named the game’s MVP. Unknown rookie running back Timmy Smith added to the Broncos misery in the second quarter when he steam rolled the Broncos defense for a 56-yard touchdown run. Smith finished with 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Doug Williams finished with 340 yards passing, leading the Redskins to 42-10 victory. By far, this was the most lopsided loss the Broncos had experienced in a Super Bowl and was very disheartening to all Bronco fans. The loss definitely fueled the debate of the Broncos (and John Elway) being a team that couldn’t win the big game. Two years later the Broncos would make it back to the Super Bowl with another opportunity to hush those critics. Rather than snuff out that debate, the Broncos performance in Super Bowl XXIV was like opening a can of gasoline and dumping it on that small fire, turning it into a full blown inferno.
Super Bowl XXIV – January 28, 1990
After defeating the Cleveland Browns again in the AFC Championship, the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl to represent the AFC for the fourth time. Super Bowl XXIV was being held in New Orleans, the site of the Broncos very first Super Bowl appearance. Hopefully this trip to New Orleans would end up differently than the trip made by the team twelve years earlier. It was a much different outcome for the Broncos but it was not for the better! If the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII was one of the most miserable quarters of football in team history, this game would have to rate as the most miserable game in the team’s history. The Broncos had no answer for the San Francisco 49ers offense and it appeared that when the 49ers got the ball they scored at will. The final score was 55-10 and the Broncos lone touchdown was scored by John Elway when he rushed for a three yard touchdown midway through the third quarter. Of all the Super Bowls, this one hurt the most because the Broncos were never in this game and were definitely outmatched. Given the results of this Super Bowl, as well as Super Bowl XXII, the thought of the Broncos not being able to win the Super Bowl was becoming a reality. It sounds absurd, but rather than suffer the pain of losing the Super Bowl again, maybe it would be better if the Broncos wouldn’t make it all to the Super Bowl. An upcoming eight year drought of not making the Super Bowl would erase all those thoughts and the desire to win the Super Bowl still existed within the organization and the fans.
Super Bowl XXXII – January 25, 1998
Would this Super Bowl be the one? That was the question that die-hard Bronco fans were asking after the Broncos earned their fifth AFC Championship when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21. The Broncos opponent in Super Bowl XXXII was the Green Bay Packers, who were defending champions, and we’re favored to repeat. Although underdogs, the Broncos were a different team than the past Super Bowl teams; rather than John Elway being the main offensive weapon, the team was more balanced and relied on the running game as much, if not more, than the passing game. Terrell Davis, in his third year with Broncos, provided the ammunition behind the Broncos rushing attack. After Green Bay took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field and took a 7-0 lead many Bronco fans were probably very nervous and were thinking “here we go again”. The Broncos offense immediately put those thoughts to bed when they answered Green Bays opening drive with a touchdown drive of their own. The Broncos tied the score at seven when Terrell Davis scored his first rushing touchdown of the day by plunging into the end zone from one yard out. From that point on, Bronco fans knew they had a legitimate shot to capture their very first Super Bowl Championship. The game was hard fought and went back and forth, both teams constantly challenging the other team to perform at a higher level. Terrell Davis, and the Broncos, overcame a migraine obstacle that caused Davis to miss most of the second quarter. Fortunately, Davis returned after halftime and went on to score two rushing touchdowns in the second half, earning him the MVP award. Late in the third quarter with the game tied 17-17, and the Broncos facing a third-and-six deep in Packers territory, Elway single handedly showed the type of competitor he had been his entire career. In a play that is simply now known as “The Helicopter”, Elway rushed to his right, glanced to see the first down marker and dove rather than run out of bounds, settling for a field goal attempt. After he dove, Elway was hit by the Packers, causing his body to spin like a helicopter. The play resulted in a first down and more importantly, injected life into the team when they realized the fire that burned in the 37 year old quarterback from Stanford. Two plays later, Davis scored his second touchdown of the day, giving the Broncos a seven point lead with just over a quarter to go. The Packers quickly answered in the fourth quarter when Brett Favre connected with Antonio Freeman for a 13-yard touchdown pass making the score 24-24 with most of the fourth quarter remaining. Davis added his third and final touchdown run of the afternoon with just under two minutes remaining in the game giving the Broncos a 31-24 lead. The stage was set – the Broncos had a seven point lead and were approximately a minute and a half away from their very first Super Bowl victory. John Elway, who was known for his late game heroics, could only watch as the Broncos defense would have to close this game out! The Packers quickly drove down the field and were in Broncos territory, no doubt causing the blood pressure of Bronco fans to increase rapidly. Facing a fourth down near the Broncos’ thirty yard line, the Packers had one last shot to move the chains but that was brought to a halt when John Mobley knocked down Favre’s pass that was intended for Mark Chmura. At that one moment in time, a single instance, all the pain, sadness, anger, and frustration from the previous four Super Bowls vanished into thin air, just like the notion that the Broncos were a team that was unable to win the big game. If you have been a long-time Bronco fan, you are probably not ashamed to admit that tears flowed that day when the realization set in that the Lombardi Trophy was finally coming to Colorado. When Pat Bowlen received the Lombardi Trophy, he raised it up and said, “this one’s for John”. That is so true, however, I feel that the victory in Super Bowl XXXII was also for every true, die-hard Bronco fan that had endured the four previous Bronco Super Bowls and never gave up on the dream of seeing the Broncos win the big one. The 31-24 victory over the Packers also ended a 13 year streak that saw the NFC winning the Super Bowl. A year later the Broncos would make their sixth Super Bowl appearance and have an opportunity not only to win another Super Bowl, but to repeat as champions!
Super Bowl XXXIII – January 31, 1999
On a windy day at Mile High, the Broncos soundly defeated the New York Jets 23-10 to advance to their second consecutive Super Bowl; their sixth appearance in team history. The Broncos would be facing the Atlanta Falcons, who were coached by former Bronco head coach Dan Reeves. Unlike Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos were favored to win this game. After one quarter, the Broncos were ahead 7-3 but following a second quarter field goal by Jason Elam, the Broncos opened it up and successfully completed an 80-yard touchdown pass that gave them a 17-3 lead with approximately five minutes remaining in the first half. The John Elway to Rod Smith 80-yard touchdown definitely changed the momentum of the game and it felt like the Falcons were outmatched against the high-powered Bronco offense. Following a scoreless third quarter, the Broncos added two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach for the Falcons. The Falcons added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late, and the Broncos went on to earn their second NFL Championship, beating the Falcons 34-19. Unlike the previous Super Bowl win for the Broncos, this game did not come down to the wire and John Elway would be able to comfortably kneel down to end the game. John Elway kneeling down, not only brought the game to an end, it also brought his NFL playing career to an end, as he would announce his retirement on May 2, 1999. John Elway was named MVP solely based on his passing performance (18/39 for 336 yards; 1 passing touchdown).