A great season | Part IV: Broncos wrap up memorable year with Super Bowl XXXII win over Packers
Despite the Broncos’ confidence, they knew they faced a difficult task. The Packers held the second-ranked scoring offense and third-ranked passing offense, and they also held the fifth-ranked scoring defense.
“We knew how good they were,” Ring of Fame head coach Mike Shanahan said recently. “You could see it on the pitch, so we knew we had to play our best football. Our game plan there was to keep it tight, to really tire them out, to run the ball as much as possible for three quarters. , then in the fourth quarter, play our best football and find a way to win.”
The Packers didn’t make it easy. Green Bay received the opening kickoff and walked the field in eight plays for an opening touchdown. Still, Denver kept its confidence.
“I remember when they scored,” Smith said. “Shannon Sharpe said, ‘They have seven [points]let’s get eight.'”
The Broncos wouldn’t go for a two-point conversion, but they posted an 11-game record themselves. Terrell Davis dove into the end zone from the 1-yard line to tie the game at 7-7, and the Broncos showed signs of a fight.
On the ensuing possession, the Broncos pressured down the left edge to force Favre out of the pocket and his second pass sailed over Robert Brooks’ head. Tyrone Braxton slid to intercept the pass and the Broncos were back in business.
Davis started the practice with a 16-yard run, and then he pushed the ball to the 1-yard line. The third and first, Elway faked a handoff, started on the right and ran into the end zone to give the Broncos the lead for the first time. The room may have looked routine, but there was a lot more to it than it first appeared.
Earlier in the game, Davis began to feel the effects of a migraine that would force him out of the game for most of the second quarter. Davis entered the game, however, for the critical third game. Davis was just a decoy, but he needed enough attention from the defense for Elway to score.
The Broncos defense would continue to play well against one of the best offenses in the league. Atwater sacked Favre on a third-and-five play on a second-quarter drive, and Neil Smith picked up the fumble. The Broncos would add a field goal to push the lead to 17-7, but their offense stalled the rest of the first half without Davis in the game.
With less than 20 seconds left in the half, Favre found Mark Chmura in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard score to cap a 17-play, 95-yard drive to cut the lead to 17- 14.
The Packers would tie the game on their first practice of the third quarter after a fumble from Davis, but Atwater nearly recorded his own score. Atwater cut a road near the sideline, but the Hall of Famer couldn’t make the interception.
“I dropped an interception; it was in my hands,” Atwater said. “…I probably could have scored if I had caught it. I knew the route they were going. They were going a little route, and I just pretended to go one way, I went there- I remember when I dropped it, first nobody looking at me, ‘Crock’ [Ray Crockett], he’s like, ‘The hell not with you, man?’ I went away. Mike, he was [mad], you know. I’m like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry. I didn’t try to drop it.'”
The game remained tied until late in the third quarter, when the Broncos faced a third-and-6 at the Green Bay 12-yard line. And that set the stage for the most famous play in Broncos history.
Elway took the shotgun blast, dropped back to the 22-yard line, then stepped up and rushed forward. He kept his eyes on the pitch, but as he crossed the 15-yard line he tucked the ball in and ran forward. As Elway approached the first-down marker at the 6-yard line, it became clear he wasn’t going to get there with ordinary effort. And so, Elway leapt from the 7-yard line and launched himself headfirst into a trio of defenders. Elway was hit in the air and spun around, but he recovered on the first down. The helicopter was born – and two plays later the Broncos took the lead again via Davis’ second touchdown.
“They were such a great red zone defense, the best red zone defense in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. So we had to find something in that situation that we felt gave us a chance to score. At the same time, we didn’t feel like they were so good with the pass and so good at red zone defense, we thought hitting the seam was maybe a little out of our zone. So we put it all on John’s shoulders, and when he first looked at it, he kind of looked at me, like, ‘I was hoping we weren’t going to have this [defense and that] we were going to have the blitz”, but at that moment, at such a distance, I said, “You are going to play here. And just watching him take that five-step drop, and how he ran the football and how he got the first down, that’s when you knew the game was over.”
The game was more than a first try; it meant how far Elway and the Broncos would go to win their first world championship.
When the Packers missed the ensuing kickoff and Tim McKeyer recovered, it did indeed look like the Broncos had picked up a win. The drama was not quite over, however. Elway looked for Smith in the end zone for the deciding score, but Eugene Robinson landed an interception to keep the Packers’ hopes alive.
Favre completed a string of passes to Antonio Freeman on the next drive, and in a flash the Packers had tied the game. And that’s where the Broncos’ game plan finally came to fruition. Davis carried the ball several times over the next two possessions, and the Broncos wore the Packers defense down. With less than three minutes left, Elway found Howard Griffith for a key 23-yard gain, which was set up by a vicious block from Ed McCaffrey. On second and the goal from the 1-yard line, Davis ran into the end zone untouched, and the Broncos needed one last stop.
The Packers made it to the Broncos’ 31-yard line before Denver’s defense offered a series of saves. Darrien Gordon forced an incomplete on second-and-6, and Atwater delivered a thunderous jab on a pass intended for Brooks to place fourth.
“I was coming back to my zone, I had the middle third of the field, shaded on the ‘travel’ side and I saw Brett Favre throw that ball, like, ‘I can’t let anybody catch that ball,'” Atwater said. “That’s what I was thinking – ‘I can’t let anyone catch this ball. Not today.’ And I just ran in there, man, and then I sniffed some smelly salts.”
On the tiebreaker — the moment that gave the Broncos their first world championship — linebacker John Mobley undermined a pass from Favre, and it fell incomplete.
“I was on the sidelines and I was looking at the clock, like, ‘Damn, I think we won,'” Atwater said. “And that was it.”
Shanahan added: “When John did it, it was such a relief from so many years there, never having done it and finally having done it with a group of selfless players who were going all in the same direction.”
On the sidelines, the Broncos sideline burst. Elway threw his arms in the air, then kissed Atwater. The Broncos had done it. Elway got his long-awaited championship, Davis earned Super Bowl MVP honors, and the whole team realized their potential.
“It was life changing,” Atwater said. “That’s the thing that when you get into the NFL, that’s the thing that you work for — for every team, all 32 teams work to get to the Super Bowl. And to get there, and to win it. , it’s indescribable Because you think back to all the hard work you put in: little league football – obviously little league, I didn’t know I was going to play in the NFL – high school, college. And then play in the NFL for all these years, and my ninth year, I finally got a chance to go there and win it, it was special, there are so many wonderful, great players, Hall of Fame players who don’t have this opportunity my favorite moment.
“My favorite game was that last game, John Mobley’s game where he knocked down that pass, and I’m like, ‘Shoot, I think we won. I still get chills thinking about that moment, man, because it felt like everything you worked for, you got here.”
The Broncos would capture the same magic a year later. They would go through the regular season and beat the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII to win back-to-back titles. Nothing, however, compared to that first win.
“You come back and do it again the next year, it was even crazier,” Atwater said. “But I think the first one is always the best, just go over the top, like, ‘Damn, we can do it.'”
Twenty-five years later, the specific parts are not so clear cut. The order of games and the final scores of this 1997 season have become a bit blurred in the minds of some of the greatest players.
But the friendships, the bond between teammates and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment did not fade. And as the men of this first title team look back on their experience, there is also a sense of gratitude to be involved in this moment.
“When you think about these stats and stuff, it’s because you went through it and it was part of your life and you enjoyed it, and you didn’t even think about it. like a job,” Shahanan said. “It was a great situation to have, and to be with these guys, you feel so blessed and lucky to be able to experience this in your lifetime.”
As they look back on a historic race, Broncos Country undoubtedly feels the same way.