The Super Bowl is just 20 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 20 years ago to honor this not-so-significant occasion!
San Diego hosted Super Bowl XXXII on January 25, 1998. The game pitted the defending World Champion Green Bay Packers against the Denver Broncos of the American Football Conference.
Green Bay Packers 20 Years Ago
From day one, the Packers were the heavy favorites to repeat. In fact, there was preseason hype that this team could potentially go undefeated. However, they dropped two of their first 5 to temper the buzz somewhat. The Packers were awesome in the second half of the season. Mike Holmgren’s team went undefeated at home for the second straight season and Brett Favre won the league MVP for a third consecutive season.
The Packers were particularly excellent on defense in the playoffs. They defeated Tampa Bay 21-7 and won in San Francisco 23-10. The high-powered 49ers could not get anything going offensively. Indeed, the Niners’ only TD came on Chuck Levy’s kick return with less than four minutes remaining. Hence. Green Bay went into Super Bowl XXXII as an 11.5 favorite to defeat the Broncos.
Denver Broncos 20 Years Ago
Denver suffered a mind-numbing home loss to end the 1996 season to Jacksonville. But, they did not suffer a hangover as they bounced out of the gate with a 11-2 record. The Broncos had the #1 offense in football in 1997 thanks in large part to Terrell Davis’ gigantic 1750 rushing yards. At 37 years old, John Elway looked like he was back in his prime throwing 27 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions. He also had some superb receiving options in Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe.
The Broncos revamped their defense as well. Under Mike Shanahan, emphasis was placed on complex blitzing schemes and staying in their base defense even as most teams would fall back in prevent mode. Pro Bowlers John Mobley and Neil Smith were keys to the unit leading the squad in tackles and sacks respectively. On the back-end, veteran safeties Steve Atwater and Tyrone Braxton were known for their hard-hitting. The ’97 Broncos were definitely a complete team ready to take the next step.
Wild Card Route
Unfortunately, late in the season, they slumped at Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The Chiefs passed them for the AFC West title. Denver would have to get to the Super Bowl the long way. First, they crushed Jacksonville to get their revenge for ’96. Next, they went into Kansas City and their raucous environment and upset the Chiefs. In the AFC Championship game, although they were on the road, the Broncos were the superior team against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The key score occurred with 13 seconds left in the first half putting Denver up 24-14. They held on to the win by constantly harassing Steelers’ QB Kordell Stewart. They forced into three interceptions and a fumble. That proved to the difference in Denver’s 24-21 win. It was on to John Elway’s fourth-career Super Bowl!
TD’s Heroic Performance
In the Super Bowl, the Packers strolled down the field with the opening kickoff like a bat out of hell. The Broncos responded immediately aided by a third down holding penalty. It was obvious from the outset what Denver was trying to do on this day. Feed TD. Terrell Davis battled through migraines in his hometown to rush for 157 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos jumped out to a 17-7 lead. Green Bay tied it. Denver regained the lead in the third. The Packers tied it again.
With two minutes remaining, Davis burst to the left for a 17-yard gain. It was second and goal from the one. So, Holmgren instructed his defense to allow Davis to score. On the strength of four consecutive completions to Levens, Favre had the Pack in position to tie it. But, he threw three straight incompletions while dealing with serious pressure and the Broncos won the Super Bowl! It was the AFC’s first championship in 14 years. Elway was carried off the field. It was a terrific moment for football lovers as the 16-year veteran thanks in large part to his running back finally got his ring.
Favre would never get back to the Super Bowl despite his own illustrious career. Elway, though, would be back one season later!
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills