The Super Bowl is just 19 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 19 years ago to honor this not-so-significant occasion!
South Florida hosted Super Bowl XXXIII on January 31, 1999. The game pitted the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons against the defending World Champion Denver Broncos of the American Football Conference. The Broncos, who had a sorry Super Bowl history in the 80’s, came into the 1998 season footloose and fancy free. They won their Super Bowl; they won the AFC their first Super Bowl in 13 seasons. And, in 1998, they were loaded.
Denver Broncos 19 Years Ago
Coach Mike Shanahan realized that he had a confident and fast offensive line, an experienced quarterback and a strong defense coming into 1998. However, his engine was Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis. And he rode that workhorse to a 13-0 start. Davis finished the regular season with 2008 on 392 carries! Simply put, it was one of the greatest seasons a running back has ever experienced. Add to that an additional 468 in his three playoff games and there is little wonder Davis was enshrined in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame despite his premature retirement.
One of Denver’s two losses on the season occurred on a Monday night in Miami. The Broncos in return punished the Dolphins in the divisional round of the playoffs, 38-3. In the AFC championship game, the New York Jets coached by Bill Parcells challenged Denver early but ran out of steam in the second half. It was Davis’s 31-yard score late in the third that put the game in Denver’s win column and in their sixth Super Bowl!
Atlanta Falcons 19 Years Ago
There were four standout NFC teams in the 1998 regular season, but none better than the Minnesota Vikings. Their resurgence was keyed by the transcendent Randy Moss. Comeback player of the year QB Randall Cunningham seemed to just throw the ball 60 yards in the air and Moss would come down with it. He broke a litany of rookie receiving marks during the Vikings’ 15-1 season. Minnesota was able to leapfrog Green Bay for AFC central supremacy. However, the Packers qualified for the wild card after another impressive season.
In the NFC West, Atlanta usurped San Francisco with a dynamite 14-2 season. They were led by veteran head coach Dan Reeves and a power running game. Their best player was the Jamal Anderson who carried the ball a whopping 410 times for 1846 yards. He became just as popular for his “Dirty Bird” celebration as he did for his excellent play in 1998.
In the Wild Card game between Green Bay and San Francisco, Brett Favre and Steve Young battled back and forth in one of the best playoff games of all-time. Young hit Terrell Owens on the final play of the game. With the win, the 49ers earned a trip to Atlanta. The Falcons jumped on San Francisco early. Unfortunately for the Niners, they lost running back Garrison Hearst to a torn ACL one play into the ball game. The Niners kept fighting, but fell short in a 20-18 victory for the Falcons. Atlanta’s underrated defense picked off Young three times in the second half to clinch the win.
Atlanta Stuns Minnesota
Atlanta would have to travel to Minnesota for the NFC championship game and were prohibitive underdogs. If they were intimidated, it sure didn’t look that way as they took their opening possession the length of the field for a 7-0 lead. Minnesota responded with 20 consecutive points and looked well on their way to their first Super Bowl in 22 years. But, a funny thing happened in Minnesota that day. The Vikings made just enough crucial mistakes and the Falcons, especially quarterback Chris Chandler, made just enough big plays, to propel Atlanta to the upset.
The game’s most memorable moment occurred late in the fourth. Minnesota led 27-20 and brought on Gary Anderson to attempt a 39-yard field goal. Anderson had not missed a kick all regular season! This time, however, his kick was wide left. The door was open for Atlanta and just over a minute later, Chandler found Terance Mathis for the tying score. The dirty birds won it in overtime on Morten Andersen’s field goal and the Falcons were about to participate in the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
“This One’s For John”
Atlanta certainly did not play their “A” game in Super Bowl XXXIII. That may have had more to do with the Broncos’ greatness, however. Atlanta was able to generate scoring opportunities over the first three quarters. They just could not take advantage. Andersen missed a chip shot. The Broncos stuffed Anderson on a fourth down. Chandler threw three interceptions that resulted in long returns for Denver. So, this was not a fun day for Falcons’ football.
Denver, on the other hand, got a great day from their venerable quarterback. Elway’s biggest play came in the second quarter when he found Rod Smith for an 80-yard strike that gave the Broncos a 17-3 lead. Atlanta’s highlight came in the second half when they were trailing 31-6. Tough Tim Dwight returned a kickoff to give his fan base something to cheer about on an otherwise dreary Florida night.
This game, this night was the “Football God’s” gift to one its sons, John Elway. While this season and the previous Super Bowl belonged to Terrell Davis, Super Bowl XXXIII was all about the magnificent #7. And team president Pat Bowlen acknowledged this as he accepted the Lombardi Trophy by announcing, “This One’s for John.” Elway retired following the 1998 season.
Tomorrow, we will discuss another remarkable quarterback story, that of Kurt Warner of the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills