October 24, 2009

Celebrating 50 Years of Bronco History: The Elway Era

As soon as the Broncos allocated John Elway, he instantly became the starting QB. From that point on the Broncos had a new era on their hands and maybe they knew it, but it probably lasted a lot longer than many people thought it would.

Elway became the new face of the franchise carrying on that special legacy once held by Floyd Little.

In ’83, they made it to the playoffs as a Wild Card only to have a glimpse of hope taken from them in a 31-7 loss to Seattle. The following year, the Broncos got new ownership with Pat Bowlen coming on board hoping for some new and exciting change. They got one step further than they did the previous year but fell short of being able to play for the AFC Championship when they lost to the Steelers at Mile High, 24-17.

But if I know the Broncos at all, and I do, they without a doubt persevered. Even though they reached an 11-5 record in ’85, they fell short of reaching the playoffs. However, in the year of 1986, that all changed.

Elway became a strong leader as a young quarterback and helped his team go all the way. This particular season would be one for the record books and would reside forever in the memories of every Bronco fan alive to witness it and those yet to come.

The AFC Championship was a game no one would forget, whether you were a Bronco fan or one of those stuck in the “Dog Pound” in Cleveland. Trailing the Browns 20-13 with 5:43 left in the game, John Elway did what he does best… make a miraculous unforgettable 4th quarter comeback.

Denver came into this game as the underdog (what a shocker), crazy Cleveland fans throwing anything in possession onto the field and its freezing cold (wind-chill of 5 degrees)!! Bu-bu-bu buuuurrrrr All of that added onto 98 yards to go, Cleveland fans are probably still wondering how they made a comeback like this to tie the game. I’ll tell you how… they are the Broncos and they only had the best quarterback to orchestrate that miracle.

I give you one of the greatest memories of Broncos history, The Drive ( part 2 , part 3 ).

Step by step, Elway led the Broncos on a 98-yard drive to tie the game in hopes of making another spectacular drive to win in OT. And they did just that.

Elway threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson (one of “Denver’s Three Amigos” ) with 37 seconds left in the game. Once over time began, Elway worked his magic, yet again, to get into field goal range so Rich Karlis could make the game-winning 33-yard FG for the chance to go to the Super Bowl.

In no time, Denver found themselves in Pasadena to face the New York Giants in the biggest battle known to man, the Super Bowl.

Facing the Giants in their 2nd Super Bowl attempt in Broncos history, things were not looking good. Denver was barely hanging on to a 10-9 lead, then with two unsuccessful drives that went deep into Giants territory, kicker Rich Karlis failed to make 2 field goals to get further ahead. Think that’s bad? Game isn’t over yet.

At the same time they couldn’t get any points on the board, nearly 10 years later after their first Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos’ defense was nowhere near what it was in ’77 with the Orange Crush. After halftime, the Giants got down to business, and fast.

In the first 20 minutes, they put up 24 points leaving Denver dazed and confused. Somewhere along the way, Denver managed to get 10 more points but they just couldn’t keep up with the Giants as they went on to win Super Bowl XXI, 39-20.

That was strike one for Elway.

Another year came and the Broncos did it again. They went on to earn a 10-4-1 record, claimed the AFC West, Elway won NFL MVP after a miraculous win over Chicago and then gave the Cleveland Browns a little bit of déjà vu for a second straight year in the AFC Championship

This time the Broncos had the lead for most of the game gaining a 21-3 lead at halftime only to have the Browns comeback in the 4th and return the “déjà vu” favor. Cleveland tied the game but Elway had some unfinished business to attend to. With 4 minutes left in the game, the boys in Orange & Blue answered back and took the win, 38-31. Boo-ya!!

Cleveland practically gave the game to Denver when Ernest Bynar fumbled the ball and the Broncos’ Jeremiah Castille recovered it at the 3-yard line.

Another victory over Cleveland in the AFC Championship and the Broncos found themselves back in the Promise Land for Super Bowl XXII to go up against the Washington Redskins.

However, this turned out to be worse than the previous Super Bowl they went to. Disaster plagued the Denver team from start to finish. They were never even able to get anything successful going to give them any fighting chance in the game.

As no surprise to everyone else, it was just another one of those games where the Broncos had a big opportunity sitting in front of them and the whole world knew they would choke, again.

The Broncos were unable to prove them all wrong.

In the first 5 minutes, Denver took control gaining a 10-0 lead, but unfortunately the first five minutes isn’t what counts. They basically gave the game away in the 2nd quarter when Washington came back to score 35 unanswered points leaving Denver in the dust.

Denver, yet again, couldn’t regain their momentum, losing their 2nd consecutive Super Bowl, 42-10. Not only that, but John Elway became notorious for losing the “big one.”

Strike two for Elway.

After a tumultuous 2 years at the Super Bowl, losing RB Tony Dorsett to a career ending knee injury and ending their ’88 season at an ironically 8-8 dead end, Denver came back to life.

Denver finished at 11-5 in ’89, earning the division title and home field advantage. Taking on the Steelers was no easy task. This playoff game was like a tennis match as the lead flip-flopped back in forth into the hands of each team. But the Steelers forgot Elway is “The King of 4th Quarter Comebacks.”

With 2:27 left in the game, the Steelers had the lead at 23-17 when Elway helped Denver come back for the win 24-23.

Don’t know about any of you but I think Cleveland liked (no LOVED) losing to Denver in the AFC Championship game. I guess the Browns wanted some more Bronco lovin’. Denver had the lead in the 3rd quarter at 24-7 when Cleveland got within 3 pts in the 4th.

But Elway wasn’t gonna put up with that.

Anybody remember Sammy Winder? Well, he caught a 39-yard Elway pass for a touchdown to give the Broncos their 3rd AFC Championship in 4 years. Too bad that couldn’t have been 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.

Denver stepped into unchartered territory again, only to wish they hadn’t. Super Bowl XXIV against San Francisco turned into another nightmare. This is the part of Broncos history that is just ugly.

To the 49ers, Denver was nothing but a doormat. 55-10 was the embarrassing ending and that’s about all I can/will say about that. Next subject…

The following few years for the Broncos was like one big rollercoaster.

Before the 1992 season, then Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan was fired. Head Coach Dan Reeves (1981-1992) and Elway began having problems in 1990 that turned into an irreconcilable relationship. The public and Broncos ownership sympathized with Elway, divorcing with Reeves a day after their 8-8 ’92 season.

As the 10th Head Coach for Denver, Wade Phillips gave Elway a little more freedom than he was given before, however, Phillips’ freedom with the Broncos didn’t last long at all. After the ’94 season, he was gone and Shanahan became the 11th HC for Denver.

Before the ’95 season, the Broncos acquired a future Super Bowl MVP, running back Terrell Davis .

In his rookie season he put up 1,117 yards alone, not too shabby for a rookie.

There is a lot more where that came from and by the end of his career (8 season career cut short because of injury), he came away with a lot to proud of.

Two back-to-back Super Bowl wins
Super Bowl XXXII MVP honors
7.607 yards on 1,655 carries (avg. gain 4.6 yards)
60 career touchdowns

The Broncos became somewhat immune to reaching the Super Bowl for almost 10 years, but something was different about the 1997 season. The Broncos were on a mission.

Despite their 9-1 start, the Broncos would lose 2 important divisional games on the road which would cost them the AFC West title. At that point it looked like another dead end season. But after winning their final game of the season, ending at 12-4, they made it into the playoffs as a Wild Card.

In the first game, they routed the Jags 42-17. Next game they almost had their hopes dashed when they returned to KC but stayed alive with a Terrell Davis touchdown.

The AFC Championship game was next, facing the Pittsburgh Steelers for their 5th try at a Super Bowl victory. The Broncos had a 24-14 lead at the half but Pittsburgh fought their way to catch up until Denver got the ball back late in the 4th quarter, ran out the clock and held on to their lead.

This win not only gave Denver their 5th AFC Championship victory but their fifth trip to the biggest game on the planet.

John Elway found himself in very familiar territory in Super Bowl XXXII . He had been in this same position 3 times before but got the wrong kind of reputation out of it… someone who couldn’t win a Super Bowl.
And as usual, the Broncos were the underdogs in any game and this time they were going up against the Green Bay Packers.

I remember watching this game with my dad like it was yesterday. They went up against the defending champs but this time around, everything definitely had a different vibe. The Broncos played with pure determination to come away with the win, and as a first-hand witness, that determination was more than obvious.

This was the Broncos’ time to shine. This was Elway’s time to hold the Lombardi trophy, have tears of joy and help his team achieve the greatest victory in football.

Elway was so determined to get this win, he was diving head first for first-downs and making every possible move he could to keep moving forward. By the 2nd quarter they had a 17-7 lead but then the Packers shortened the gap to 17-14 before heading into halftime.

By the fourth quarter, Terrell Davis would get his third TD of the night and Steve Atwater would knock down a key 3rd down pass by Brett Favre. Then the moment LB John Mobley was able to tip another pass by Favre and it landed on the ground… the Broncos became Super Bowl Champs for the very first time.

Broncos – 31, Packers – 24. Game over. I will NEVER forget that game.

Rumors were swirling shortly after that game that Elway would soon retire. Thank God he didn’t.

He came back for another round in the 1998 season and the Broncos got off to a very impressive 13-0 start, easily claiming the AFC West title that November. In the midst of that winning streak, Jason Elam tied the NFL record for the longest FG (63 yards on October 25th).

Shortly after, Denver lost 2 games but reclaimed their momentum when they pulled off a 28-21 victory over Seattle when Mr. TouchDown himself rushed for 178 yards to capture a 2,000-yard rushing season, which also earned him NFL MVP honors.

The Broncos took the AFC Championship again facing the New York Jets. When it looked like trouble was taking its course with the Jets taking a quick 10-0 lead, Denver came answered back with 23 points to take the game. Elway and Company were right back in Super Bowl territory and Elway was not about to go home empty.

Super Bowl XXXIII turned out to be a bit of reunion for the two teams, when Dan Reeves returned to face his former team as the coach for Atlanta. Was this game the Broncos vs. the Falcons or more like Shanahan & Elway vs. Reeves? The world may never know.

One thing is for certain though, the Broncos came to dominate and win this game. Elway was notorious for his late-game comebacks and while it would’ve been fun to see him pull off one more, for this Super Bowl it wasn’t necessary.

Denver controlled the game from start to finish creating a huge gap with a 31-6 lead early in the 4th quarter. The Falcons had little to no time to make a strong comeback. Of course, it was twice as difficult for them considering they didn’t have Elway orchestrating one comeback drive after another.

Atlanta scored 2 lonely touchdowns but it was too little too late. Denver won 34-19.

I’ll never forget that game either. Incredible ending to an incredible career for Elway.

The Broncos silenced the critics on multiple levels. If one Super Bowl win (with Elway) wasn’t enough to make Denver victorious in the world of football, I can only imagine what critics were thinking when Elway retired with back-to-back wins.

He was also the MVP of that game and rightfully so. He truly went out on top.

Elway said goodbye in style, making him the envy of many quarterbacks. Every QB wants to go out like he did, with at least one Super Bowl win. He earned it, no questions asked.

As Elway finally announced his retirement in May of ‘99 but he left behind an incredible legacy. A legacy that no Bronco fan should forget or not know about.

Total Career Passing Touchdowns – 300
Total Career Rushing Touchdowns – 33
Total Career Passing Yards – 51,475
Total Career Rushing Yards – 3,407
Total Completions – 4,123
2 Super Bowl wins (’98 and ’99) out of 5 Super Bowl appearances
9 Pro Bowl appearances
47 fourth-quarter comeback drives
1987 NFL MVP

Enough said.

From his days at Stanford to becoming an elite, dangerous and respected NFL quarterback, there’s a reason why he’s my all-time favorite Bronco.
I have posted some of his greatest comebacks and memories that will showcase his legendary career and why he made it into Canton the moment he was eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was just that good.

There are also some videos that feature classic footage and memories of the Broncos leading up to the 2 Super Bowl victories. Enjoy!
Super Bowl XXXIII highlights, Elway’s retirement & Hall of Fame speech

Mile High Salute to the one and only #7, John Elway. Love you man!!

Part three of this 50th anniversary article will be the final piece but will take this team through the struggles it faced post-Elway, the highlights and a few tragedies that no Bronco fan should forget.


  1. Okay, first off SO SORRY this is another long article but hey, it's me... whatcha gonna do about it?? hmmm Tried to make up for it with plenty of videos, there's some good stuff in there.

    Aussie - couple of spots I need your help with. 1) right between the 50th logo and Bowlen's picture I'm sure you can see the "B" needs some help getting back with that paragraph. 2) Right next to the pic of Reeves & Elway, the paragraph that starts with "Before the 1992 season..." needs to be entered down once. 3)Then just to the left of Shanny's pic the paragraph that starts with "Despite their 9-1 start..." needs to be entered down once more too.

    Think that's all I need some help with. The spacing of the pictures got of whack more than I thought but they're fine, just makes it seem longer than it really is. Again, I'm sorry its so long but honestly, would anyone around here expect anything less from me? lol

  2. I would've had this article done a few weeks ago but my computer basically crashed on me and I lost the 2nd part I had already started on but this actually turned out better.

    Anyone else bored out of their minds during this bye week?? I can't stand this!! They deserve a break but I can't take it! This week is gonna seem longer than our offseason was. sheesh!

  3. Nice article, I think I fixed everything you wanted. Now to read it....

  4. Great read, I enjoyed that and the vids are great, thanks heaps for those, can't wait for the final part that will be interesting.

    oh by the way I rearranged your pics a bit just moved them to better positions. Nothing over the top just down a few lines to make it look better. Hope you don't mind.

  5. I have a retard computer that for some strange reason won't let me go to denverbroncos.com anymore...luckily I have this AWESOME site to go to for Bronco info. Great article.

  6. It looks great, even the rearranging of the pics. Only thing that looks the same is that paragraph next to Bowlen's picture. The one that starts with "But if I know the Broncos at all..." the "B" at the very beginning got separated from the rest of the paragraph. Other than that it looks good. Thanks!

    Glad you liked the article and videos. I love the one that shows a play of Elway when he was at Stanford... showed what real talent he has.

  7. That is so weird Doc... have you tried clicking on the DB link on this site to get there? No worries, I have a retard computer too... we should form a club or something! haha

  8. Hey Princess it looks fine on my computer, is it just your computer that does that? Can anyone one else confirm for me if they have that problem?

  9. Ok, that is just plain weird. Earlier today Doc and I left comments on here and they are nowhere to be found??

    Anyway, if by a miracle this shows up, the revisions you (Aussie) made with the pictures looks great. Thanks for the help.

  10. See I told you I have a retard computer too... I come back on here and those other 2 comments of mine weren't even here. Something funky is going on. Don't worry about it Aussie, I'm sure its just my computer being a bugger.

  11. Yeah your computer must be playing up. Including this comment there is a total of 11 comments and I can see them all. Also the B in the But is in the right spot, that is on my computer.

  12. The B is seperated on my computer.

  13. Interesting? It doesn't on mine. I will try some things to fix it let me know if it is any different.

    Also Brett Kern was dropped and the team signed Mitch Berger. And Spencer Larsen is back at practice.

  14. lol, much better. Is it just me or does this bye week feel like another offseason... boring!! I seriously don't know if I'm gonna make it through the week. I can't stand this.

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. This guy again spaming on our site, sorry for this but, DELETE!