Elway became the new face of the franchise carrying on that special legacy once held by Floyd Little.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Broncos – 31, Packers – 24. Game over. I will NEVER forget that game.
I’ll never forget that game either. Incredible ending to an incredible career for Elway.
He was also the MVP of that game and rightfully so. He truly went out on top.
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
Super Bowl XXXIII MVP
9 Pro Bowl appearances
47 fourth-quarter comeback drives
1987 NFL MVP
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.
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.