1986 was the season a third year quarterback went to the Super Bowl with a mediocre head coach, a running game that was ranked 20th in the league (out of 28 teams) and a defense that was ranked 15th overall (though 5th against the run) and he and his team played MUCH more competitively against the eventual Champions than a 49ers team chock full of future Hall of Famers, and scored more points than a Redskins team that had just beaten the 14-2 Bears at Soldier Field and was a year away from winning the Super Bowl themselves. (The Redskins were shut out by the Giants)
When has anything like that EVER happened before or since?!?! (It's not entirely a rhetorical question, it's possible I missed something)
This FanPost will briefly explore:
1. How remarkable - and worth celebrating - it is that the '86 Broncos went to the Super Bowl and played as competitively as that did.
2. The very different tasks put before Elway and Simms and how both performed admirably in that game.
There have been some young guys who've taken teams to the Super Bowl (and even sometimes won) in this new millennium, but let's look at the teams on which they played:
1. Russell Wilson: #4 rushing team in the league and obviously the #1 defense
2. Colin Kaepernick: #4 rushing team, #2 defense
3. Tom Brady: (this one is a lot closer but not really close) #13 rushing team, #6 defense, plus a coach that'll be enshrined alongside Brady in Ohio one day.
Of the 3, Brady seems to have had the toughest task so kudos to Tom Brady! Really. But the 2001 Patriots didn't face as gargantuan a task.
The Giants were heavily favored to win for a lot of reasons: the #1 defense in the league, a solid rushing game (#6 in the league), and NFL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Lawrence Taylor
Bill Parcells was also named Coach of the Year and he & Taylor were 2 of 3 future Hall of Famers. (That Broncos team, so far, only has Elway) The Giants were 14-2 in regular season, and won their first 2 playoff games by a combined score of 66-3.
I'll skip to why I think the "Elway played badly" narrative is wrong.
Correct me if I'm wrong about any of the following:
Phil Simms was tasked with throwing accurately and running the offense, usually from behind a pretty solid offensive line and with the benefit of an incredible defense and an effective running game. He did his part as a member of one of the all time great teams- but he didn't have to carry it.
Elway was in a situation where he had no running game (he was not only the top rusher with 27 yards, but he had more rushing yards than all the others combined) and, if memory serves, in '86 the Broncos didn't have the best offensive line.
(I re-watched The Drive to try and check my memory and was only struck by how quickly Elway released the ball)
So consider for a moment how much harder it is to play quarterback when you're facing an incredible defense with terrific pass rushers, your offensive line isn't ideal, your team has no running game and they know it.
There were also big mistakes during the competitive first half that Elway had no control over. (Karlis missed 2 easy FGs and the refs ruled a pivotal 25 yard pass incomplete that was later shown to have been definitely caught)
But even without context, Elway's stats for this game were respectable. He completed 59.5% of his passes for 304 yards, a 8.2 YPA, 1 TD (plus the one he ran in) and 1 interception. Those are better stats than he put up for the first SB he won. And better than several of the other Super Bowl winners. FAR better than Montana 2 games before.
It was a valiant and an admirable effort.