It's been 10 years since John Elway and the 1997 Denver Broncos win that elusive Super Bowl Title. In celebration of that achievement, we'll go week by week through the 1997 season and remember the wins and losses, the highs and lows, the good and the bad of a Super Bowl Championship season.
Today, we look back to 9/14/97, Week 3 of the 1997 season when the St. Louis Rams travelled to Mile High Stadium to face to 2-0 Broncos. With names like Lawrence Phillips, yea, that Lawrence Phillips, and QB Tony Banks, the Rams came into Mile High a double-digit underdog. The game played alot closer than that for 3 quarters before the Broncos took command late. Below is the story from that game, a 35-14 Broncos victory.
After all, Elway was accurate when it mattered. The Broncos quarterback fired four touchdown passes Sunday to carry Denver (3-0) in a game that remained surprisingly competitive until the fourth quarter.
``I really don't feel we were sharp the whole day,'' said Elway, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 247 yards. ``But we made some big plays. Big plays can make up for a lot of mistakes.''
Elway is referring to Denver's two longest scores of the season - a 72-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Rod Smith and a 94-yard punt return by Darrien Gordon that gave Denver a 21-7 advantage early in the third quarter. With St. Louis quarterback Tony Banks victimized for much of the afternoon - throwing two interceptions and getting sacked five times - that lead probably would have been enough to topple the Rams (1-2).
Elway, though, helped get the blowout rolling after almost getting blown out of the game.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Elway fumbled the snap from center Tom Nalen and was pounded by Rams linebacker Robert Jones in the scramble for the ball. Elway was slow to get up and left the field holding his right arm, prompting backup quarterback Jeff Lewis to warm up.
But before 74,338 fans had a chance to go into cardiac arrest, Elway returned to the field after a 12-yard punt by St. Louis rookie Will Brice gave Denver possession on the Rams' 32-yard line. Three plays later, Elway lofted what was arguably his prettiest pass of the season to Smith, who made an over-the-shoulder catch for a 38-yard touchdown that extended Denver's lead to 28-7.
``I was concerned (about Elway),'' said Broncos tailback Terrell Davis, who rushed for more than 100 yards for the third consecutive game. ``He walked to the sideline grabbing his elbow and said, `My shoulder.' I thought he wasn't going to come back in . . . He never ceases to amaze me.''
The Elway onslaught continued less than a minute later following an interception by Denver cornerback Ray Crockett on the Rams' 23. Elway only needed one pass - a perfect throw to a well-covered Ed McCaffrey - to get Denver on the scoreboard again.
The play also gave Elway his 257th career touchdown pass, helping him vault three other legendary quarterbacks - Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen and Warren Moon - into sixth place on the NFL's all-time list.
Gordon achieved a milestone with the longest punt return in Broncos history. After a 59-yard Brice punt sent Gordon back to the Denver 6, he quickly motored down the right sideline as one Rams player (Nate Dingle) was blocked out of the play and another (ex-Broncos player Jeff Robinson) missed a tackle. Gordon faced virtually no other resistance en route to the first Denver punt return for a touchdown in almost 10 years.
``If you were watching the game, you knew we were dragging the whole game,'' Davis said. ``That was not Broncos football out there. We recognized it. For him to run that punt back, I think it gave us the energy we desperately needed.''
To that point, Denver was not playing like a team that entered as a 14-point favorite. The Broncos committed nine of their 10 penalties in the first half and had a 43-yard Jason Elam field-goal attempt blocked in the second quarter.
Elway had fired two touchdown passes - the 72-yarder to Smith and a 24-yarder to backup tight end Dwayne Carswell - but he also threw an interception that St. Louis should have capitalized on. With 1:05 left before halftime, Rams cornerback Ryan McNeil cut in front of wide receiver Willie Green at the Broncos' 38 to record the first interception of Elway this season. A face-mask penalty on Smith gave St. Louis possession at the Denver 23.
Banks, though, botched the opportunity with a poor throw toward the end zone. The pass was so overthrown that Denver's Tim McKyer looked more like Rockies center fielder Ellis Burks than an NFL cornerback as he patiently waited to make a leaping interception, which allowed the Broncos to run out the clock in the half.
After the game, Banks tried to shoulder the blame for the loss. But he shouldn't feel so bad. The Broncos haven't allowed more than 14 points in a game this season, let alone a 300-yard passer or 100-yard rusher or receiver. Plus, the Rams were playing without Pro Bowl wide receiver Isaac Bruce - who aggravated a hamstring injury in the first quarter - and two starters on the offensive line (center Mike Gruttadauria and right guard Zach Wiegert).
Denver's only major defensive error came with 33 seconds left in the first quarter. Rams tailback Lawrence Phillips, who didn't start because of a turf toe injury, broke two tackles on his way to a 23-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 7-7. Phillips, though, was limited to 37 yards on his remaining 12 carries.
``We made a lot of mistakes early and had a lot of penalties,'' said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, whose team committed nine of its 10 penalties in the first half. ``It was not the disciplined type of football we'd like to play. When we had to, we made some plays and that's a credit to our football team. But for us to do the things we want to do down the stretch, I was not very proud of the way we played until the end.
``Sometimes when you do win by the score we won by, people lose perspective on how we played. We played well enough to win, which is always a positive, but we didn't play as well as we would have liked.
``We're working toward that perfect game and that perfect half. We've got bits and pieces. Hopefully in time, we can get there.''