It's been 10 years since John Elway and the 1997 Denver Broncos won 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.
First, we look back to 8/31/97, Week 1 of the 1997 season when the Kansas City Chiefs travelled to Mile High Stadium to face the Broncos. Much like the hometeam, the Chiefs had huge expectations of ending a multiple-decade Super Bowl drought, and tensions were high heading into Week 1. Below is the story of the game, a convincing 19-3 Bronco win, which saw the return of John Elway after he had missed most of the pre-season with an arm injury. It was the beginning of an unforgettable season, for Elway, the Broncos, and Broncos fans everywhere!
Buoyed by a strong defensive performance - including a key goal-line stand in the third quarter - and four Jason Elam field goals, the Denver Broncos rolled to a 19-3 season-opening victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday before 75,600 fans at Mile High Stadium.
While it wasn't the quality outing one would expect from a Super Bowl contender, especially on offense, the Broncos are atop the AFC West after the four other teams in the division lost Sunday. That includes Denver's next opponent, Seattle, which was drubbed 41-3 by the New York Jets.
But talk about first place was the last thing Broncos running back Terrell Davis wanted to hear after Sunday's game.
``Come on now. This is a long season,'' said Davis, who looked in mid-season form with 101 yards rushing and one touchdown on 26 carries. ``We have a lot of games left. But it was encouraging to come away with a win today. We started off on the right foot.''
Actually, it was inches that helped decide this game. With Denver holding a 9-0 lead midway through the third quarter, the Chiefs' offense finally got into gear. Three rushes for 59 yards by Kansas City's Greg Hill brought the Chiefs to Denver's 4-yard line.
On first-and-goal, it appeared Chiefs running back Marcus Allen had plunged for a touchdown. But Allen bobbled the ball inches from the goal line and was ruled down on Denver's 1.
That was as close as Kansas City would get to the end zone the rest of the game. On the next play, a false start penalty by Chiefs left tackle Jeff Criswell moved Kansas City to the Denver 6.
The Chiefs could only gain 3 yards on their next two plays and settled for a 20-yard Pete Stoyanovich field goal with 1:24 remaining in the quarter.
``That played a big part in the game right there,'' said Broncos strong safety Tyrone Braxton, who intercepted an Elvis Grbac pass late in the fourth quarter. ``If they could have gotten seven points out of that situation, there's no telling what the outcome of the game could have been. It was definitely a great stand for us, and it helps our confidence knowing if a team does drive and get into our red zone, we can make a play and get off the field.''
Denver's defensive stand also breathed life into an offense that could produce only three Elam field goals on its first four trips inside the red zone. After Vaughn Hebron returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to the Chiefs 49, Denver needed only six plays for its first touchdown - a 10-yard Davis run that gave the Broncos a commanding 16-3 lead with 12:55 left.
``You kind of get frustrated going down there and coming away with three field goals,'' Davis said. ``You like to go down, at least in the red zone, and come away with touchdowns. We were getting frustrated, no doubt about it. To go down and put the ball in the end zone was a relief. We didn't want to leave the game without having seven points.
``When they kicked that field goal, I think we got a little bit inspired. The offense said: `Look, they're getting too close. We've got to put the ball in the end zone. We just can't keep kicking field goals.'''
The Broncos did squander an excellent chance for a touchdown late in the first half. Quarterback John Elway connected with wide receiver Rod Smith on a 78-yard pass play - the third-longest non-scoring reception in team history - to give Denver first-and-goal on the Chiefs 8 with 43 seconds left.
But on that play, Elway was pounded by Chiefs free safety Jerome Woods and sent sprawling in pain. With Elway favoring his throwing arm - the one with the ruptured right biceps tendon - the Broncos called two straight running plays that netted 1 yard. Elway then spiked the ball on third down after miscommunicating with Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, which led to a 25-yard Elam field goal that gave Denver a 9-0 lead.
``John didn't get (the play), which was my fault,'' said Shanahan, who is 3-0 in season-openers since becoming Denver's coach in 1995. ``John just threw into the ground and possibly cost us a touchdown, but they were playing more of a prevent defense and he would have thrown it away anyhow.''
Elway's passing numbers (17 of 28, 246 yards) weren't what will get him into the Hall of Fame, but he isn't to blame for the offense's erratic performance. Denver committed eight penalties for 69 yards, some at critical times.
On the opening series of the third quarter, the Broncos reached the Chiefs 20 only to have guard Mark Schlereth commit a 15-yard facemask penalty. Tight end Shannon Sharpe then was penalized 10 yards on the next play for an illegal block above the waist. The Broncos couldn't muster a first down and were forced to punt.
``We made a lot of mistakes, and they kept us out of the end zone,'' Broncos right guard Brian Habib said. ``The bottom line is that we've got to clean up what we're doing.''
Conversely, Denver's defense will try to maintain its level of performance against the Seahawks. The Chiefs totaled eight plays in the second quarter for a net gain of 8 yards and reached Broncos territory only once in the first half. Grbac, making his first start for Kansas City, was sacked three times and limited to 115 yards on 14-of-25 passing.
``We played well, but there were still some big plays we gave up,'' Broncos free safety Steve Atwater said. ``We want to keep those to a minimum, and I'm sure we're going to work on it this week. We made some plays, but everything wasn't as clean as we'd like it to be.
``We've still got a long way to go, but I think it was a great start for us.''