We've all heard the saying - Nothing beats the first time. For the Denver Broncos, people remember the 1977 Orange Crush team, as much for the suffocating defense as it was for the team's first AFC Championship and Super Bowl Appearance. The Broncos lost that game, to the Dallas Cowboys, but for many the feeling was one of being happy to be there, happy to have gone for the ride.
John Elway arrived in 1983, and three more Super Bowl appearances soon followed. All ended in losses, and none as special as that first trip.
The Broncos and their fans needed another first time - they needed to win the Super Bowl. That finally happened on January 25, 1998 - 12 years ago today - when the Broncos beat Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers 31-24. It was the first World Championship for the Broncos, the first time we heard the immortal words, "This One's For John".
The play of the game, and in many ways the play that epitomizes the greatness of Elway, is the 'Helicoptor Play'. The dive by Elway for a first down.
Sports Illustrated, in their post-game recap, talked about the play, and what it meant -
For all the importance of coach Mike Shanahan's dazzling game plan, of running back Terrell Davis's MVP performance and of the game-ending stand by Denver's oft-slighted defense, it was Elway, with his self-described "three-inch vertical leap," who elevated himself into immortality and his franchise into the realm of champions with the Broncos' 31-24 upset of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The play said everything about the defiant Broncos and their unlikely march to the title: With the game tied at 17 and Denver facing third-and-six at the Green Bay 12, Elway dropped back to pass, found no open receivers and took off down the middle of the field. He darted right and was met near the first-down marker by Packers strong safety LeRoy Butler, who ducked his head and prepared to unload on the quarterback. Elway took to the air, and Butler's hit spun him around so that he came down feet-forward as he was absorbing another shot from defensive back Mike Prior.
When Elway hit the ground at the four, an adrenaline rush surged through the Broncos. Denver scored two plays later, and though the Packers came back to tie the score again, Green Bay was a depleted team fighting a losing battle against an opponent that had been recharged. When the Broncos launched their game-winning drive from the Packers' 49 with 3:27 remaining, it was like watching a battle of the bands between Pearl Jam and the Kingston Trio. "When Elway, instead of running out of bounds, turned it up and got spun around like a helicopter, it energized us beyond belief," Denver defensive lineman Mike Lodish said after the game. Added Shannon Sharpe, the Broncos' All-Pro tight end, "When I saw him do that and then get up pumping his fist, I said, 'It's on.' That's when I was sure we were going to win."
As we look towards the future, take a moment and remember the past. For those that became Broncos fans during those magical years in the late 90s, who thought winning Super Bowls was easy, hopefully this past decade has brought some clarity - ask those who have been fans since 1960 - who lived with 15 years of mostly bad football.
None of them will forget that Fall of '77, the same way none of you won't forget that day, 12 years ago, when the Denver Broncos, for the first time, were World Champions.
Use the comments to talk about your memories of Super Bowl XXXII.