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Super Bowl History: Denver Broncos vs. New York Giants - Super Bowl XXI

The 1986 Denver Broncos would take the first step towards a string of letdowns in the sports biggest game. It wasn't easy for the fans either.
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By the 1986 season, John Elway was rapidly becoming superstar in the NFL. He hadn't yet become famous for the miracles he often performed in the 4th quarter, but the beginnings of that legend were forged during this season.

On the game's second biggest stage, against a hostile crowd and a stout defense, Elway would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

At the time, I was a seven year old living in Pagosa Springs, Colorado who was just beginning to become interested in sports and specifically, the Denver Broncos. My memory is hazy, but I do recall vividly a Monday Night Football game with the 6-0 Broncos playing in the Meadowlands against the 5-1 New York Jets. It sucked, because the Jets dominated the game 22-10 en route to a nine game winning streak for them, but I still remember how excited I was leading up to that game.

Looking back, the Denver Broncos that year had a very similar regular season wins-wise as the Kansas City Chiefs did this year. They streaked to an 8-1 record then promptly lost four of their last seven to finish with an 11-5 record. However, they wouldn't finish in the playoffs like this years Chiefs did.

Week Date Opponent Result Game site Record Attendance
1 7-Sep Los Angeles Raiders W 38–36 Mile High Stadium 1–0 75,695
2 15-Sep at Pittsburgh Steelers W 21–10 Three Rivers Stadium 2–0 57,305
3 21-Sep at Philadelphia Eagles W 33–7 Veterans Stadium 3–0 63,839
4 28-Sep New England Patriots W 27–20 Mile High Stadium 4–0 75,804
5 5-Oct Dallas Cowboys W 29–14 Mile High Stadium 5–0 76,082
6 12-Oct at San Diego Chargers W 31–14 Jack Murphy Stadium 6–0 55,662
7 20-Oct at New York Jets L 10–22 The Meadowlands 6–1 73,759
8 26-Oct Seattle Seahawks W 20–13 Mile High Stadium 7–1 76,089
9 2-Nov at Los Angeles Raiders W 21–10 Los Angeles Coliseum 8–1 90,153
10 9-Nov San Diego Chargers L 3–9 Mile High Stadium 8–2 75,012
11 16-Nov Kansas City Chiefs W 38–17 Mile High Stadium 9–2 75,745
12 23-Nov at New York Giants L 16–19 Giants Stadium 9–3 75,116
13 30-Nov Cincinnati Bengals W 34–28 Mile High Stadium 10–3 58,705
14 7-Dec at Kansas City Chiefs L 10–37 Arrowhead Stadium 10–4 47,019
15 13-Dec Washington Redskins W 31–30 Mile High Stadium 11–4 75,905
16 20-Dec at Seattle Seahawks L 16–41 Kingdome 11–5 63,697

The Broncos season almost ended in the first round as Elway struggled the entire game, completing just 13 of 32 passes and two interceptions, but he threw a touchdown and also ran for another. However, with the score 17-13 late in the third quarter, Elway connected with Vance Johnson for a 48 yard touchdown pass. They would control the game defensively from then on to advance to the AFC Championship game at the Cleveland Browns.

It was this game where John Elway's legend truly began to become NFL lore. In this instant classic, John Elway, down 20-13 with five minutes left in the game began an offensive possession at the two yard line. What followed would go down in NFL history as "The Drive". On the game's second biggest stage, against a hostile crowd and a stout defense, Elway would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If you are too young to remember, I've embedded a video below for your viewing pleasure.

Round Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance
Divisional Playoffs 4-Jan New England Patriots W 22–17 Mile High Stadium 76,105
AFC Championship 11-Jan at Cleveland Browns W 23–20 (OT) Cleveland Stadium 79,915
Super Bowl XXI 25-Jan N New York Giants L 20–39 Rose Bowl 101,063

After dropping the Cleveland Browns 23-20 in the overtime, the Denver Broncos advanced to Super Bowl XXI to face the New York Giants. I remember the aftermath of that championship win well. It was January 11, 1987 and that was the day I became a true Broncomaniac. It was definitely impactful on my eight year old self!

The Super Bowl for the Broncos started out well enough as they headed into halftime with a 10-9 lead and feeling good about how the game was going. However, the Giants went into halftime pissed off and angry about how the game had gone. What happened was an offensive and defensive explosion by the Giants and before the Broncos knew what hit them they were down 39-13. The one interesting stat from that game was the final touchdown scored was a John Elway bomb to Vance Johnson that went down in history as the 100th touchdown ever scored in the Super Bowl. Other than that, though, it was a tough day for the Broncos and their loyal fans.