Perhaps the passage of time has lessened the blow of the Denver Broncos loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. My memory of the game, as a 9 year old kid, involves going to the movies, and finding out the score when we went out to eat.
Going into that Super Bowl my dad and uncle, longtime Broncos fans and sufferers of too many losses in the big game, made the decision to avoid the game as much as they could. Even going to the movies couldn’t stop the onslaught of disappointment that 55-10 still elicits in Broncos Country.
Truthfully, the Broncos capped off the 1980s as one of the most successful teams of the decade. They won their third conference championship, and were headed to their third Super Bowl in four seasons. That’s quite an accomplishment, even if it is shrouded in disappointment.
Broncos 1989 Season
Denver started the season on a high note. After Dan Reeves hired Wade Phillips to be his new defensive coordinator, several changes were made on defense. In his first start for the Broncos after playing his first 2 seasons from the bench, Tyrone Braxton intercepted Steve DeBerg on the Chiefs first offensive play of the season. The pick-6 gave the Broncos a 10-0 lead, and Denver went on to win 34-20.
It was a great way to start. Denver won their first 3 games of the season. After losing in Week 4 on the road to Cleveland, they beat the Chargers and Colts at home. Then they went to, then AFC West rival, Seattle and beat the Seahawks in overtime. After dropping a home game to the Eagles, Denver went on another winning streak of 4 games, culminating in a 41-14 trouncing of the Seahawks at home. The streak ended with a 13-16 loss to the Raiders in Los Angeles.
The Broncos stumbled into the playoffs, losing 3 of their last 4, but they won the AFC West, and were the top seed in the Conference.
After a first round bye, Denver took on the Pittsburg Steelers. The Steelers took the lead early. They had a 17-10 lead at halftime. Denver tied the game on a 37 yard TD pass to Vance Johnson from John Elway after Tyrone Braxton recovered a fumble on the Steelers 37 yard line. Pittsburg scored 2 more field goals to make it 23-17. The Mile High Magic kicked in and Elway led a 71 yard drive that culminated in a Mel Bratton 1-yard TD run. David Treadwell kicked the extra point and with 2:27 left in the game, the defense took over and stopped Bubby Brister’s push to get the Steelers downfield. He fumbled the snap on 3rd down and Randy Robins recovered for Denver. It was the closest game for the Broncos in their run to the Super Bowl.
Denver went on to play the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship game. The Broncos took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. The 3rd quarter saw the Browns score a TD to start the half, only to have Denver respond with a TD of their own. The quarter saw 3 more TDs, two for Cleveland and one for Denver. While the quarter was exciting, there was no need for a comeback like The Drive, or a big stop on the door step of the end zone like The Fumble. The Broncos were headed for a matchup in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers.
As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a score in the history of the Broncos that causes more frustration (well, maybe at least one). Let’s be clear. There was a reason I was spared by my father and taken to the movies rather than watching the game. The Denver Broncos were the AFC team of the decade in the 1980s. They were incredibly successful until they went to the Super Bowl, and at the end of the 1989 season the best team of the decade (the 49ers) proved why they were so great.
The Broncos went into Super Bowl XXIV with the best defense in the NFL. They had given up the fewest points all season. They were not just worthy of a Super Bowl shot, they were the best the AFC had to offer.
But it wasn’t enough. 34 years later I think I have come to an understanding with this game. I’m pretty sure Joe Montana just threw another TD pass to Jerry Rice. The 49ers scored in every quarter, 13 points in the first, then 14, 14, 14. Ouch.
Elway was sacked 6 times and threw 2 interceptions. He also lost a fumble. It was a complete dismantling of a team that was completely outmatched. The NFC was a powerhouse. The Broncos had also lost regular season games to 2 other NFC playoff teams.
The disappointment was real. And while most younger fans may not have the connection to this game, we are all subject to the discussion about whether or not any team could break the 49ers record and win by a wider margin or score more points during every Super Bowl played since.
The 1989 49ers are one of the greatest teams in the history of the NFL. The Broncos may seem like the AFC sacrifice, sent to the Super Bowl to allow Joe Montana et al. to crown their greatness. Still, this was a great run for the Broncos, too, and while it may not be a pretty ending, it was a fun ride (until the ride burst into flames and exploded all over the Super Dome).