The 1997 season was all about exorcising the Denver Broncos’ demons.
For John Elway.
For the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
For longtime fans of the franchise.
But not without some moments that had us all saying, “Here we go again.”
Heck, that happened in the lead-up to Super Bowl XXXII and while the game was being played.
But there was something about this season and team that was different. And it all culminated with one of the most magical games and days for so many in Broncos Country.
Broncos 1997 season
We had our first indication this season was different when Denver unveiled new uniforms.
Gone were the days of the classic D snot rocket sky blue helmets and orange jerseys. In were the navy blues and the new horse logo. Not that the uniforms have anything to do with the success on the field or previous Super Bowl losses because they don’t.
But this was a clean slate for the franchise and this particular team.
The 1997 team was on a mission.
And Denver started the season that way, going 6-0 heading into the Week 7 bye.
Of the four losses on the season, the three to the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers were the most concerning. Especially the first two, since it was those defeats that forced the Broncos to be a Wild Card team.
On the season, Denver went 12-4.
But getting to the playoffs wasn’t the issue. Getting to the Super Bowl and finally winning was.
1997 playoff run
Not only was the 1997 season about exorcising demons, but it was also about revenge.
The first crack was against the Jaguars at home in the wild card round.
There was no shot of an upset on this day, as the Broncos curb-stomped Jacksonville 42-17, the way they should have the season before.
Next up was the biggest challenge on this mission: The Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Denver has never fared well in games played in December (or later) in Kansas City.
But there was something about this team.
After losing to the Chiefs in the regular season 24-22, the Broncos got the revenge when it mattered most and pulled the upset 14-10.
Elway and Denver were now headed to the AFC Championship Game on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet another team that beat the Broncos in the regular season, 35-24.
Again, this team was different.
A huge drive with under 3 minutes remaining sealed the win for Denver and ended a late comeback attempt by the Steelers, who had just scored on the previous drive to cut the lead to 24-21.
The first key play was a third-and-6 pass from Elway to Shannon Sharpe for 18 yards. Followed by a 10-yard completion to Ed McCaffrey and a 19-yard run by Terrell Davis.
The Broncos were headed back to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXII recap
Denver entered the Super Bowl as massive underdogs to the defending champion Green Bay Packers.
And most thought Brett Favre and the Packers would easily win their second-straight title.
The thought being that Elway collapses in Super Bowls, and the Broncos just couldn’t compete with the likes of Green Bay.
As for Broncos Country, we just wanted a close game.
The last time Elway and Denver got to a Super Bowl, they were thoroughly embarrassed by the San Francisco 49ers.
So win Super Bowl XXXII? We just wanted a close game in the fourth quarter.
Then the game started, and Farve proceeded to lead an opening drive touchdown.
To say it was deflating is a massive understatement.
“Oh, FFS, here we go again.”
But this team was different.
The Broncos responded with a touchdown drive of their own, capped by a 1-yard run by Terrell Davis.
Denver’s defense then forced a turnover, a Tyrone Braxton interception that the Broncos turned into another touchdown to give them the 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
On the very next drive, Neil Smith recovers a Favre fumble leading to a Jason Elam 51-yard field goal. But it was the hit from Steve Atwater that made the play, and it was the first of many that Atwater would make. If not for Davis, Atwater would have been the MVP for this game. The way Atwater played, you could tell how badly he wanted this win.
“OK. OK. Game on.”
The Packers would score late in the second quarter to make it 17-14.
And then after a Davis fumble to start the third quarter, Green Bay added a field goal to tie the game.
The third quarter would end with the Broncos taking the lead on Davis’ second touchdown. But not before one of the most iconic plays in NFL and sports history, an Elway 8-yard rush on third-and-6. A play now known as “The Helicopter.”
#throwbacksportvideos The greatest 8 yard run in Super Bowl History. Super Bowl XXXII John Elway sacrificed his body to keep a major key drive alive that won them the Super Bowl. #johnelway #denverbroncos #broncos #nflhighlights #elway #broncosnation♬ Epic Music(804503) - Draganov89
At least that’s what we thought until Elway threw an interception that led to the Packers tying the game.
But the close game that Broncos Country wanted in the fourth quarter was actually happening. That’s when my mom and I started to believe they could actually win this thing.
The game was tied 24-24, and the teams would trade punts on the next four possessions. What’s crucial to remember about this is Denver won the field position at this point. And after a Green Bay punt with under 4 minutes remaining in the game, the Broncos started in Packers’ territory.
Then comes one of the most important drives in franchise history, with one of the most crucial plays in franchise history. And it was capped yet again by the third Davis touchdown.
“Oh my god, the Broncos are actually winning.”
With under 2 minutes remaining, the first Super Bowl victory was so, so close.
“Come on, defense. Come on, defense.”
After four straight completions to Dorsey Levens that moved Green Bay into Broncos territory, Denver’s defense held. Thanks in large part to Atwater knocking anyone and everyone out in his path, including teammates.
“Denver’s gonna win it,” Broncos radio play-by-play guy Dave Logan said. “Oh, baby, Denver’s going to win this thing. Are you kidding me? Bronco players are all over the field. You can stand up and salute in Denver, you got the world champions that live in your town.”
Pat Bowlen would then utter the words that would come to describe that game: “This one’s for John.”
What I will always remember about Super Bowl XXXII is the moment that last Farve pass fell incomplete; I looked to my left to see my mom sitting there in disbelief.
She grew up watching the Broncos with her father, which brought no matter of joy. Denver was terrible when she was young. Unfortunately, my grandfather never watched the team he loved play in a Super Bowl before his death.
This was a moment my mom and so many fans waited so long to experience.
On her face was a smile with tears that said, “I wish you were here, Dad.”
The Broncos did it.
Denver exorcised its demons and, in the process, created a day filled with so many memories and so many emotions.
The Broncos finally won the Super Bowl.