Elway leads Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles
Posted: Tuesday February 02, 1999 05:41 PM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
MIAMI -- The Denver Broncos are not perfect. Sunday, in Super Bowl XXXIII, they weren't even close.
But in an NFL season to remember, especially for the Rocky Mountain rowdies who call themselves Denver fans, the Broncos certainly were close enough.
Denver punctuated a season of near-perfection Sunday with a convincing 34-19 Super Bowl win over the scrappy but sputtering Atlanta Falcons, taking a second straight NFL title and putting an end to -- maybe -- Denver quarterback John Elway's Hall of Fame career.
"I don't know if it's John's last game. I think there's a good chance it could be," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. "If you're going to go out, what a way to go out."
Elway was not flawless Sunday, but he was pretty darn good, completing 18 of his 29 passes for 336 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for another in the fourth quarter.
He did throw an interception. But that meant little to anyone, especially those who voted him the MVP of the game.
"The talk was about our running game the whole week, and they didn't mention anything about the passing game," Elway said. "I really went into this game knowing that we would have an opportunity to throw the football, and that if we were to win the game, it would probably be through the air ..."
A second Super Bowl ring and an MVP would be, as Shanahan said, a heck of a way to exit. But last year's stunning win in this game, over the favored Green Bay Packers, would have been a nice little sendoff, too, and Elway came back for more.
And no team, remember, has ever pulled off three of these in a row.
"I'm not even going to talk about that. I'm just going to enjoy this win," said Elway, who at 38 is the oldest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl. "I'm thrilled to death with this win, and I will cross that bridge later on."
The win Sunday makes the Broncos the seventh team in history to repeat and solidifies the Broncos' standing as one of the best teams ever. A team that was 0-4 in the Big One before last season's breakthrough now has won two straight Super Bowls and 39 regular season games over the past three seasons.
Does Elway want to step away from that?
That, of course, is the question on everybody's mind, the one that has been there almost all year. Certainly, it's the one that has heated up sentiments in Colorado since the Broncos started the season 13-0.
Denver slipped in two straight weeks after that torrid start, but they virtually rolled through the postseason, winning their three games by an average score, when you round it off, of 32-11.
That, football fans, is dynastic.
"We have a bunch of guys in there trying to talk about a three-peat," Shanahan said. "I don't know if they're getting to [Elway] or not."
The Falcons might have put an end to that in a game that got utterly out of hand in the fourth quarter if not for a boatload of missed opportunities, from a rare miss by kicker Morten Andersen in the second-quarter to three uncharacteristic interceptions by Pro Bowl quarterback Chris Chandler in the second half.
"I don't know if we got into his head," Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski said of Chandler. "But I felt like we rattled him a little bit. Whenever a guy throws that many interceptions, you have to think you rattled him a little bit."
The Falcons, in their first Super Bowl in the franchise's 33 seasons in the league, were strangely inept once they got into scoring territory. They had seven drives that ended inside the Denver 30 and came up with only one touchdown and two field goals out of them. They could not convert Denver's one turnover, Ronnie Bradford's interception, into any points.
The only time Atlanta managed to get into the end zone was after the game essentially was decided. Midway through the fourth quarter, rookie kick returner Tim Dwight, an electrifying fourth-round find, ran back a kickoff 94 yards. The touchdown made the score 31-13.
Then, with about 2 minutes left, Terance Mathis snagged a three-yard pass from Chandler for another touchdown.
And that was that.
"It was a bad day," said Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle. "Overall, we just didn't play well as a team."
The loss is a bitter one for Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves, who dropped three Super Bowls while coach of the Broncos and now joins former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy and ex-Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant as the only ones to lose four. This loss, of course, is especially hard to take: It came against his old team and against a coach whom he fired in 1991 for insubordination.
"They got the job done in the red zone [inside the opponent's 20] and we didn't," Reeves said. "That was the difference."
The Broncos could have made the game more of a walkover if not for a couple missed opportunities of their own. Jason Elam, who booted a record-tying 63-yard field goal during Denver's perfect start, missed his first two field goals of the second half.
But the Falcons could not make them pay.
As important as the missed opportunities were for the Falcons, big plays proved to be crucial for the Broncos.
Wide receiver Rod Smith came up especially big.
Smith pulled in a 41-yard pass from Elway to set up the Broncos' first touchdown. Then he got behind Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson -- playing despite an arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover cop Saturday night -- on an 80-yard touchdown right after Anderson missed his field goal in the second quarter. Smith finished with five catches for 152 yards.
Broncos defensive tackle Keith Traylor, too, came up big, deflecting a pass from Chandler that gave Darrien Gordon one of his two interceptions. That one led to Howard Griffith's second touchdown run, early in the fourth quarter, a score that essentially put the game out of reach.
In the waning moments of the game, Elway and Shanahan embraced on the Denver sideline. It was a heartfelt scene, one that was not entirely unfamiliar. In fact, it smacked a lot of last year's Super Bowl win, the first for head coach and pupil.
Will we see it again next season? Can the Broncos, with Elway at the helm, go for pure perfection in '99 -- or at least a three-peat?
John? What do you say?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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