People love comparisons.
That’s especially true for sports fans. Even more so for fans of the Denver Broncos, a franchise that has seen tremendous success since 1977. With that success comes some unbelievable moments in time.
The Drive II.
The Route (Super Bowl XXXIII win).
The Overtime Tebow Miracle.
Some have not always been glorious: The five Super Bowl whoppings. The tough loss in 1992 in the AFC Championship Game to the Buffalo Bills. The unreal duel on Monday Night Football with the Kansas City Chiefs. The nauseous sight of Terrible Towels at Mile High in 2006. Josh McDaniels. Taking a knee against the Baltimore Ravens. Quitting against the Indianapolis Colts.
Since Pat Bowlen bought the franchise in 1983, the good have far outweighed the bad.
So when a current moment happens, we try to find that connection to the past.
Some are reaches. Some make sense. But you know why we at least try.
As it turns out, there’s a connection between the current Broncos and a team from the past. That connection is to the 1997 Super Bowl-winning team.
Let’s take a step back in time …
The Broncos were on the heels of a crushing playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Doubts that John Elway and the franchise would ever win a Super Bowl were as strong as ever. Some were even resigned to losing a Super Bowl, as long as it was a competitive game.
As the season wore on, the Broncos started to develop an identity.
At the time, most didn’t see it. But this Denver team was different. After late-season losses to the Kansas City
Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos were forced to make their Super Bowl run on the road. Pittsburgh was the No. 1 seed, Kansas City No. 2.
Denver opened the playoffs at home against the Jaguars. Needless to say, there was much motivation for this game. The Broncos flogged Jacksonville 42-17.
That set up a rematch with the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. No surprise, Denver was an underdog; especially after losing there in mid-November 24-22. In a game that wasn’t decided until Darrien Gordon knocked down an Elvis Grbac fourth-and-two pass in the end zone, the Broncos won 14-10.
That was the first instance when you knew this Denver team was different. That something was special about this bunch.
Still, the road to Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego didn’t get any easier. To get there they had to beat a team that, a few weeks prior, beat them 35-24. And it was on the road.
With 2:00 left, and facing third down and 5 on their own 15-yard line on their ensuing drive after the Steelers cut the lead to 24-21, Elway completed an 18-yard pass to Shannon Sharpe to get the first down and allow Denver to run out the clock. The Broncos left Pittsburgh with the 24-21 win.
Denver was headed back to the Super Bowl. It was at this point there was no way the Broncos would lose their fifth Super Bowl. Not with the chance to give Elway his first Lombardi Trophy. Not with all of the obstacles and hurdles they cleared to get to San Diego. It did not matter that Brett Favre and the Green Packers were favored by 13 points. There was no way the Broncos would lose.
And then … they won.
“You can stand up and salute, Denver. You got the world champions,” was Dave Logan’s iconic call on the radio. That identity mentioned earlier? A belief that nothing or no one would keep them from their goal of a Super Bowl win. As long as the Broncos did their job, they would not be beat.
Sound familiar? The teams are completely different. The game has changed from 18 years ago. But one aspect is the same. Like the Denver team that defeated the Packers, nothing and no one will keep this edition from their goal of a Super Bowl run.
It doesn’t matter how often people count the Broncos out. It makes no difference how often they’re the underdog, told they “can’t” or it’s impossible. As we inch closer to Super Bowl 50, keep the comparison to the ‘97 team in mind. Like that team, this Broncos team always finds a way.
Ian St. Clair is a Broncos contributor for Denver7 and feature writer/editor for Mile High Report. Follow him on Twitter: @IanStClair