January 25, 2010

1998: Terrell Davis Runs Broncos Past Packers in Super Bowl XXXII

In four appearances in the Super Bowl prior to the 1997 season, the Denver Broncos had experienced only disappointment. In three of them, John Elway had been the quarterback and had taken criticism for coming up short in the biggest game. He was 37 years old and in his 15th season in ’97, and time was running short. Head Coach Mike Shanahan’s team had gone 13-3 in 1996, only to lose in the Divisional round of the playoffs, but came back with a 12-4 record that was good enough for second place in the AFC West and a wild card spot. Elway had a typically outstanding year, throwing for 3635 yards and a career-high 27 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. WR Rod Smith (70 receptions, 1180 yards) and TE Shannon Sharpe (72 catches, 1107 yards) provided reliable targets. Third-year RB Terrell Davis (pictured), with 1750 rushing yards and a league-leading 15 TDs on the ground, supplied a key ingredient to the offense.

Denver easily got past Jacksonville in the Wild Card playoff and then defeated Kansas City in the next round (the team they had finished behind in the division) and Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship.

The NFC’s representative in Super Bowl XXXII was the Green Bay Packers, who were the defending champions. Under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, they had matched their 13-3 record of ’96 in winning the NFC Central. They featured QB Brett Favre (pictured below), who was the Associated Press NFL MVP for the third consecutive year (tied, this time, with Detroit RB Barry Sanders). Favre had led the NFL with 35 TD passes, 12 of them to WR Antonio Freeman (81 receptions, 1243 yards) and 7 more to WR Robert Brooks (60 catches, 1010 yards). Pro Bowl RB Dorsey Levens ran for 1435 yards and caught 53 passes as well. The solid defense featured DE Reggie White and SS LeRoy Butler.

The Packers defeated the Buccaneers in the Divisional round and San Francisco to repeat as conference champions. They were 12-point favorites entering Super Bowl XXXII, and the NFC had won the previous 13 straight NFL championships.

There were 68,912 fans on hand at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium for the game on January 25, 1998. Favre wasted no time, driving the Packers to the first score of the game in a four-minute opening possession that included three passes for 48 yards to Freeman, including a 22-yard TD pass. Denver responded in kind, featuring Davis carrying the ball five times for 42 yards; he capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Elway completed no passes on the possession, but had a 10-yard scramble to set up first-and-goal. The score stood at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The Broncos took advantage of Green Bay turnovers to score 10 more points in the second quarter. First, DE Neil Smith recovered a Favre fumble that set up a 51-yard field goal by Jason Elam. Then SS Tyrone Braxton intercepted a pass that resulted in Denver’s offense going 45 yards in eight plays, ending with a two-yard run by Elway.

Down 17-7, the Packers fought back with a long drive of 17 plays that used up over seven minutes and ended in a Favre touchdown pass to TE Mark Chmura with twelve seconds left in the half.

Denver had missed the running of Terrell Davis for much of the second quarter, due to his taking a kick in the head, after rushing for 62 yards on 9 carries. He fumbled on the first play of the second half, with CB Tyrone Williams recovering for Green Bay. Ryan Longwell followed up with a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17.

The Broncos came back as Elway and Davis, making up for the fumble and having shaken off the effects of the injury, keyed a 13-play, 92-yard scoring drive. Eight of the plays were runs by Davis, including the one-yard touchdown that put Denver back in the lead at 24-17. Elway completed a 36-yard pass to WR Ed McCaffrey and, in a third-and-six situation, ran for eight yards that included a dive at the end to give the Broncos a first-and-goal.

After FS Eugene Robinson intercepted an Elway pass in the end zone, it was Brett Favre’s turn. The Packers again tied the score early in the fourth quarter, once more on a Favre pass to Freeman of 13 yards. Neither team was able to move the ball in its next possession as they traded punts. With 3:27 remaining, Denver took over just inside Green Bay territory. Thanks to a 15-yard face mask penalty and an Elway screen pass to FB Howard Griffith that covered 23 yards, the Broncos had first-and-goal at the eight yard line. They were backed up by holding penalty, but Davis responded with a 17-yard run to the one, and scored his third TD of the game untouched from there.

With time running out, the Packers charged down the field into Denver territory. However, a fourth-down pass by Favre was batted away by LB John Mobley and the Broncos were champions by a 31-24 score.

Terrell Davis was the game’s MVP, having run the ball 30 times for 157 yards with the three touchdowns. John Elway (pictured at right) had modest statistics, as he completed 12 of 22 passes for 123 yards with an interception, but made key runs (including a score) among his 17 yards on five carries and guided the offense well. Shannon Sharpe caught the most passes for the Broncos, with 5 (for 38 yards), while Ed McCaffrey was the leader in receiving yards with 45 on two catches.

For Green Bay, Brett Favre had 25 completions in 42 passing attempts for 256 yards and three TDs along with an interception. Antonio Freeman (pictured at bottom) caught 9 passes for 126 yards and two scores. Dorsey Levens ran effectively, with 90 yards on 19 carries; he also caught 6 passes for another 56 yards.

Denver repeated as champion in 1998 with an even stronger season in what was Elway’s last year; after all the Super Bowl disappointments in his Hall of Fame career, he capped it with two titles. The Packers were back in the playoffs in ’98, but as a wild card team that lost in the first round. They would not be back in the postseason until 2001.