January 31, 2010

1988: Redskins Ride 35-Point 2nd Quarter to Defeat Broncos in Super Bowl XXII

The Super Bowl following the strike-shortened 1987 season featured two teams who regularly reached the postseason in the 80s, the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.

Washington, under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, was in the playoffs for the fifth time since 1982 and had appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one of them. Jay Schroeder had been the starting quarterback for most of the ’87 season, but had slumped and was replaced late in the campaign by veteran Doug Williams (pictured above). Williams, who had had a solid career with Tampa Bay followed by a stint in the USFL, rose to the occasion as the team won the NFC East with an 11-4 record and got past the Bears and Vikings, respectively, in winning the Divisional and conference title rounds. Behind an outstanding offensive line, the running attack utilized a stable of backs led by George Rogers (613 yards in 11 games) and Kelvin Bryant, the favored receiver out of the backfield (43 receptions). WR Gary Clark had an All-Pro season, catching 56 passes for 1066 yards in 12 games.

The AFC champions were the Denver Broncos, under Head Coach Dan Reeves, who were in the playoffs for the fourth time since 1983 and had lost the previous year’s Super Bowl to the Giants. QB John Elway was selected as NFL MVP by the Associated Press after throwing for 3198 yards and lifting the offense with his impressive overall skills. His receiving corps of wide receivers Vance Johnson, Ricky Nattiel, and Mark Jackson, known as “The Three Amigos”, combined for 99 catches and 1750 yards with 11 touchdowns. The rushing attack was led by RB Sammy Winder (741 yards). Denver easily got past Houston in the Divisional playoff and then won the AFC title contest in a 38-33 battle over Cleveland.

The Broncos were considered the favorites for the Super Bowl XXII matchup on January 31, 1988 before 73,302 fans at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. Denver certainly made it look easy on the team’s first play from scrimmage as Elway went long to Nattiel for a 56-yard touchdown. On the next possession, the Broncos again drove to a score on a drive that featured a gadget play in which RB Steve Sewell faked a run and then threw to Elway for a 23-yard gain. However, after having a first down at the Washington 13 yard line, Denver was forced to settle for a 24-yard Rich Karlis field goal.

Late in the first quarter the Broncos once again drove into Redskins territory. On third-and-10 at the 30 yard line, SS Alvin Walton sacked Elway for an 18-yard loss that took Denver out of field goal range and forced a punt. On the ensuing possession, Williams slipped while dropping back to pass and twisted his knee, forcing him to leave the game for the remainder of the series as Schroeder stepped in.

Williams was back under center when the Redskins got the ball back in the second quarter after Denver again had to punt, and while visibly limping led the offense on an unprecedented tear. The Redskins scored touchdowns on each of the next five possessions prior to halftime, four of them on Williams passes. On Washington's first play of the quarter, Williams hit WR Ricky Sanders for an 80-yard TD. Next, it was Williams hitting Clark for a 27-yard score and 14-10 lead. RB Timmy Smith, a backup during the season who had carried the ball only 29 times for 126 yards and was told just prior to game time that he would be starting, took off on a 58-yard touchdown run to make it 21-10. The fourth score came on another Williams to Sanders pass play, this time covering 50 yards. Finally, just a minute before the end of the half, Williams hit TE Clint Didier with an eight-yard throw and the score at the intermission was an astounding 35-10.

As for the Broncos in the second quarter, they punted twice, missed a field goal, and Elway threw two interceptions under heavy pressure. Washington’s domination had been as complete as the score indicated. The second quarter statistics alone showed Williams completing 9 of 11 passes for 228 yards and four TDs and Smith with 122 yards on just five carries.

The second half was an anticlimax. Williams directed the offense with time-consuming precision and Elway was barraged by a relentless pass rush. Washington scored once more in the fourth quarter on a 68-yard drive that was capped by a four-yard TD run by Smith. The final score was 42-10.

Doug Williams was the game’s MVP as he ended up completing 18 of his 29 passes for a then-Super Bowl record 340 yards with the four TDs and a lone interception. In doing so, he became the first African-American quarterback to lead a team to victory in the Super Bowl – a fact that had been endlessly hyped prior to the game and added an extra layer of pressure that he overcame admirably. Timmy Smith (pictured above left) justified the decision by Coach Gibbs to start him in place of the bigger but slower George Rogers as he set a Super Bowl record with 204 yards on 22 carries with two scores. Ricky Sanders (pictured below) caught 9 passes for 193 yards and two TDs.

For the losing Broncos, John Elway completed just 14 of 38 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown against three interceptions. Mark Jackson and Steve Sewell led the club with four pass receptions apiece, with Jackson accumulating the most yards (76). As it was, “The Three Amigos” accounted for only six receptions. Falling behind so quickly, Denver ran the ball 17 times, for 97 yards, with RB Gene Lang gaining the most yards with 38 on five attempts.

Overall, Washington burned the Broncos for 602 total yards (Denver had 327). The Redskins defense sacked Elway five times in addition to intercepting three of his passes.

The Redskins were unable to follow up on their success, going 7-9 in 1988 and tying for third place in the tough NFC East. Williams suffered from injuries and split time with Mark Rypien at quarterback. Timmy Smith gained just 470 yards and, for all intents and purposes, his career was over (he carried once for Dallas in a 1990 game). Denver also missed the playoffs in ’88, finishing in second place in the AFC West with an 8-8 record, but returned to the Super Bowl following the 1989 season – and lost in humiliating fashion once again, to the 49ers.