Friday, January 29, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #6 - Super Bowl XXXII - Broncos 31, Packers 24

Over the next eight days, Lattanzi Land is continuing a top ten countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. This is a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend and football expert Dustin Holt. Every day, Monday through Friday, the next one will be put up, climaxing with #1 on Friday, February 5th. Some of these may surprise you, and some may make you ask what we are smoking. Enjoy, and any feedback can be made in the comment boxes or via email at joshua.lattanzi@gmail.com or dholt13@gmail.com - we move on to #6...

Redemption is a theme that overwhelms sports so much that it becomes a complete cliche' too often. However, sometimes, a redemption story is actually a worthwhile story to see and experience. Super Bowl 32 was one of those times that felt like it lived up to expectations and did not have the requisite letdown that so often occurs when the hype is larger than life.

For the Denver Broncos, the 1997 season was pretty good. A 12-4 record would be considered pretty good, except it was only good enough to finish in 2nd place in the AFC west behind the 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs. However, they did post the best offense in the NFL led by running back Terrell Davis, who had 1,750 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and the threats of tight end Shannon Sharpe (72 catches) and wide receiver Rod Smith (70 catches - 12 touchdowns).

The centerpiece, of course, was 37 year old quarterback John Elway, who had an excellent season and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl with over 3,600 yards, 27 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. Elway had been the recipient of many heartaches over the years - 3 previous losses in the Super Bowl, all by an average of 32 points, and several early exits from the playoffs, including the previous year when the Broncos were shocked at home by the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-27.

The Broncos entered the playoffs as a Wild Card; their road would not be easy in any way. After getting revenge on the Jaguars at home for the previous year, they had a tough way on the road, defeating Kansas City and Pittsburgh to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 8 years.

Their opponent would be the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers led by 3 time MVP Brett Favre. The Packers rolled through the season and through the NFC to make their second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. They would open the game in San Diego as 11 1/2 point favorites, and while Denver had the better offense, statistically, the Packers were seen as the more complete team. Besides, no AFC team had won the Super Bowl since the Raiders won Super Bowl 18 against the Redskins.

The Packers took the opening kickoff and promptly marched down the field, getting catches by receiver Antonio Freeman, including a 22 yard strike from Favre. Incredibly, the Packers were just the third team ever in Super Bowl history to score on the opening drive. The Broncos were not to be denied as they got a great kickoff return and with the help of Terrell Davis' running and a timely penalty, they punched it in from the 1 yard line with Davis carrying it, tying the score at 7.

The Denver defense actually came through next as they intercepted a Favre pass early in the Packers' next possession to set up a short field at the Green Bay 45. Quickly, the Broncos shoved it down the Packers' throats and before everyone knew, the heavily favored Pack was down 14-7 on the strength of Elway's 1 yard touchdown run.

Lightning struck again as safety Steve Atwater sacked Favre and stripped the ball, which was recovered by Neil Smith at the Packers' 33 yard line. Unfortunately for Denver, they could not move the ball at all, and had to settle for a 51 yard field goal attempt by Jason Elam. Elam nailed it, which was the 2nd longest field goal in Super Bowl history (behind Steve Christie's 54 yarder in Super Bowl 28), giving the Broncos a comfortable 17-7 lead.

After stopping the potent Packer attack again, the Denver offense went back to work, but couldn't muster a single first down and gave the ball back to Green Bay with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half. Green Bay, pinned at its own 5 yard line after the punt, went on an epic 95 yard drive that took all the remaining time (save for 12 seconds) and made it a game on a 6 yard touchdown pass from Favre to once-accused statutory rapist Mark Chmura. At halftime, it was 17-14, and the game was fast shaping up as a potential great one.

Denver got the ball to start the second half and everything seemed to go wrong for them. Terrell Davis, who had missed a lot of the second quarter with a migraine (so bad, that it was causing blurring of his vision), fumbled deep in his own territory, giving the Packers instant scoring position. On third down for the Packers, the Broncos stopped them, but were flagged for an offsides penalty on the field goal attempt, giving the Packers a first down inside the Red Zone. However, the Broncos' defense held again and the Packers converted on their field goal attempt without incident, thus tying the game at 17.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Broncos were staring at their own goal line, but with key plays such as a 36 yard pass to Ed McCaffery and the famous Elway run known as 'the Helicopter', the Broncos marched 92 yards on 13 plays, capped by Davis' second touchdown run of the game. The Broncos once again had the lead, 24-17, but the game was far from finished, and some twists still hadn't occurred yet.

The Packers actually fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Broncos a chance to push the dagger into them, but Elway threw an interception into the end zone, and the Packers had new life with the ball at their own 15 yard line. It only took 4 plays to tie the score - a 13 yard pass to Antonio Freeman on a play where the Denver secondary got confused over crossing patterns. With 13:32 remaining, it was 24-24 and a tension was continuously building. One screw up could doom a team from here on.

After a few punts, the Broncos got the ball in Packer territory after a poor Craig Hentrich punt with under four minutes to go. At the 2 minute warning the Broncos were inside the Packer 20 and on the next play Davis ran it down to the one yard line. What followed was a controversial sequence.

1:47 to go and it was 2nd and goal. Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren told the defense to let Denver score so they would have more time to try and tie it up. This was despite the fact that the Packers had 2 timeouts remaining and could have theoretically made a goal line stand and held the Broncos to a field goal. Instead, Terrell Davis scored his third touchdown of the game and the Packers found themselves down 31-24 with 1:45 remaining.

After returning the kickoff to the 30, Favre made two quick completions resulting in 35 yards gained, and with just over a minute to go, the Packers were on the Denver 35 yard line. On first down, Favre completed a four yard pass to Dorsey Levens. 2nd and 3rd down passes were incomplete, leaving the Packers with a 4th and 6 from the 31. Favre looked for Mark Chmura, but the pass was batted away by Broncos' linebacker John Mobley, giving Denver the ball and their first Super Bowl, a 31-24 victory. Terrell Davis was named MVP, gaining 157 yards and tying the Super Bowl record with 3 touchdowns, and is the only player to rush for 3 touchdowns.

It's funny in a way, because redemption finally came for John Elway, but it came when he didn't have to do the heavy lifting. It is cliche' to say that it is always good to have a little help from your friends, but that help gave Elway a championship and another one the next season and the cemented his status as one of the all-time greats. As for Brett Favre, he had peaked in the mid-90's and while he would go on to have a great career, he would never hit the heights he reached in 1996 and 1997.

2 comments:

Doyler said...

Denver had a pretty good coach back then... ;)

Joshua Lattanzi said...

Yeah, he was alright.

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