Headline: A second straight 13 win season but repeat title hopes fall short against Denver
Regular Season Record: 13 – 3 (First Place NFC Central Division)
Offseason Highlights: The Green Bay Packers’ 1997 draft, while not as productive as recent drafts, yielded two players who ultimately became key starters during the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s, OT Ross Verba out of the University of Iowa (30th overall) and DB Darren Sharper out of William & Mary College (60th overall). While Verba and Sharper had solid NFL careers, both would experience legal troubles after they retired from football.
Ross Verba was the first rookie to ever start a Super Bowl at left tackle. He subsequently played 4 seasons for the Packers from 1997 to 2000, starting 53 out 59 games, before losing his starting position halfway through the 2000 season to rookie OT Chad Clifton. Verba next spent 4 seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 2001 to 2004. In June 2005, having failed to obtain an upgraded contract, Verba rebated his offseason bonus in order to obtain his release from the Browns. After one season out of the league, Verba signed with the Detroit Lions for a final NFL season in 2006. He was released by the Lions in February 2007 after spending 8 games inactive with various injuries and being placed on injured reserve.
Unfortunately for Verba, his legal problems were just beginning. He was arrested on January 4 2007 in Wisconsin on a felony warrant for writing bad checks in Nevada and released one day later. According to the Wisconsin State Patrol, Nevada authorities lifted the warrant after Verba resolved a misunderstanding regarding an outstanding debt of $50,000 at the Wynn Las Vegas casino. Verba was arrested again in 2009 on another Nevada warrant for failing to pay a $26,000 gambling debt at the Palms Resort and Casino.
Darren Sharper would have a brilliant NFL career, becoming a 5 time Pro Bowl selection and being named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team. However, the seriousness of his offenses after his career ended would land him in jail for at least 20 years and forever tarnish his many accomplishments.
Sharper played in 14 games during his rookie season, finishing with 19 tackles and 2 interceptions, both of which he returned touchdowns. The first of which was a 50 yard return in Week 10 to help the Packers to a 20-10 victory over the Detroit Lions. During his second season, Sharper started all 16 games for the Packers, finishing with 73 tackles. In 1999 he started all 16 games for the second consecutive season, finishing with a career high 113 tackles and 3 interceptions. Sharper’s breakout season was in 2000. He finished the season with 92 tackles and a league leading 9 interceptions and made his first career Pro Bowl. Sharper had another great season in 2001 finishing with 94 tackles and 6 interceptions.
In 2002 Sharper made his second Pro Bowl after intercepting 7 passes for a league high 233 interception yards in only 13 games. In 2003 he finished with 82 tackles and 5 interceptions. During his last season with the Packers in 2004, he totaled 70 tackles and 4 interceptions and led the league in defensive touchdowns with three. On March 10 2005, the Packers released Sharper. He finished his 8 year Green Bay career ranked 5th in Packer history with 36 career interceptions, 616 tackles, 6 sacks, 677 interception yards, and 5 touchdowns. Sharper subsequently played 4 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and 2 seasons with the New Orleans Saints before retiring prior to the 2011 season after a series of injuries during 2010 caused him to miss 8 games.
Sharper finished with 63 career regular season interceptions, placing him 6th all time. He took 11 of them back for touchdowns, which ranks him third only to Charles Woodson and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, with 12. Sharper’s 13 career defensive touchdowns (11 interception returns, 2 fumble returns) is tied for first in NFL history with Woodson and Woodson. Sharper is the only player to ever lead the NFL in interception return yards in 3 different seasons (2002, 2005, 2009). However, with his retirement, Sharper’s life took a very dark turn. Between March 2011 and March 2014, Sharper was accused of drugging and raping multiple women in several states. Just between January 14 and 15 2014, he purportedly victimized four women within twenty four hours in two different states. Sharper ultimately agreeing to plead guilty to 9 counts of rape in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Louisiana for which he is currently serving up to 20 years in prison.
Overall, the 1997 NFL draft was notable for its high profile offensive lineman, two of whom would ultimately be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The first overall selection was OT Orlando Pace (St. Louis Rams), who appeared in 7 consecutive Pro Bowls from 2000 to 2006 and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2016. Arguably the best of the bunch, 6th overall selection OT Walter Jones, made 9 Pro Bowls (including 8 consecutive from 2001-08), was a 7 time All-Pro, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014. Other notable lineman selected in 1997 included Tarik Glenn, Ryan Tucker, Mike Flynn, and Joe Andruzzi. A third player selected in 1997, University of Akron DE Jason Taylor (Miami Dolphins), will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017.
The 1997 season was also the last one to date where TNT broadcast NFL games as well as the last season for NBC until 2006. When the TV contracts were renewed near the end of the season, Fox retained the NFC package, ABC retained the Monday Night Football package, CBS took over the AFC package, and ESPN won the right to televise all of the Sunday night games.
Finally, Green Bay went public in November 1997 with their first stock offering since 1950, allowing for the sale of up to 400,000 shares in the team at $200 a piece in order to raise $80 million in capital for the renovation of Lambeau Field. When the sale ended in March 1998, only 120,000 shares had been sold for a total of $24 million. However, despite falling short of their stated goal, Packers’ President Bob Harlan said the team was not disappointed with the outcome.
Regular Season Highlights: The Green Bay Packers entered the 1997 season as World Champions for the first time since 1967. They subsequently repeated as NFC Central Division Champions with a 13-3 regular season record, finishing ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6), the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, both 9-7, and the 4-12 Chicago Bears.
After a dominating 1996 campaign, many experts and fans alike expected Green Bay to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 1997. During training camp, star S LeRoy Butler, among others, said that the Packers had the chance to run the table and go 19-0. This opinion drew increased coverage from the media as Green Bay notched impressive victories in all five preseason games. The undefeated hype ended quickly, however, when the Packers lost in Week 2 to the Philadelphia Eagles, 10-9. After a relatively slow 3-2 start, Green Bay caught fire, finishing the regular season with 10 wins out of 11 games, their only setback a Week 12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, 41-38, while also achieving an 8-0 home record for the second consecutive year.
QB Brett Favre had another Pro Bowl season, becoming the first player ever to win the NFL MVP award three times in addition to winning it for the third consecutive year. Favre led the league with 35 passing touchdowns, completing 304 out of 513 attempts (59.3%) for 3,867 yards and 16 interceptions, for a QB Ranking of 92.6. Favre also ranked second on the team in rushing with 187 yards and a touchdown. In addition to leading the league in touchdown passes, Favre finished 2nd in passing yards, 3rd in passer rating, and 4th in passes completed.
WR Antonio Freeman led the team in receptions with 81 catches for 1,243 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns, finishing tied for 2nd in receiving touchdowns, 7th in receiving yards, and 8th in receptions. WR Robert Brooks, returning from a major knee injury suffered in the middle of the 1996 season, was also a deep threat, catching 60 passes for 1,010 yards and 7 touchdowns, finishing 5th overall in yards per reception with 16.8. Pro Bowl TE Mark Chmura recorded 38 receptions for 417 yards (11.0 yards per catch) and 6 touchdowns.
Pro Bowl RB Dorsey Levens led the team in rushing with 1,435 yards on 329 attempts (4.4 yards per attempt) and 7 touchdowns while also catching 53 passes for 373 yards and 5 touchdowns, finishing 4th overall in rushing yards and 5th in rushing attempts. Levens’ 1,435 rushing yards was the most by a Packers’ running back since Jim Taylor’s 1,474 yards in 1962. FB William Henderson rushed for 113 yards on 31 attempts and caught 41 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. Rookie free agent K Ryan Longwell produced 120 points including a perfect 48 for 48 extra point attempts. Overall, Green Bay’s offense finished 12th in rushing, 3rd in passing, and 2nd in total offense with 422 points.
On defense, the line was anchored by veteran Pro Bowl DE Reggie White, who led the team with 11 sacks. Behind him, DT Santana Dotson recorded 37 tackles and 5.5 sacks. In the secondary, Pro Bowl DB LeRoy Butler led the team with 5 interceptions while also adding 70 tackles. S Eugene Robinson led the team with 74 tackles while also recording 2.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception. DB Mike Prior recorded 4 interceptions while rookie S Darren Sharper recorded 2 interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Overall, despite Green Bay’s defense lagging behind its record setting pace of the previous year (20th against the run and 8th against the pass vs. 4th and 1st respectively in 1996), they still finished a very respectable 5th in total defense, allowing 282 points vs. 210 points in 1996.
Although both Green Bay and the winner of the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers, finished with 13-3 records, San Francisco was the top NFC playoff seed and the Packers the second seed based on their better conference record (11-1 to Green Bay’s 10-2). The 10-5-1 New York Giants won the NFC East title and the third playoff seed. Tampa Bay (fourth seed), Detroit (fifth seed), and Minnesota (sixth seed) were the NFC Wild Card teams. The Lions finished ahead of the Vikings in the NFC Central based on a head to head sweep (2-0).
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs finished with the AFC’s best record as well as tied for the NFL’s best record at 13-3, winning the AFC West title and the AFC’s top playoff seed. The 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Central title and the second seed over the 11-5 Jacksonville Jaguars based on better net division points (78 to Jaguars’ 23). The 10-6 New England Patriots won the AFC East title and the third playoff seed. The 12-4 Denver Broncos (fourth seed), Jacksonville (fifth seed), and the 9-7 Miami Dolphins (sixth seed) were the AFC Wild Card teams. Miami finished ahead of the 9-7 New York Jets in the AFC East based on a head to head sweep (2-0).
For Tampa Bay and their second year Head Coach Tony Dungy, it was the Buccaneers first playoff berth since the strike shortened 1982 season. The New York Giants, under new Head Coach Jim Fassel, made their first playoff appearance in 4 years while Miami made its first playoff appearance under former Dallas Cowboys and Dolphins’ second year Head Coach Jimmy Johnson.
Lastly, as stated earlier, Green Bay QB Brett Favre won his third consecutive NFL Most Valuable Player Award. However, for the first time since the Associated Press began presenting its MVP award in 1957, Detroit RB Barry Sanders was named co-MVP. Sanders also won Offensive Player of the Year while San Francisco DT Dana Stubblefield won Defensive Player of the Year. Tampa Bay RB Warrick Dunn won Offensive Rookie of the Year while Baltimore Ravens LB Peter Boulware won Defensive Rookie of the Year. New York Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel won Coach of the Year.
Post Season Highlights: In the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, the fifth seed Detroit Lions traveled to Houlihan Stadium to play the fourth seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the NFC East Champion and third seed New York Giants hosted the sixth seed Minnesota Vikings in Giants Stadium. In the AFC, the fourth seed Denver Broncos hosted the fifth seed Jacksonville Jaguars in Mile High Stadium while the AFC East Champion and third seed New England Patriots hosted the sixth seed Miami Dolphins in Foxboro Stadium. The winners would advance to their respective Divisional Playoffs.
On December 27, Minnesota Vikings QB Randall Cunningham got off to a rough start as he lost 3 first half turnovers that would be converted into 9 New York Giants points. However, Minnesota would ultimately achieve the biggest comeback win by a road team in the playoffs since 1972 and the first postseason win for the Vikings in 9 years. It was also the first playoff win of Head Coach Dennis Green’s career, following 4 first round playoff losses over the last 5 years.
After each team punted to start the game, Cunningham lost a fumble that was recovered on the Minnesota 23 yard line. New York ended up losing yardage with their ensuing drive but Brad Daluiso kicked a 43 yard field goal to put the Giants up 3-0. Cunningham fumbled again on his next drive and this time New York recovered the ball on the Minnesota 46 yard line. QB Danny Kanell subsequently completed a 27 yard pass to RB Charles Way, setting up Daluiso’s second field goal, making the score 6-0. In the second quarter, New York increased their lead to 13-0 with a 7 play, 56 yard scoring drive. Kanell kept it going with an 11 yard pass to RB Tiki Barber on 3rd and 4 and then hit WR David Patten for a 37 yard completion to the Vikings 2 yard line. One play later, he threw a 3 yard touchdown pass to TE Aaron Pierce.
After the teams traded punts, the Giants intercepted a Cunningham pass and returned it to the Vikings 47 yard line. New York then drove 23 yards for a 41 yard field goal from Daluiso, making the score 16-0. Later on, the Vikings caught a break when they recovered a fumble from Giants WR Amani Toomer on the New York 26 yard line. Cunningham’s 19 yard completion to WR Chris Carter moved the ball to the 7 yard line, leading to K Eddie Murray’s 26 yard field goal, cutting New York’s lead to 16-3. However, the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the ball to New York on their 40 yard line. Taking advantage of excellent field position, the Giants put together a 26 yard drive to score on Daluiso’s 51 yard field goal as time expired in the half, giving New York a 19-3 lead.
The Giants defense had held the Vikings offense to 21 rushing yards and Cunningham completed only 5 of 16 passes during the game’s first 30 minutes.
Early in the third quarter, the Vikings recovered a Barber fumble on the Giants 4 yard line, setting up RB Leroy Hoard’s 4 yard touchdown run, narrowing the gap to 19-10. Then, after a punt, Minnesota’s offense finally got on track, moving the ball into New York territory with Cunningham’s 33 yard completion to WR Jake Reed. However, Murray subsequently missed a 48 yard field goal attempt. Still, the Vikings defense managed to force a punt and Brad Maynard’s short kick gave them a first down on their own 40 yard line. This time, they managed to drive 52 yards and score with Murray’s 26 yard field goal, making it a 19-13 ball game going into the fourth quarter.
New York’s offense came back to life in the final quarter, as Kanell completed 6 passes on a 13 play, 74 yard drive, including an 18 yarder to Patten on 3rd and 9, and a 21 yard completion to WR Chris Calloway. The Vikings defense halted the possession on their own 5 yard line but Daluiso kicked his fifth field goal of the day, giving the Giants a 22-13 lead with 7:22 left in regulation. The Vikings got the ball back and ran 7 plays but could not get into scoring range and ultimately decided to punt, facing a two score deficit with 3:51 left. What persuaded Green to punt and keep playing defense was how well his maligned run defenders were stopping New York’s running attack. Green’s decision paid off as the Vikings forced a punt with 2:06 left and got the ball on the Giants 49 yard line due to another short Maynard kick.
Soon after, they scored on Cunningham’s 30 yard touchdown pass to Reed with 1:30 left, cutting the score to 22-20. Murray then attempted an onside kick, which bounced off Calloway’s chest and was recovered by the Vikings on the Minnesota 39 yard line. A false start penalty and an incompletion left the Vikings facing 2nd and 15 from the 34 yard line, but Cunningham subsequently completed passes to TE Andrew Glover and Carter for gains of 11 and 24 yards. Following a 12 yard pass interference penalty, RB Robert Smith ran for a 16 yard gain to set up Murray’s game winning 24 yard field goal, giving Minnesota a 23-22 come from behind victory.
Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos compiled 310 rushing yards and 511 total yards of offense, holding the ball for 40:59, avenging their playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars the year before.
The Broncos dominated early, converting their first 9 third downs and scoring touchdowns on their first 3 drives. First, they converted 4 third downs as they drove 72 yards in 7:21, featuring a 25 yard reception by WR Ed McCaffrey on 3rd and 15, and scored on a 2 yard touchdown by RB Terrell Davis for a 7-0 lead. Jacksonville was forced into a three and out on their next drive and Bryan Barker’s punt went just 24 yards to the Denver 40 yard line. The Broncos then drove 60 yards and increased their lead to 14-0 with a 43 yard touchdown pass from QB John Elway to WR Rod Smith on 3rd and 4 with 2:37 left in the first quarter. The Jaguars returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to midfield and subsequently drove to the Denver 40 yard line, but were stopped there and had to punt.
Barker’s kick pinned the Broncos back at their own 8 yard line but Denver still drove 92 yards to make the score 21-0 on Davis’ 5 yard touchdown run. The key play of the drive was a 40 yard completion from Elway to Smith on 3rd and 6 from their own 12 yard line. Later in the drive, Elway completed a 16 yard pass to Smith on 3rd and 13 from the Jaguars 26 yard line. By this point, Elway had completed all 6 of his passes for 156 yards on third down plays. Jacksonville responded by driving 79 yards, aided by a 16 yard reception from QB Mark Brunell to WR Jimmy Smith and a 34 yard pass interference penalty, to score on a 2 yard touchdown from RB Natrone Means, cutting the score to 21-7 with just over 5 minutes left in the second quarter. This would be the final score of the first half as the next three drives ended in punts.
The Jaguars returned the second half kickoff 58 yards to the Broncos 27 yard line, setting up K Mike Hollis’ 38 yard field goal, cutting the score to 21-10. Four minutes later, Jacksonville blocked a Tom Rouen punt and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, bringing the Jaguars to within 21-17. Despite a 51 yard kickoff return, things seemed to look even better for Jacksonville on the ensuing possession when they forced and recovered an Elway fumble. Brunell’s subsequent 37 yard completion to TE Damon Jones gave the Jaguars a first down on the Broncos 16 yard line. But, on the next play, Brunell lost a fumble of his own to Denver. The Broncos then drove to the Jacksonville 15 yard line, featuring a 59 yard run by Davis, but Elway lost another fumble that was recovered by the Jaguars and the score remained 21-17 going into the fourth quarter.
In the final quarter, Denver took over the game. Jacksonville was forced to punt after Elway’s fumble and Barker’s 27 yard kick gave Denver a first down on the Jacksonville 48 yard line. From there, it took just 2 plays to score, a 23 yard completion from Elway to TE Shannon Sharpe and a 25 yard touchdown run by RB Derek Loville, increasing their lead to 28-17. The Jaguars made one last spirited comeback attempt, but the Broncos put an end to it by intercepting a Brunell pass in the end zone.
Denver then drove 80 yards in 10 plays, eight of them carries by Loville, who was now starting in place of the injured Davis. On the last play, his 8 yard touchdown run gave Denver a 35-17 advantage. Now, in a desperate situation, Brunell attempted to convert a 4th and 10 on the Jaguars next drive but was sacked for a 10 yard loss. A 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Broncos a first down on the Jacksonville 15 yard line. A few plays later, Hebron finished off the scoring on a 6 yard touchdown run with 1:16 left in the game, giving Denver a satisfying 42-17 victory.
The New England Patriots had narrowly defeated the Miami Dolphins, 14-12, in a tough defensive struggle during the last Monday night game of the regular season. On December 28, their Wild Card playoff game would produce similar results. New England’s defense held Miami to 162 total yards of offense and only 42 rushing yards while forcing 3 Dolphins turnovers. Miami QB Dan Marino completed just 17 of 43 passes for 141 yards and was intercepted twice as well as fumbled twice, losing a turnover on one of them. This was the first time in Marino’s 15 year career that he did not throw a touchdown pass in a playoff game. Without star RB Curtis Martin, New England could only generate 228 offensive yards but their ball security turned out to be key as they avoided losing any turnovers during the entire game.
The first quarter was scoreless. Near the end of it, Miami threatened to score with a drive to the New England 39 yard line but lost the ball when RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar was tackled for no gain on 4th and 1. The Patriots then drove to the Dolphins 31 yard line but also failed to score when K Adam Vinatieri missed a 48 yard field goal attempt. A few plays later, Marino threw his first interception, which was returned 22 yards to the Dolphins 29 yard line, setting up QB Drew Bledsoe’s 24 yard touchdown pass to WR Troy Brown. New England would go into halftime with a 7-0 lead as the only other scoring opportunity of the half would be a Patriots drive to the Miami 30 yard line that ended with another missed Vinatieri field goal attempt.
On the second play of the third quarter, LB Todd Collins returned Marino’s other interception 40 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. After a punt, the Patriots mounted the first long sustained scoring drive of the game, moving the ball 67 yards in 15 plays. RB Derrick Cullors carried the ball 7 times for 42 yards while Bledsoe added a 20 yard completion to WR Terry Glenn and Vinatieri finished it off with a 22 yard field goal with 1:58 left in the third quarter, increasing the New England advantage to 17-0.
Aided by a 40 yard kickoff return and a 15 yard late hit penalty, Miami finally managed to score on their following drive, moving the ball 23 yards to the Patriots 20 yard line where K Olindo Mare made a 38 yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 17-3. After Mare’s field goal, Miami recovered an onside kick but New England subsequently forced a fumble while sacking Marino, recovering the ball to end the Dolphin threat. Miami’s final three drives of the game would result in a punt and 2 turnovers on downs, giving the Patriots a hard fought 17-3 victory.
Later in the day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first playoff game since 1979 in what turned out to be their final game at Houlihan Stadium. Detroit Lions QB Scott Mitchell completed only 10 of 25 passes for 78 yards and RB Barry Sanders, who rushed for over 2,000 yards during the season, had 18 carries for just 65 yards.
Tampa Bay QB Trent Dilfer’s 23 yard completion to WR Karl Williams on 3rd and 1 set up the first score of the game, K Michael Husted’s 22 yard field goal with 5:25 left in the first quarter, for a 3-0 lead. Detroit received a huge scoring opportunity when the Buccaneers fumbled a punt at the end of the next drive. The Lions got to the ball first, but instead of falling on it, tried to pick it up and run with it. Instead of grabbing the ball, a Detroit player accidentally batted it out of bounds, allowing Tampa Bay to keep possession on the Lions 11 yard line. Taking full advantage of their second chance, the Buccaneers subsequently drove 89 yards in 17 plays, taking 8:50 off the clock and converting 3 third downs, one from a 12 men on the field penalty against Detroit. Dilfer finished the drive with a 9 yard touchdown pass to WR Horace Copeland that put the team up 10-0.
Later on, Tampa Bay intercepted a Mitchell pass and returned it 19 yards to the Lions 20 yard line, setting up Husted’s 43 yard field goal, giving the team a 13-0 lead at the end of the half. Tampa Bay had a chance to increase their lead even more before halftime with a drive to the Lions 43 yard line but Detroit intercepted a Dilfer pass on the last play of the half. The Lions had to punt on their opening drive of the third quarter and P John Jett’s 31 yard kick gave Tampa Bay great field position on their own 47 yard line. Five plays later, Buccaneers RB Mike Alstott scored on a 31 yard touchdown run to make the score 20-0.
Detroit responded with their best drive of the day, moving the ball 73 yards to the Tampa Bay 8 yard line. But the possession ended with no points when Mitchell threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 3. Detroit finally managed to put some points on the board the next time they got the ball, driving 46 yards in 9 plays. The key play was a 17 yard run by RB Ron Rivers on 4th and 4 from the Lions 45 yard line. After reaching the Buccaneers 17 yard line, Mitchell suffered a concussion on a 2 yard run and was replaced by backup QB Frank Reich. On the next play after the injury, Jason Hanson kicked a 33 yard field goal, cutting the score to 20-3. Then, after a Bucs punt, Reich completed all 5 of his pass attempts for 71 yards on the way to RB Tommy Vardell’s 1 yard touchdown, and the lead was trimmed to 20-10.
The Lions seemed primed to make a serious comeback attempt when they forced Tampa Bay into a 3rd and 5 situation on their own 10 yard line, but Dilfer’s 50 yard bomb to WR Robb Thomas moved the ball to the Lions 36 yard line. The Buccaneers were unable to score but Sean Landeta’s punt pinned the Lions back at their own 4 yard line with 3:20 left in the game. Then, after completing a 14 yard pass on 3rd and 15 during their final drive, Reich accidentally spiked the ball on fourth down, giving the ball to back Tampa Bay, securing a 20-10 Buccaneers victory.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the AFC Central Champion and second seed Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the AFC East Champion and third seed New England Patriots in Three Rivers Stadium while the sixth seed Minnesota Vikings traveled to 3Com Park to play the NFC West Champion and top seed San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, the NFC Central Champion and second seed Green Bay Packers hosted the fourth seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Lambeau Field while the fourth seed Denver Broncos traveled to Arrowhead Stadium to play the AFC West Champion and top seed Kansas City Chiefs. The winners would advance to their respective Conference Championship games.
On January 3, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kordell Stewart’s 40 yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the difference against the New England Patriots in a game totally dominated by defense.
New England was severely depleted by injuries, playing without star RB Curtis Martin. Pro Bowl TE Ben Coates was limited to just a few plays while WR Terry Glenn was out of the game a few minutes into the fourth quarter. On the third play of the game, Pittsburgh intercepted a pass from New England QB Drew Bledsoe and returned it 27 yards to the Steelers 38 yard line. Stewart then got the team to the Patriots 40 yard line, converting 2 third downs with 10 yard completions to WR Charles Johnson before taking the ball the rest of the way to the end zone on a 40 yard score, the longest touchdown run in Steelers playoff history at the time, for a 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Bledsoe completed 2 passes to WR Shawn Jefferson for 29 yards and a 36 yard throw to Glenn on a 65 yard drive that ended with K Adam Vinatieri’s 31 yard field goal, making the score 7-3. Later on, Pittsburgh drove to the New England 33 yard line, but the Patriots intercepted a Stewart pass. The only remaining highlight of the quarter would be Steelers WR Will Blackwell’s 58 yard punt return on the last play of the half. On the last play of the third quarter, Bledsoe’s 39 yard completion to Glenn led to a 46 yard field goal from Vinatieri, further cutting the New England deficit to 7-6.
After a punt from each team, the Steelers had a chance to put the game away with a drive to the Patriots 1 yard line. On fourth down, Head Coach Bill Cowher tried to ice the game with a conversion attempt but Stewart was stuffed for no gain with 3:24 left in regulation. This gave New England one more chance to score the winning field goal. The Patriots managed to reach their own 42 yard line but the Steelers stripped the ball from Bledsoe and recovered it, ending the New England drive. The Patriots managed to get it back one last time with 34 seconds left, but Pittsburgh intercepted Bledsoe’s Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play, sealing a 7-6 victory.
Later that day, the San Francisco 49ers racked up 394 yards against the Minnesota Vikings without losing a single turnover and giving up only one sack. Filling in for injured starter Garrison Hearst, San Francisco RB Terry Kirby ran for a career high 120 yards and 2 touchdowns while WR J. J. Stokes caught a career high 9 passes for 101 yards. QB Steve Young threw for 220 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 37 yards. Minnesota had 374 yards but lost 91 of them with 12 penalties. Vikings QB Randall Cunningham threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns but also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Early in the first quarter, Minnesota P Mitch Berger shanked a 12 yard punt that gave San Francisco a first down on the Vikings 26 yard line, leading to RB William Floyd’s 1 yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It the start of a long day for Berger, who finished the game with a measly 29.9 yards per punt average on 7 kicks. Still, Minnesota responded on their first play after the ensuing kickoff with Cunningham’s 66 yard touchdown pass to WR Chris Carter, tying the game 7-7. Late in the second quarter, a 28 yard pass interference penalty and a personal foul call against the Vikings for kicking the penalty flag gave the 49ers a first down on the Minnesota 2 yard line. On the next play, another Vikings penalty put the ball on the 1 yard line and Kirby ran the ball into the end zone from there, giving the 49ers a 14-7 lead at the end of a 61 yard drive.
Then, on Minnesota’s ensuing drive, San Francisco LB Ken Norton Jr. intercepted a Cunningham pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown, making the score 21-7 going into halftime. The 49ers increased their lead to 24-7 early in the third quarter, driving 46 yards in 10 plays to score on K Gary Anderson’s 34 yard field goal. But the Vikings responded with Cunningham’s 53 yard completion to WR Jake Reed, setting up a 3 yard touchdown reception by Carter, narrowing the gap to 24-14. Replays showed the officials blew the call on Reed’s reception because his second toe came down on the end line and the pass should have been ruled incomplete.
However, it didn’t make much difference because San Francisco came back with a 75 yard touchdown drive, with Kirby rushing for gains of 22 and 14 yards on the first two plays. Young’s subsequent 15 yard pass to WR Terrell Owens made the score 31-14. In the fourth quarter, a 15 yard penalty against Minnesota and a 29 yard completion from Young to Stokes set up Kirby’s second touchdown of the day, putting the 49ers up 38-14. Cunningham then led a desperate comeback attempt. After finishing a 73 yard drive with a 13 yard touchdown pass to WR Matthew Hatchette that cut the score to 38-22, he led the Vikings to the San Francisco 16 yard line with about 2 minutes left in the game. But, after spiking the ball on first down, he threw 3 consecutive incompletions, resulting in a turnover on downs that allowed the 49ers to run out the rest of the clock, clinching a 38-22 victory.
On January 4, Green Bay Packers RB Dorsey Levens rushed for a team playoff record 112 yards and a touchdown while also catching 4 passes for 29 yards as the Green Bay defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 90 rushing yards and intercepted 2 passes from QB Trent Dilfer, who completed only 11 of 36 passes for 200 yards.
Early in the game, Tampa Bay sent their field goal unit onto the field three times, but failed to get any points each time. After the game started with a punt from each team, the Buccaneers drove to the Green Bay 25 yard line but the Packers blocked K Michael Husted’s 43 yard field goal attempt. Green Bay then drove 67 yards, including a 26 yard catch by WR Antonio Freeman from QB Brett Favre, to score on Favre’s 3 yard touchdown pass to TE Mark Chmura for a 7-0 lead. Tampa Bay responded with a drive to the Packers 25 yard line but again came up empty. On 4th and 2, they attempted a fake field goal with a pass by QB Steve Walsh but TE John Davis was tackled at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
Early in the second quarter, Tampa Bay got another scoring chance when they forced and recovered a Levens’ fumble on the Green Bay 30 yard line. The Buccaneers then moved the ball to the Packers 12 yard line only to come up empty once more when Walsh fumbled a bad snap on their field goal attempt. Later on, Green Bay WR Robert Brooks’ 28 yard punt return and 21 yard reception set up a field goal by K Ryan Longwell, extending the Packers lead to 10-0. Then, on the first play of Tampa Bay’s ensuing drive, Green Bay intercepted a Dilfer pass and returned it 14 yards, setting up Longwell’s second field goal with 6 seconds left in the half, making the score 13-0.
Freeman returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown but a holding penalty eliminated the Packers score and moved the ball all the way back to their own 11 yard line. Green Bay still managed to drive into scoring range but, on the eighth play of the drive, the Buccaneers intercepted a Favre pass on the Tampa Bay 6 yard line. Dilfer subsequently led the Buccaneer offense 94 yards in 8 plays, completing a 54 yard pass to WR Reidel Anthony and a 28 yard pass to TE Dave Moore, scoring on RB Mike Alstott’s 6 yard touchdown run and cutting the deficit to 13-7. But, two possessions later, Brooks’ 14 yard punt return gave the Packers the ball on their 46 yard line, where they proceeded to drive 54 yards and score with a 2 yard Levens’ touchdown. Favre closed out the scoring by running in the 2 point conversion for a 21-7 lead. Tampa Bay’s final three possessions resulted in 2 turnovers on downs and an interception, insuring a Green Bay win.
Meanwhile, one week after avenging the previous year’s playoff loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Denver Broncos avenged their 24-22 regular season loss to the Kansas City Chiefs by knocking them out of the playoffs. Denver RB Terrell Davis ran for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the Broncos to victory. Kansas City QB Elvis Grbac threw for 260 yards but his team could only score 10 points. For the second time in three years, the Chiefs had been eliminated as the AFC’s top seed. Kansas City lost despite outgaining Denver in total yards (303 to 272), first downs (18 to 16), and time of possession (31:06 to 28:54).
Midway through the second quarter, Kansas City K Pete Stoyanovich appeared to open the scoring with a 34 yard field goal. However, the kick was eliminated by a holding penalty and his second attempt hit the crossbar from 44 yards out. Denver then went on an 8 play, 65 yard drive, scoring on a 1 yard Davis touchdown on the first play after the 2 minute warning, for a 7-0 lead. QB John Elway’s 27 yard completion to TE Dwayne Carswell and a critical 3rd and 7 completion to WR Rod Smith for 17 yards down to the Chiefs 4 yard line kept the drive going. This was the first rushing touchdown surrendered by Kansas City at home since the 1996 season, a string of 42 quarters.
In the second half, the Chiefs drove 67 yards to the Broncos 3 yard line, starting with Grbac’s 34 yard pass to WR Andre Rison on the first play. But, on 3rd and goal, rookie TE Tony Gonzalez was unable to keep both feet in bounds while making a catch and the Chiefs had to settle for Stoyanovich’s 20 yard field goal, making the score 7-3. Denver had a big opportunity to respond on their next drive when Davis ran for a 41 yard gain to the Kansas City 11 yard line. But RB Derek Loville ended up losing a fumble that the Chiefs subsequently recovered. Following an exchange of punts, Grbac’s 50 yard completion to WR Joe Horn advanced the ball to the Broncos 15 yard line and Gonzalez eventually caught a 12 yard touchdown pass from Grbac to give Kansas City their first lead of the game, 10-7, going into the fourth quarter.
Early in the final quarter, Elway completed a 43 yard pass to WR Ed McCaffrey that set up Davis’ second 1 yard touchdown, giving the lead back to Denver, 14-10. The Chiefs responded with a drive to the Broncos 32 yard line. On 4th and 6, Kansas City attempted to fool Denver with a fake field goal attempt but holder Louie Aguiar was tackled by the Broncos after picking up just 3 yards. The Chiefs had one last opportunity to go ahead near the end of the game, moving the ball to the Denver 20 yard line on a drive that included a 29 yard pass interference penalty against the Broncos and Grbac’s 12 yard completion to WR Lake Dawson on 4th and 9. Grbac later completed a 23 yard pass to Rison at the Denver 28 yard line but, after the next 3 plays netted just 8 yards, the Broncos deflected Grbac’s fourth down pass in the end zone with 12 seconds left to preserve their 14-10 victory.
This would be the last game in the Hall of Fame career of RB Marcus Allen. Allen ran for 12,243 yards on 3,022 attempts (4.1 yards per carry) and caught 587 passes for 5,412 yards during his 16 years with the Los Angeles Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. He scored 145 touchdowns, including a then league record 123 rushing touchdowns, and was elected to 6 Pro Bowls. Allen was the first NFL player ever to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards during his career.
On January 11, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium against the Denver Broncos while the Green Bay Packers traveled to 3Com Stadium to play the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC Championship and the right to represent their respective conferences in Super Bowl XXXII.
In the AFC, for the second week in a row, the Denver Broncos eliminated a team on the road who had beaten them in the regular season. In Week 15, the Pittsburgh Steelers had defeated Denver, 35-24, with QB Kordell Stewart throwing for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for two more. But this time, the Broncos intercepted three of his passes and recovered a fumble, while also sacking him three times.
Most of the scoring came in the first half. Pittsburgh got an early scoring opportunity when they intercepted a pass from Denver QB John Elway on the Broncos 43 yard line. The Steelers then moved the ball to the 20 yard line only to have K Norm Johnson miss a 38 yard field goal attempt. On the next play, Denver RB Terrell Davis took off for a 43 yard run to the Steelers 29 yard line and the team went on to score on Davis’ 8 yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Pittsburgh took the ensuing kickoff and drove 65 yards to tie the game, 7-7. On the final two plays, Stewart completed a 20 yard pass to WR Yancey Thigpen and then ran the ball the final 33 yards to the end zone.
The Steelers ended the Broncos next drive by forcing and recovering a Davis fumble on the Pittsburgh 32 yard line. Pittsburgh then drove 68 yards in 11 plays to go up 14-7 on RB Jerome Bettis’ 1 yard touchdown a few minutes into the second quarter. Denver took the ball back and went on a 10 play, 45 yard drive to score on K Jason Elam’s 43 yard field goal, cutting the Steelers lead to 14-10. Both teams had to punt on their next drives and Pittsburgh’s 19 yard return gave the Steelers a first down on the Broncos 43 yard line. But, two plays later, Stewart forced a throw into double coverage and was intercepted in the end zone. After the turnover, Elway led the Broncos 80 yards to score on his 15 yard touchdown pass to RB Howard Griffith, giving Denver the lead, 17-14.
Pittsburgh had to punt on their next drive and the Broncos returned the ball 19 yards to Denver’s 46 yard line, setting up a 54 yard drive that ended on Elway’s 1 yard touchdown pass to WR Ed McCaffrey, giving them a 24-14 lead with 13 seconds left in the half. 34 of the Broncos 54 yards came from a pass interference penalty on the first play of the drive. Both defenses controlled most of the second half. The Steelers took the opening drive of the second half and moved the ball methodically down the field and had a great scoring chance at the Broncos 5 yard line. But Denver ended the possession with a Stewart interception in the end zone. The next time Pittsburgh got the ball, they moved it to the Broncos 32 yard line, only to lose it again when Denver forced and recovered a fumble while sacking Stewart.
Late in the fourth quarter, Stewart completed 7 of 8 passes for 68 yards and rushed twice for 11 yards on a 79 yard drive that ended with his 14 yard touchdown pass to WR Charles Johnson, cutting the score to 24-21 with 2:46 left in regulation. At the 2 minute warning, facing 3rd and 5 on their own 15 yard line on the ensuing drive, Elway connected on an 18 yard completion to TE Shannon Sharpe for a first down. Then, on the next play, he completed a 10 yard pass to McCaffrey for another first down, enabling his team to run out the rest of the clock and preserve a 24-21 Denver victory. Sharpe later said that Elway made up the converting play in the huddle, seconds before the snap.
In the NFC, for the third year in a row, the Green Bay Packers easily trounced the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, holding them to just 257 total yards while forcing 4 fumbles and 5 sacks. San Francisco gained just 33 rushing yards and RB Garrison Hearst, who rushed for over 1,000 yards during the season, had only 12 yards on 8 carries. The average starting field position for the 49ers was from their own 17 yard line. QB Brett Favre finished the game completing 16 of 27 attempts for 222 yards and a touchdown. RB Dorsey Levens recorded a then playoff team record 116 rushing yards and a touchdown while also catching 6 passes for 37 yards.
Green Bay took the opening kickoff and moved the ball 76 yards in 10 plays with Favre completing an 18 yard pass to WR Robert Brooks on the game’s first play. On the next play, San Francisco was called for a 24 yard pass interference penalty, moving the ball to the 49ers 35 yard line. The Packers eventually reached the 2 yard line before a pass was deflected, falling short of a wide open RB William Henderson, forcing Green Bay to settle for a field goal from K Ryan Longwell for a 3-0 lead. In the second quarter, San Francisco drove 60 yards from their own 12 yard line to the Green Bay 28 yard line, where they faced 3rd and 8. On the next play, QB Steve Young’s pass was intercepted by the Packers and returned 58 yards to the 49ers 28 yard line in what turned out to be a crucial play.
Favre then found WR Antonio Freeman slicing across the middle on a slant for a 27 yard touchdown pass to give the Packers a 10-0 lead. Later on, Green Bay managed a drive deep into San Francisco territory but Favre committed a 15 yard intentional grounding penalty on 3rd and 14. Longwell missed a 47 yard field goal attempt on the next play. On the 49ers ensuing drive, they drove 52 yards in 9 plays, including Young’s 48 yard completion to WR Terrell Owens on 3rd and 26, to reach the Packers 10 yard line. Young nearly completed a touchdown pass to WR J. J. Stokes. But Stokes landed with one foot out of bounds in the end zone and the 49ers settled for K Gary Anderson’s field goal, cutting the score to 10-3 with less than a minute left in the half.
Only 51 seconds remained after Green Bay got the ball back but Favre got his team into scoring range with a 40 yard completion to Freeman, and Longwell capitalized with a 43 yard field goal as time expired, giving the Packers a 13-3 halftime lead. On the first play of the second half, Favre threw a pass to Henderson, who held it briefly before dropping it. The 49ers defense believed his drop was a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, but officials ruled it to be an incomplete pass, something replays seemed to contradict. Both offenses were nearly shut down for the rest of the game as neither team was able to mount a sustained drive.
Late in the fourth quarter, Young threw an incomplete pass intended for TE Brent Jones on 3rd and 18 from his own 7 yard line. Jones argued vehemently after the play that he was held. No flag was thrown, however, and Tommy Thompson’s ensuing punt went just 28 yards to the 49ers 35 yard line. Green Bay then drove 28 yards and increased their lead to 16-3 with Longwell’s 25 yard field goal with 5:02 left in the game. Now in a desperate situation, San Francisco tried to convert a fourth down from their own 22 on the next drive, but Young was sacked for an 11 yard loss on the play, setting up Levens’ 5 yard touchdown run that made the score 23-3. Chuck Levy returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, narrowing the Packers lead to 23-10, but the 49ers could do nothing else with the final 2:52 remaining on the clock. Green Bay would return to the Super Bowl with a 23-10 victory.
Thus, for the second consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers would be playing for the World Championship of Professional Football in Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos.
Super Bowl Highlights: On January 25 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego CA, the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers, led by sixth year Head Coach Mike Holmgren, played the AFC Champion Denver Broncos, led by thrid year Head Coach Mike Shanahan, in Super Bowl XXXII. This would be the second time that the Super Bowl was held in San Diego during the Super Bowl era.
Denver entered Super Bowl XXXII after suffering four Super Bowl losses; Super Bowls XII, XXI, XXII, and XXIV from 1978, 1987, 1988, and 1990, respectively. In all of those losses, the Broncos never had the ability to rush well enough or score enough points to be competitive. Denver had been defeated by a large margin in each one, losing all four by a combined score of 163-50. The previous three Super Bowl losses were under Head Coach Dan Reeves and starting QB John Elway, whose ad-libbing skills enabled the Broncos to advance to the league’s championship game in a span of 3 out of 4 seasons. Elway also led his team to the 1991 AFC Championship Game, but they lost in a defensive struggle to the Buffalo Bills, 10-7.
After missing the playoffs in 1992, Dan Reeves was fired, ending his 13 year tenure. His successor, Wade Phillips, was fired after the 1994 season, having lasted only two years, during which the Broncos never finished better than 9-7. The team’s fortunes changed when Mike Shanahan became Denver’s Head Coach in 1995. Shanahan was previously the Broncos Offensive Coordinator during those 3 Super Bowl losses but was fired in 1991 after a power struggle between him and Reeves over the offensive personnel. Shanahan subsequently served as the San Francisco 49ers’ Offensive Coordinator from 1992 to 1994, including the 49ers’ Super Bowl XXIX win. Under Shanahan, the San Francisco offense ranked first in the league in total yards gained for all three of his seasons there.
When Shanahan returned to the Broncos in 1995, he selected RB Terrell Davis in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Davis became the cornerstone of Denver’s rebuilt running game, leading the team with 1,117 rushing yards in his rookie year. The Broncos finished the 1995 regular season with just an 8-8 record. By 1996, the Broncos had the league’s best offense, gaining 5,791 total yards, and recorded the AFC’s best regular season record at 13-3. But they were upset by the second year Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-27, in the playoffs. During the 1997 regular season, the Broncos once again had the league’s best offense with 5,872 total yards and led the league in total points scored with 472. Although they recorded a 12-4 regular season record, they finished in second place behind the 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
Davis, a Pro Bowl selection, remained the team’s leading rusher, recording 1,750 yards on 369 attempts (4.7 yards per attempt) and 15 touchdowns while also catching 42 passes for 287 yards. Overall, Davis tied for 1st in the league in rushing touchdowns while finishing 2nd only to Co-MVP Barry Sanders in rushing attempts and yards. At 37 years old, Elway still posted a Pro Bowl season with 280 out of 502 completions (55.8%) for 3,635 yards, 27 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions, and a QB Rating of 87.5. He also rushed for 215 yards and another touchdown. Overall, Elway finished 4th in passing touchdowns, 5th in passing attempts, 6th in passing yards, and 7th in passer rating.
Pro Bowl TE Shannon Sharpe led the team with 72 receptions for 1,107 yards. WR Rod Smith, who was not drafted by any NFL team and recorded only 22 receptions for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns in his two previous seasons, had a breakout year with 70 receptions for 1,180 yards and 12 touchdowns. Overall, Smith finished tied for 2nd in receiving touchdowns as well as tied for 8th in receiving yards. WR Ed McCaffrey, who played in Shanahan’s 1994 49ers offense, recorded 45 receptions for 590 yards and 8 touchdowns. Denver’s offensive line was led by 7 time Pro Bowl OT Gary Zimmerman and Pro Bowl C Tom Nalen.
On defense, the major addition to the team prior to the season was former Chiefs DE Neil Smith. Smith had a Pro Bowl season for the 6th time in his career with 28 tackles and 8.5 sacks. DE Alfred Williams recorded 36 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. The linebacking corps was led by veteran Bill Romanowski, who had 55 tackles and 2 sacks, and John Mobley, who led the team with 97 tackles while also recording 4 sacks, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
The secondary was led by veteran DBs Tyrone Braxton, who led the team with 4 interceptions for 113 yards and 1 touchdown, and Steve Atwater, who had 53 tackles, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions for 42 yards and 1 touchdown. DB Darrien Gordon recorded 50 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, 4 interceptions for 64 return yards, and 1 touchdown. He also returned 40 punts for 543 yards and 3 touchdowns. Overall, the Broncos finished 16th against the run, 5th against the pass, and 7th in total defense, allowing 287 points. Both against the run and the pass, Denver finished ahead of Green Bay and trailed the Packers only in points allowed by just 5 (287 to 282).
Although the Green Bay Packers were favored to win by 11 points, clearly the Broncos were not a team to be taken lightly.
Green Bay’s Antonio Freeman returned the opening kickoff 19 yards to the Packers 24 yard line. On the third play of the drive, Brett Favre kept the offense on the field by completing a 13 yard pass to Freeman on 3rd and 9. Then, Dorsey Levens rushed the ball on three consecutive plays, gaining 27 yards to advance to the Denver 35 yard line. Favre finished the drive with two completions to Freeman, the first one for 13 yards and the second one a 22 yard touchdown pass, to give the Packers a 7-0 lead.
The Broncos stormed right back with a touchdown of their own. Denver returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to their own 42 yard line. They then drove to the Green Bay 46 yard line. On third down, a Green Bay holding penalty nullified John Elway’s incompletion and gave the Broncos a first down. On the next play, Terrell Davis ran the ball 27 yards to the 14 yard line. Then, after a 2 yard run by Davis, Elway scrambled 10 yards to gain a first down at the 2 yard line. Two plays later, Davis capped off the 10 play, 58 yard drive with a 1 yard touchdown run to tie the game. To date, this is the only Super Bowl in which both teams scored touchdowns on their opening drives.
On the second play of the Packers’ next possession, Denver intercepted a Favre pass at Green Bay’s 45 yard line. Aided by five Davis runs for 29 yards, the Broncos marched 45 yards to score on Elway’s 1 yard touchdown run on the first play of the 2nd quarter, taking a 14-7 lead. Elway’s touchdown play involved a fake handoff to Davis, who was previously taken out of the game during the drive because the onset of a migraine headache, severely impairing his vision. But Mike Shanahan decided to send him into the game for the third down play, believing that the Packers would not be fooled by a fake handoff without Davis on the field. Davis later said his vision was so impaired that he was afraid Elway would call an audible at the line and try to hand him the ball.
Despite his blurred vision, Davis perfectly executed the play, drawing the Green Bay defense into the middle of the line as Elway rushed to the right and into the end zone completely untouched. By the second half, Davis had taken migraine medication and his vision had returned to normal, allowing him to play the rest of the game. On the Packers’ ensuing possession, the Broncos forced a fumble while sacking Favre and Neil Smith recovered the ball on the Packers 33 yard line. Although the Broncos were unable to get a first down, K Jason Elam made a 51 yard field goal, the second longest in Super Bowl history, to increase Denver’s lead to 17-7.
Both teams went three and out on their next possessions, and Denver P Tom Rouen’s 47 yard kick planted Green Bay at their own 5 yard line with 7:38 left in the quarter. But Green Bay stormed down the field on their ensuing drive, marching 95 yards in 17 plays and scoring on Favre’s 6 yard touchdown pass to Mark Chmura with just 12 seconds left in the half, allowing the Broncos to hold on to a slim 17-14 lead.
Green Bay kicked to Denver to start the second half. On the first play after the kickoff, the Packers forced and recovered a fumble from Davis at the Broncos 26 yard line. But Denver’s defense forced a three and out. However, Denver was called for an offsides penalty on the ensuing field goal attempt, giving Green Bay a new set of downs. The Packers had 1st and 10 inside the Broncos 20 yard line, but the drive stalled at the 9 yard line, forcing the Packers to settle for 27 yard Ryan Longwell field goal, tying the game at 17-17. Green Bay kicked off once again and Denver’s offense stalled, forcing a punt, giving the Packers good field position again near their 40 yard line.
But, once again, Denver’s defense forced a three and out. However, on the ensuing punt, the Broncos were once more called for an offsides penalty, giving Green Bay a fresh set of downs near midfield. But Denver’s defense rose up to prevent another first down, keeping the score tied. Later in the quarter, Green Bay P Craig Hentrich’s 51 yard kick pinned the Broncos back at their own 8 yard line. Unfortunately, the Packers’ defense could not stop Denver as they marched on a 13 play, 92 yard drive to regain the lead. Aided by a 36 yard pass from Elway to Ed McCaffrey, the Broncos advanced to Green Bay’s 12 yard line.
On third down, Elway scrambled for an 8 yard run and dove for the first down, a play in which he was hit so hard by Packers’ defenders LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior that he spun sideways through the air. This run was later referred to as “The Helicopter”, and what many consider as Elway’s career defining moment as well as the defining moment of Super Bowl XXXII. Two plays later, Davis scored on another 1 yard touchdown run, giving the Broncos the lead, 24-17. On the ensuing kickoff, Freeman was hit as he held the ball exposed and fumbled, with Denver recovering at the Packers 22 yard line.
Immediately, the Broncos tried to capitalize on the turnover by attempting a touchdown pass, a throw intended for Rod Smith as he ran a post pattern following a fake handoff and a roll out by Elway, but the Packers intercepted Elway’s pass in the end zone and returned it to the 15 yard line. After the interception, Green Bay marched 85 yards in just 4 plays, three of them receptions by Freeman, to tie the score once again, 24-24, with Freeman’s 13 yard touchdown catch 1:28 into the fourth quarter. Both teams’ defenses tightened up, and the clubs exchanged punts twice. With the Packers pinned at their own 10 yard line, Hentrich kicked the ball just 39 yards to the Packers 49 yard line with 3:27 left in the game.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Green Bay committed a 15 yard facemask penalty while tackling Davis on a 2 yard run, moving the ball to the 32 yard line. Two plays later, Elway completed a 23 yard pass to RB Howard Griffith. A holding penalty pushed the Broncos back to the 18 yard line, but then Davis rushed 17 yards to the 1 yard line, and Denver called a timeout. This left the Broncos facing 2nd and goal with 1:47 left on the clock. The Packers had two timeouts remaining. Mike Holmgren told his team to let Denver score to maximize the time Green Bay would have on the clock for a potential game tying drive. He admitted later that he had thought that it was 1st and goal rather than 2nd and goal, crucial to clock management decision making on the play. Davis scored his third rushing touchdown on 2nd and goal, leaving 1:45 on the clock.
The Broncos now had a one touchdown lead, 31-24. The Packers attempted one final drive to try to tie the game before the end of regulation and send the contest into overtime. Shanahan famously instructed his defensive coordinators to keep playing the same prevent defense as Green Bay attempted to drive downfield in the final 2 minutes of the game. Freeman returned Denver’s kickoff 22 yards to the 30 yard line, and the Packers advanced to the Broncos 35 yard line with 1:04 left in the game on a pair of completions from Favre to Levens for gains of 22 and 13 yards.
After a 4 yard pass to Levens, Favre’s next two passes fell incomplete. The second down play was a bullet throw to a wide open Freeman around the 15 yard line, which would have given the Packers a first down, but Freeman could not handle the pass. On the third down incompletion, both intended receiver Brooks and Denver’s Randy Hilliard were blasted by Steve Atwater’s seismic hit. All three players were knocked out of the game with :32 remaining and both teams were charged a timeout. Then, on fourth down, the Broncos John Mobley broke up a pass intended for Mark Chmura, enabling Denver to take the ball back and run out the clock for a 31-24 victory.
After suffering four previous Super Bowl losses, Denver had won their first league championship, snapping a 13 game losing streak for AFC teams in the Super Bowl, the previous victory being the Los Angeles Raiders’ win in Super Bowl XVIII after the 1983 season. The Broncos became just the second wild card team to win a Super Bowl and the first since the Oakland Raiders in 1980’s Super Bowl XV. Green Bay was the first team favored to win by double digits to lose a Super Bowl since the Minnesota Vikings in 1969’s Super Bowl IV. But, years later, Brett Favre said Denver was far underrated and credited their innovative blitz packages and strategies, foreign to the league at that time, for confusing the Packers.
Despite suffering a migraine headache that caused him to miss most of the second quarter, Denver RB Terrell Davis was named Super Bowl MVP. He ran for 157 yards on 30 carries, caught 2 passes for 8 yards, and scored a Super Bowl record 3 rushing touchdowns. However, during the post game victory celebration, Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen held the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the air and exclaimed, “This one’s for John,” referring to the fact that, after 15 seasons, QB John Elway’s long quest for a Super Bowl victory was finally complete. Elway finished the game with 12 out of 22 pass completions for 123 yards and 1 interception. A remarkable fact about Denver’s offensive performance was that, except for 2 penalties and Elway’s kneel downs to end each half, the Broncos did not lose yardage on any play from scrimmage. Green Bay defensive stars Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, LeRoy Butler, and others were unable to register a sack against the Broncos’ offensive line.
Going into Super Bowl XXXII, Green Bay Packers’ fans fully expected to win their second consecutive Super Bowl for the first time since winning Super Bowls I and II. Instead, Packers’ fans had to cope with the fact that their team had lost to an 11 point underdog in the Denver Broncos. This would not be a loss that either the team or its fans would soon forget. Although hopes remained high that the 1990s would represent the return of the “glory years” to Green Bay, 1998 brought about an unexpected end to the Packers’ title aspirations in the Brett Favre era.
Attached is the NFL Films Super Bowl XXXII Highlight video. Enjoy!!
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