History Lesson: Broncos 31, Packers 24 (Super Bowl XXXII)

When it comes to quarterback Peyton Manning, it seems like we’ve been down this road before.

When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks take the field at MetLife Stadium at February 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII, the latter will be making just its second appearance in the Big Game. Meanwhile, Manning is making his third Super appearance looking to become the first starting quarterback to lead two franchises (Colts and Broncos) to the Lombardi Trophy.

On the other hand, this is very old hat for the Broncos, who are making their seventh trip to the Super Bowl in search of their third NFL title.

When last we saw Denver on this stage (Super Bowl XXXIII), quarterback John Elway was walking away with an MVP trophy in what proved to be his final game with the team, a 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in South Florida. The Pro Football Hall of Famer would close his 16-year career with back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

But in order to have two straight titles, you have to have the first. And winning the Super Bowl had indeed proven elusive for both Elway and the organization.

When the Broncos took the field against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers this Sunday afternoon in January at Qualcomm Stadium, there was plenty of extra baggage attached.

It was Denver’s fifth trip to the Big Game, and the previous 4 experiences were excruciating, losses to the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers by a combined score of 163-50 and each setback were worse than the next.

Brett Farve John ElwayThere was 15-year veteran quarterback John Elway, who was on the losing end of the last three of those games and did not play particularly well in any of them. And finally, there was the banner of the AFC, which had dropped 13 consecutive Super Bowls entering this tilt, three of those by the Broncos.

Mike Shanahan’s team probably expected to be the Packers’ opponent in Super Bowl XXXI as the Broncos were 13-3 in 1996, tied with Green Bay for the best record in the league. But Denver was less than sharp in the final weeks for a variety of reasons, and would eventually be stunned at home by the two-year old Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. In 1997, the Broncos were 12-4 but were taking the harder route to the Super Bowl, avenging that home loss to Jacksonville in the Wild Card Playoffs, then winning at Kansas City (Divisional Playoffs) and Pittsburgh (AFC Championship Game) to get to San Diego.

Of course, getting past the Packers was not going to be easy as Green Bay won 13 games for the second straight season and were led by three-time league MVP quarterback Brett Favre. Mike Holmgren’s club beat the Buccaneers at Lambeau Field in the Divisional Playoffs and then won the NFC title game at San Francisco.

Right from the start of this game, you knew something was going to be a little different. To date, it remains the only Super Bowl in the game’s 47-year history in which both teams scored a touchdown on their opening possession, the Packers took the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards in eight plays, with Favre throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to WR Antonio Freeman and the Broncos responding with a 10-play, 58-yard march, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by running back Terrell Davis.

The next 10 points would belong to Denver thanks to a pair of Packers’ turnovers, and suddenly Shanahan’s team owned a surprising 17-7 lead. But the champs would respond just 12 seconds before halftime as Favre connected with tight end Mark Chmura for a six-yard score. And the Packers would tie the game early in the third quarter after Davis fumbled on his team’s first offensive play, setting up a field goal by placekicker Ryan Longwell.

Then the fun would really begin. The teams would trade touchdowns first late in the third and then early in the fourth quarters, Davis’ second score of the game capping off a 92-yard drive for a 24-17 Denver lead, while it took Green Bay only four plays to cover 85 yards as Favre to Freeman tied it up at 24-24.Super-Bowl-XXXII

But this game belonged to the Broncos and Davis (the game’s Most Valuable Player), who would finish with 157 yards rushing and three scores, the last of those one-yard touchdown runs coming with just 1:45 to remaining and assisted by Holmgren, who allowed Denver to score so his team could get the ball back with enough time to tie the game. But the Packers’ final drive would end at the Broncos’ 31-yard line and the upset was complete.

Of course, Elway and company would come back a year later and successfully defend their Super Bowl title, defeating the Atlanta Falcons at Miami. As previously mentioned, it proved to be the final season for the Broncos signal-caller. Ironically, 1998 also proved to be the rookie season for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has now teamed with Elway (Denver’s executive vice president of football operations) to bring back a championship to the Mile High City.

Still, there’s something about winning that first title that was special. And there was certainly something magical that day in San Diego when Elway and the Broncos got all of those monkeys off their collective backs.

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