If you're a sportswriter covering pro football, you never forget your first Super Bowl. In my case, that experience came 36 years ago when the Denver Broncos rode their Orange Crush defense into Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys.
Even then, one could see the excesses of football's grandest spectacle taking shape. Hordes of media converged on New Orleans, and the more outspoken players — led by Denver defensive star Lyle Alzado and Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson — created headlines. That also was the first "prime time" Super Bowl, and the first indoor title game, inside the Superdome.
Also worth noting: People were mortified when the NFL raised the basic ticket price by 50 percent over Super Bowl XI — from $20 to $30. (Cheapest face-value tickets this year: $500 each.)
From that game through the Broncos' back-to-back victories in 1998 and 1999, I was fortunate to cover 11 Super Bowls in my previous life at the Gazette. So with Denver finally back in The Biggest Game, this will be my first time to miss a Broncos Super Bowl. Instead, I'll watch it on TV with my two sons, now adults. Nothing wrong with that.
But it never hurts to look back, especially when there are so many newbies who might want a history lesson.
Jan. 15, 1978, Dallas 27, Denver 10: The night before, at a large Colorado party, John Denver mingled among the attendees, willing to meet anyone, with one stipulation — no autographs, just pictures. For many, that was the week's best moment. The big story line was Denver quarterback Craig Morton facing his former team, but Morton bombed, completing just 4 of 15 passes with four interceptions before being benched in the third quarter.
Jan. 25, 1987: New York Giants 39, Denver 20: Two weeks after John Elway engineered The Drive at Cleveland to reach his first Super Bowl, the magic was gone. Denver blew chances to build a big early lead, taking a 10-9 edge into halftime. Just as the teams returned to the Rose Bowl field, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" played and the crowd went crazy, fueling the Giants' emotions into a lopsided second half.
Jan. 31, 1988: Washington 42, Denver 10: In San Diego, this looked to be Elway's moment after his 56-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel on Denver's first offensive play, and it was 10-0 after one quarter. Then came a historic collapse, as the Redskins scored five second-quarter touchdowns. Game over.
Jan. 28, 1990: San Francisco 55, Denver 10: Back in New Orleans, Elway and the Broncos were no match for Joe Montana, who threw three of his five touchdown passes to Jerry Rice. It was 27-3 at the half, and the 49ers were merciful later. This one's still widely regarded as the worst of all Super Bowl games, and those 55 points remain a record.
Jan. 25, 1998: Denver 31, Green Bay 24: The weather was perfect in San Diego for Elway vs. Brett Favre, with the defending champion Packers favored by 11 points. And the game was remarkable from the start: 7-7 at the quarter, 17-14 Denver at the half. Everyone remembers Elway's "helicopter" run that set up a third-quarter touchdown, but the Broncos still needed Terrell Davis' third touchdown of the night with 1:47 left. When it was over, Denver owner Pat Bowlen delivered his eloquent "This one's for John" as he gave the Lombardi Trophy to Elway. People also forget, but that game ended a 13-year losing streak for the AFC.
Jan. 31, 1999: Denver 34, Atlanta 19: The coaching showdown of Mike Shanahan vs. Dan Reeves was overshadowed when Atlanta defensive star Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the game for soliciting a prostitute, which other Falcons also admitted to doing. They certainly weren't sharp in a game that wasn't as close as the score. My prediction (always considered a jinx through the years) was Denver winning 34-20, which would've been the exact score except that Atlanta went for two points and failed after a meaningless late TD.
Feb. 2, 2014: Denver vs. Seattle: Who will win? On a comfortable night, you'd have to go with Denver's Peyton Manning over Russell Wilson, who has not been as good down the stretch. But on a cold night, the better defense and this game's best runner, Marshawn Lynch, likely swing the outcome.
Seattle, 23-20. And now we'll see if the old Routon Jinx is alive or dead.
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