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On This Date in Sports January 25, 1998: John Elway's Helicopter

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The Broncos' win ends a 13-year dominance for the NFC winning the Lombardi Trophy, three of which included losses by John Elway and the Broncos. Elway’s desire to win is best shown when he is sent spinning after diving for a first down, as Terrell Davis fights through migraines to win the MVP.

Super Bowl XXXII was a game that would define several players’ legacies in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers, coached by Mike Holmgren, came in looking for a second straight Lombardi Trophy, while the Denver Broncos were looking for their first after losing their previous four Super Bowl appearances. It was an era in which the NFC dominated the big game, winning 13 straight Super Bowls, many of which were uncompetitive games decided before halftime.

The Green Bay Packers had just completed a resurgence thanks to coach Mike Holmgren, quarterback Brett Favre and pass rusher Reggie White. In 1996, the Packers won their first Super Bowl in nearly three decades, returning the Lombardi Trophy to the place it all began as they beat the New England Patriots, 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. The reigning champions again had the look of a champion, posting a record of 13-3 to win the NFC Central as Brett Favre was co-MVP along with Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. In the playoffs, the Packers shut down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-7 while beating the San Francisco 49ers 23-10 on the road in the NFC Championship Game.

The Denver Broncos came into the season looking to erase a legacy of bad playoff losses. They were stunned by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Playoffs a year earlier, despite having the top seed in the playoffs. Coached by Mike Shanahan, the Broncos had a new look in 1997, replacing the orange home jerseys, with that was blue, with an orange stripe. They also got a new logo and a new helmet, wearing a darker shade of blue and a horse’s head with an orange mane. The Broncos posted a 12-4 record in the regular season and were forced to settle for the Wild Card, as the Kansas City Chiefs had the top record in the AFC at 13-3. In the playoffs, the Broncos got revenge on the Jaguars, winning the Wild Card Game. A week later, the Broncos upended the Chiefs 14-10 in Arrowhead Stadium, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 in the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium.

Most expected the NFC to continue its mastery over the AFC, as the Packers were an 11-point favorite over the Broncos. The National Anthem was performed by Jewel, as members of the 1987 Washington Redskins and legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson took part in the coin toss ceremony. Both teams scored on their first possession, as Brett Favre connected with Antonio Freeman on a 22-yard touchdown pass, while Terrell Davis completed a 58-yard drive with a one-yard run. On the Packers' next possession, Favre was picked off by Robert Brooks, setting up Denver at the Green Bay 45-yard line. The Broncos would hold the ball the rest of the first quarter, with John Elway scoring on a one-yard sneak on the first snap of the second quarter to give the Broncos a 14-7 lead. Moments later, the Broncos' defense came up with another turnover as Neil Smith stripped Favre at the Packers' 33. After the fumble, the Broncos could only get a 51-yard Jason Elam field goal as Terrell Davis sat out the second quarter battling a migraine. The Packers' offense got back on track late in the second quarter, as Bret Favre capped a 95-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Mark Chmura just before halftime.

Following a halftime tribute to Motown, Terrell Davis was given an even bigger headache as he fumbled on the first carry of the third quarter setting Green Bay up at the Broncos' 26. The Packers would fall short of taking the lead, as they settled for a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to tie the game 17-17. The drama would heat up late in the third quarter, John Elway facing third and six deep in Packers territory, took off and dove head first for a first down and was sent spinning like a helicopter by Packers defenders LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior. Two plays later, the Broncos would regain the lead on a one-yard run by Davis. On the ensuing kickoff, Antonio Freeman fumbled, setting up the Broncos to put the game on ice, but Elway was picked off by Eugene Robinson in the end zone, keeping Green Bay in the game. The Packers would take the ball down the field and tie the game early in the fourth quarter 13-yard Favre to Freeman touchdown pass. 

The game remained deadlocked 24-24 until late in the fourth quarter when Denver began a drive at midfield with 3:27 left. After Terrell Davis took the ball to the one-yard line just after the two-minute warning, Packers coach Mike Holmgren facing a difficult situation, decided to allow Davis into the end zone on the next carry, hoping Favre could answer and force overtime. With a couple of throws, Brett Favre was able to get down to the Denver 31-yard line. However, three straight incompletions, the last with 32 seconds left, sealed the 24-17 win for the Broncos.

The Denver Broncos had done, they had won their first Super Bowl, and owner Pat Bowlen gave his thanks to John Elway, holding the Lombard Trophy high and exclaiming, “This One’s for John.” Elway had lost his three previous trips to the Super Bowl and was at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, erasing the criticism that he could not win the big game. The Super Bowl also boosted the legacy of Terrell Davis, who was named Super Bowl MVP, rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns despite missing the entire second quarter while dealing with a migraine. Davis would rush for 2,000 yards in 1998 before blowing out his knee in 1999. Despite a short career, his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXII and his MVP season in 1998, when the Broncos won a second straight Super Bowl, would be enough to make T.D. a Hall of Famer. Elway himself would win the Super Bowl MVP a year later in what would be the final game of his career.