January 18, 1998 in Sports

Broncos’ Shot Isn’t So Long Denver Has All The Right Tools To Break Afc’s Well-Earned Slide

Barry Wilner Associated Press
 

The Denver Broncos have been a frequent contributor to the Super Bowl charity. You know, the one where the AFC hands away championships to the NFC.

While Buffalo has been the most generous of the Always Fails Conference teams during their 13-year Super Bowl slide, the Broncos are right behind the Bills. Next Sunday, they get the chance to tie Buffalo’s four losses during the streak.

Of course, the Broncos also get the opportunity to end the AFC’s losing ways. And, despite what the oddsmakers say, they just might have the weapons to do it.

“You have to take each game differently,” said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who won an NFL title as an offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994. “The fact that the NFC beat the AFC in previous years has no bearing on the game.”

Denver quarterback John Elway, 0-3 in Super Bowls, has been hearing about the NFC streak since it began, when San Francisco defeated Miami 38-16 in 1985.

“We’re just glad our team is the one from the AFC that gets a chance to break the streak,” Elway said.

These Broncos have several elements that many of their losing predecessors from the AFC didn’t:

Shanahan has been on the winning side, something Marv Levy and his Buffalo staff and many of the other AFC losers couldn’t claim.

A running game at least the equal of its NFC opponent, in this case the defending champion Green Bay Packers.

A defensive line that can negate the biggest edge NFC teams have held in the streak, superior offensive lines.

A veteran blocking unit that, despite not having a 300-pounder, plays an NFC style with former NFC players in tackle Gary Zimmerman and guards Mark Schlereth and Brian Habib. Schlereth, the former University of Idaho star, won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1992.

Ever since the 1985 Super Bowl, AFC teams generally have not measured up. They’ve been overpowered by bigger opponents who controlled the ball and the clock.

Denver was the most overmatched of all the AFC representatives.

Perhaps the Broncos’ first entry during the NFC streak would have been formidable had it not run into Phil Simms of the New York Giants having a career game or a defense led by Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks that made a goal-line stand to turn things around late in the first half. But those things happen with regularity to the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The 1987 Broncos didn’t have the defense to stop unheralded (before and after the game) Tim Smith, running behind the massive Hogs of the Washington Redskins, or another quarterback having a career day, Doug Williams. Joe Gibbs outcoached Dan Reeves and Broncos blockers were so dominated by Washington after the first quarter that Elway became a non-factor.

The ‘89 Broncos simply had no chance against Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and John Taylor, an offense that picked Denver apart from the start. To be fair, an AFC all-star team might not have made it close with those 49ers.

Only the 1988 Bengals, 1990 Bills and 1995 Steelers ever looked capable of winning during the streak.

Cincinnati, which had the better offensive line, a hot running back (Ickey Woods) and good special teams, fell in the final minute to San Francisco - and not a vintage 49ers squad like their other four Super Bowl winners. But the Bengals defense got soft at the end, which was no way to hold off Montana and Co.

Buffalo was the most-heralded AFC champion during the streak when it met the Giants in ‘91. The Bills’ versatile, hurry-up attack led by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed operating behind a solid line, had been unstoppable all season. But the Buffalo defense couldn’t stop New York from staging long drives, wasting the clock and keeping the potent offense off the field.

Still, had Scott Norwood not gone wide right on a 47-yard field goal at the final gun, nobody would be talking about 13-year streaks.

Pittsburgh played Dallas even two years ago. The Steelers had as good a defense, perhaps better, and a power ground game. They also made two critical mistakes that lost the game: Larry Brown’s interceptions of two Neil O’Donnell passes, one on a bad throw, the other when Andre Hastings ran the wrong route.

Those things, too, are common for AFC Super Bowl reps.

Oddly, the one place the AFC should have had an edge was at quarterback. Miami’s Dan Marino had the best passing year in NFL history the season he played in his only Super Bowl. Elway vs. Simms and Elway vs. Williams sure seemed tilted toward Denver. Kelly and the Giants’ Jeff Hostetler or Kelly and the Redskins’ Mark Rypien sure looked like a mismatch.

Boomer Esiason of Cincinnati was the league’s MVP in 1988 and, even though he was up against Montana for the championship, he didn’t pale in comparison that year. And Kelly looked as good as Troy Aikman in 1992 until he got hurt, and Kelly was back healthy for that Super Bowl.

One more mistake the AFC has made during the streak has been sending a wild-card team (the ‘85 Patriots and ‘92 Bills) to the Super Bowl.

Oops! Guess which route the Broncos took.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DOMINATION Since 1985, the NFC has won 13 straight Super Bowls against teams from the AFC: 1985 San Francisco 38 Miami 16 1986 Chicago 46 New England 10 1987 N.Y. Giants 39 Denver 20 1988 Washington 42 Denver 10 1989 San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16 1990 San Francisco 55 Denver 10 1991 N.Y. Giants 20 Buffalo 19 1992 Washington 37 Buffalo 24 1993 Dallas 52 Buffalo 17 1994 Dallas 30 Buffalo 13 1995 San Francisco 49 San Diego 26 1996 Dallas 27 Pittsburgh 17 1997 Green Bay 35 New England 21

This sidebar appeared with the story: DOMINATION Since 1985, the NFC has won 13 straight Super Bowls against teams from the AFC: 1985 San Francisco 38 Miami 16 1986 Chicago 46 New England 10 1987 N.Y. Giants 39 Denver 20 1988 Washington 42 Denver 10 1989 San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16 1990 San Francisco 55 Denver 10 1991 N.Y. Giants 20 Buffalo 19 1992 Washington 37 Buffalo 24 1993 Dallas 52 Buffalo 17 1994 Dallas 30 Buffalo 13 1995 San Francisco 49 San Diego 26 1996 Dallas 27 Pittsburgh 17 1997 Green Bay 35 New England 21


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