Sun, 24 Jan 2021

Way Back When: The Broncos' greatest game at Kansas City

Denver Broncos
03 Dec 2020, 09:38 GMT+10

Jim Saccomano

In terms of win-loss records and status in the AFC West, this is a tough time in Broncos history.

But I have been with the team for over four decades, and I have watched the worm turn fast. Just when you think you have seen it all, you see something new, as we all did last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

So hang in there. This is no time for the Chiefs to get cocky, which I suspect has already happened at some level.

I am reminded of 1997, when the Broncos and Chiefs played two very contentious, chippy games in the regular season, with each of us winning at home. It all combined to lead up to the greatest Denver win ever in Kansas City, our 14-10 divisional playoff game victory in Kansas City on Jan. 4.

Our regular-season loss in Kansas City was in November, and we had seemed on the verge of victory after taking the lead on a Jason Elam field goal with just one minute left in the game. But then the Chiefs marched down the field quickly and kicker Pete Stoyanovich made a 54-yard field goal to give them a 24-22 win.

We were all standing on the sidelines at that time, and I remember pointing out to a staffer that in all likelihood the Chiefs would win the division, not us, they would have a first-round playoff bye, not us, and our road to the Super Bowl now would have to include three wins, not two.

And oh, yes, the first-round playoff game was to be on December 27, so we could kiss Christmas goodbye for 1997.

But the Broncos were a great team. The Chiefs were real good, but the Broncos were great.

Everything transpired just as I had figured.

Our last regular season game was on CBS radio, with good friend Pat Haden doing the color commentary. At the end of the game Haden was asked who he thought would win the Super Bowl.

"Denver," Haden replied.

When his fellow announcer pointed out that the Broncos were wild cards, Haden said, "Doesn't matter. They are the best team in the NFL. They will win out the rest of the way."

We were about to embark on our own version of the "Revenge Tour," posting major wins over three teams that had recently given us burning defeats: Jacksonville (our wild-card opponent at home), then at Kansas City and at Pittsburgh.

The weather was actually nice, 31 degrees with a slight wind, on that January day in Kansas City.

And the team that Denver lined up against the Chiefs included future Hall of Famers John Elway at quarterback, Shannon Sharpe at tight end, Gary Zimmerman at left tackle and Steve Atwater at safety. The surrounding cast was pretty darn good as well, as Denver was a few weeks into the process of going almost an entire calendar year without a loss in the NFL.

I took an early bus to the game, as usual, and I remember standing near the tunnel when the first player bus arrived. When Head Coach Mile Shanahan walked past me, he winked at me. This was not something that regularly happened, but when it did it always proved a harbinger of good things to come in terms of opportunity meeting superb preparation.

The Broncos that day posted our first road playoff win in 11 years, just the second in franchise history, with a 14-10 win against Kansas City in front of 76,965 screaming fans in red at Arrowhead Stadium.

Shanahan would later call this game the greatest of his career, setting the stage for wins in the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh and the win over Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII, and for the 1998 season in which the Broncos became back-to-back world champions.

It was a legendary day in so many ways.

I recall that even the officiating crew was a "who's who" list of NFL officials, including fabled referee Jerry Markbreit, along with line judge Walt Anderson, back judge Al Jury and side judge Mike Pereira.

We advanced to our first AFC Championship Game since 1991 behind two Terrell Davis touchdowns, which tied the franchise postseason record for the second week in a row, and a defensive effort that limited the Chiefs to just 10 points that tied for the fewest allowed in club playoff history.

The second Davis touchdown came early in the fourth quarter and put the Broncos ahead 14-10. The future Canton great rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries; he was in the midst of a streak that only he has accomplished: seven straight postseason wins in two years, with over 100 yards rushing in each win.

Denver's defense held Kansas City to just 58 yards of total offense in the first half, but the real defensive heroics came later in the game.

The last three Kansas City possessions were turned back on each occasion by the Broncos' defense; the first reached Denver's 31-yard line but the defense held up as the Chiefs faltered on fourth down; the second was halted at the Kansas City 36, as Denver forced a punt; and the final drive reached the Broncos' 20-yard line with just 19 seconds remaining.

That drive ended on downs. The final play, a pass to the end zone on fourth-and-2, was deflected by Darrien Gordon. That ended the Chiefs' hopes and sent Denver to the conference championship game.

With the rushing attack leading the way, Elway finished with a modest 170 passing yards. That total moved him into second place in NFL postseason history in that category, as he reached 3,940 career playoff passing yards - just ahead of Terry Bradshaw (3,833) and Jim Kelly (3,863).

Kansas City had finished their regular season with a brilliant 13-3 mark, but the Chiefs went home early that year, while the Broncos finished the season as Super Bowl champions in San Diego. When it was over, Denver had upset Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the road, and defending world champion Green Bay in San Diego. The Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII as the biggest underdog since Len Dawson and the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.

The Broncos were a great team that helped make its mark, and leave a mark, on Kansas City on Jan. 4, 1998.

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