The pinnacle in the wide world of sports is the Super Bowl.
There’s a reason it’s called “Super” (thanks, John Madden). But that’s also the reason all other events call themselves the “Super Bowl” of (fill in the blank). Heck, even non-sporting events try to match the pomp and circumstance of this world-wide event. Nothing comes close to the Super Bowl. Not even Christmas comes close.
When your team plays in it, the emotions range from giddiness to nausea. Your team is four quarters away from immortality.
Whether history will look back on that status in a positive light drives those emotions. Fans of the Denver Broncos have become accustomed to this.
Sunday is the eighth time the organization has made it this far. For the veteran fans who either started with the franchise from the beginning or at any point in the 1960s to early-mid ’70s, it must feel surreal. There’s no way around it: Those Broncos teams were hideous. If you had told anyone back then come 2016 Denver would reach its eighth Super Bowl, you would get punched for such a cruel joke.
Not only is it true, the Broncos have won two. Two of their last three, in fact, with a chance to bring home Lombardi Trophy No. 3. As the day and game draw nearer, here is a countdown of the best and worst Super Bowls in Denver history. The best are not up for debate. But the worst? This list may surprise you.
No. 1 - Super Bowl XXXII
Was this finally the year? Would John Elway finally take the last step in his Hall of Fame career? Would the Broncos finally not get embarrassed in the big game? The consensus around the country was that Denver would. There was no shot the Broncos could win, let alone keep the game close with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Denver opened as a 13-point underdog to the Packers. Green Bay had a high-powered offense led by Brett Favre, and a defense that was excellent against the run. But there was something different about this
Broncos team. And the nation saw it from the first offensive drive for Denver. Terrell Davis was something special. More special than anyone had fathomed. Unlike the previous four, Davis would not let Green Bay or a migraine keep the Broncos from Super Bowl euphoria. When Elway threw his beat up old body in the air to pick up a first-down, Broncos Country knew this game, this day, was different. Not until John Mobley knocked down Favre’s
fourth-down pass did it become real.
Denver 31, Green Bay 24 -- The Broncos were finally Super Bowl champions.
“This one’s for John.”
No. 2 - Super Bowl XXXIII
As tense as the year before was, this one was never in doubt. This was a culmination. For a team. For a legend. There was never a question which team would win the Super Bowl, especially after the Atlanta Falcons stunned the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. There were some tense moments early in the game against Atlanta, but when Elway hit Rod Smith on a beautiful touchdown pass, those sentiments vanished. When Elway scored his final touchdown, you knew. You knew Denver would get its second of a back-to-back. You knew this was the end. The photo of him smiling after he scored that touchdown is one of the best moments in Broncos’ history. Part of you hoped Elway would come back. But when he got pulled from the game and was named the Super Bowl MVP, you knew it was over.
Denver 34, Atlanta 19
“This one’s for you.”
No. 3 - Super XLVIII
This will stun some people, but it shouldn’t. This game was over after the first snap of the game. Those who say this is the worst Super Bowl in Broncos’ history need ease up on the hyperbole. This game was over before Denver even landed in Jersey City, New Jersey. To this day, if someone can explain what John Fox did those two weeks after the AFC title game against the New England Patriots, you would help a lot of people get clarity. There’s no need to rehash all the ways Fox failed and showed his complete ineptitude as a coach and leader, but Denver stood no chance in that game. If you thought the Broncos had a chance after that first snap, your positivity is to be commended. It’s hard to rank a game the “worst” when it was over shortly after it started.
Seattle 43, Denver 8
No. 4 - Super Bowl XXIV
Again, just because the score is bad doesn’t make it the “worst.” Anyone who thought or thinks that Broncos team
had a chance against the Joe Montana-led machine is foolish. It didn’t matter that the Broncos had the No. 1 defense. They were not going to slow down that offense. And they still haven’t, 26 years later. Just like Super Bowl XLVIII, this game was over before Denver even landed in New Orleans. Despite the outcome, it was a joy to watch San Francisco offense reach as close to perfection as we’ve ever seen.
San Francisco 55, Denver 10
No. 5 - Super Bowl XXII
Just like the year before in Super Bowl XXI, the Broncos jumped out to an early lead. After the first quarter Denver led 10-0. Then the second quarter happened and this game was over. Washington proceeded to score 35 unanswered points and put up one of the greatest 15 minutes of football in NFL history. Any shot the Broncos had vanished in the San Diego air. As was the case against the 49ers two years later, Washington was unstoppable force on offense, led by quarterback Doug Williams. Had Denver been able to build off that first quarter and make any kind of defensive stop in the second, who knows how this game would have turned out?
Washington 42, Denver 10
No. 6 - Super Bowl XXI
A common theme in Super Bowls for the Broncos: They run into a buzz saw. But unlike the three losses from above, Denver had this one. The Broncos went into halftime with the 10-9 lead. They had to feel good about the prospects of the second half. As Denver had shown in the AFC title game against the Cleveland Browns, nothing was out of the question. That was the game that produced The Drive. As long as the game was close, there was a
chance for Elway to work his magic. Whatever team the Broncos had when they entered the locker room, it stayed in the locker room. Phil Simms and the New York Giants torched Denver on both sides of the ball in the second half and the Broncos had no answer. What had the look and feel of a close game, was gone. New York went up 39-13, and the fans and team were dumbfounded as to what just happened. Give the Giants credit, but Denver made Simms look like Johnny Unitas on that January day in Pasadena, Calif. At least the Broncos scored more than 10 points.
New York 39, Denver 20
No. 7 - Super XII
This is without question the worst Super Bowl in Broncos’ history. This was the one that got away. This was the
one Denver should have won. Call it sentimental, call it wishful thinking, but the Orange Crush deserved a Super Bowl. What may have been. Instead, guys like Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, Lyle Alzado, Louis Wright and Billy Thompson, outside of Broncos Country, are left out of the “greatest of all time” debate. Had that team had some semblance of a decent offense, Denver would have won this Super Bowl. Instead, Craig Morton and the offense turned the ball over eight times. Yes, eight times. Cut the turnovers in half, the Broncos win this game. Yet even with those eight turnovers, the defense kept the game respectable … at least on the scoreboard. It may have looked close, but with that dreadful offense, it may as well have been 55-10. What makes this Super Bowl loss more irksome is some of those guys would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame right now had it won. And we wouldn’t be sitting here wondering why they may never get inducted. This is always the one that got away. For multiple reasons.
Dallas 27, Denver 10
Sunday is when legends are made. Will the Broncos stamp their immortality as Super Bowl champs? Will they bring home Lombardi Trophy No. 3? Or will Denver lose Super Bowl No. 6? Cue the giddy nausea.