For my 100th article for the IDP Guys I wanted to look back on some of the moments that stand out in the minds of some of our writers and readers and really made an impact on them. I asked via twitter and through our writers’ slack channel for some of the most memorable and impactful moments they’ve experienced in their football watching lives. What I got was a reminder of just how many special moments there have been and the inspiration I was looking for to properly celebrate my century mark as a writer for IDP Guys. Make sure you catch part one of this article series where I discussed long pole Foles, Favre’s Monday night football game for dad and the Colts exorcise their demons, moments ten through eight. Part two will cover three more memorable moments in football fandom.
Number 7: From Bagging Groceries to Glory
The story of the 1999 Rams and Kurt Warner was one that not even Hollywood could come up with and one of the few instances where truth really was stranger than fiction. They began the season with veteran Trent Green under center and were expected to have moderate success. They had traded for all pro running back Marshall Faulk and drafted wide receiver Tory Holt. With the return of the talented wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who had been injured much of the previous season, the Rams were expected to have a powerful offense for the first time in many seasons. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who had worked with Green previously in Washington, was going to run the offense and many analysts expected the Rams offense to resemble a “Track Meet”. That all changed during a preseason game against the Chargers when Marshall Faulk missed on a blitz pick up and Rodney Harrison hit Green and tore both his ACL and MCL. He was done for the season and would need multiple surgeries to even have a chance of resuming his career.
With Trent Green’s season done, in stepped the unheralded and little known Kurt Warner. Warner had his first shot at the NFL in 1994 with the Packers but was cut. Over the next few years he played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe and the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League. During the off-season he worked at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for $5.50 an hour. Many in the Rams organization and in the fan base used the word “Cursed” when describing their upcoming season. No one gave them a shot in hell of being any good. A backup quarterback who bagged groceries in the off-season to make ends meet was now expected to step into this offense and manage a lot of moving pieces. Step up he did. Warner would start all sixteen games that season and finish with 4,353 passing yards, 41 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions with one rushing touchdown, for good measure. He would end up being the regular season MVP and lead the Rams to a 13-3 record and the #1 overall seed in the NFC going into the playoffs.
The divisional round matchup, against the Vikings, would be an epic shootout. Warner would need all five of his touchdown passes, and every one of the 391 passing yards he threw for, to hold off Jeff George, Randy Moss, Cris Carter and their high powered offense. Marshall Faulk was held in check for the majority of the game and ended up with only 21 rushing yards/ He would contribute as a pass catcher though with five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. The Rams would win the game 49-37 and move on to a showdown with the Tamp Bay Bucs and their hard hitting defense led by John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber.
This was a knife-fight of a game that was won despite Warner, not because of him. He only threw for one touchdown and had three interceptions in yet another game where Faulk was also held in check with only 44 rushing yards. The Rams defense stepped up and sacked Shaun King five times and picked him off twice to hold the Bucs to only six points on the day. The Rams would move on to the Super Bowl with an ugly 11-6 win.
Their Super Bowl opponent would be one of the only teams to beat them in the regular season, the Tennessee Titans with Steve “Air” McNair and Eddie George on offense and a powerful defense featuring Jevon Kearse, also known as “The Freak”, who was coming off a 14.5 sack season. The Titans had already beat the Rams 24-21 in week eight of the regular season and this was expected to be a very close game.
The first quarter was a defensive struggle with the only points being a Jeff Wilkins field goal giving the Rams a 3-0 lead after one quarter. The second quarter was more of the same. The Rams were able to drive the ball effectively but every time they got into Tennessee territory they had to settle for field goals, Wilkins would add two more in the second quarter giving the Rams a 9-0 lead at halftime. The Rams would finally cash in halfway through the third quarter when Warner hit Tory Holt for a nine yard touchdown to give the Rams a 16-0 lead. Tennessee answered soon after with an Eddie George touchdown run capped off with a missed two point conversion, the score stood at 16-6 going into the final quarter of play.
Eddie George would get his second score early in the fourth quarter making the game 16-13 Rams with just over seven minutes left to go. With just over two minutes to go in the game the Titans kicked a field goal and tied the game at sixteen apiece. Warner and the Rams had a golden opportunity to kill the clock and kick a field goal to win the game but in a twist ended up connecting on a 73 yard bomb to Isaac Bruce for a quick touchdown giving them a seven point lead with just under two minutes to go in the game. Steve McNair would systematically lead the Titans down the field and get them into the red zone with just seconds left in the Super Bowl. On the last play of the game, McNair fired a slant to Kevin Dyson for nine yards, they needed ten for the score. Dyson was tackled by Mike Jones “one yard short” and the Rams won the Super Bowl.
While the first half was a slow and boring affair, the second half of this game and the eventual ending made this one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time and capped the perfect ending to an incredible season and unbelievable story, about a guy bagging groceries only months before who now sat as the NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champion.
What comes back to me when I think about this season, and that super bowl, was how exciting those Rams were. The Greatest Show On Turf was no understatement. These guys scored 30 or 40 points a game, every game it seemed, and were absolutely loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Marshall Faulk and his 2,000 all purpose yards, Warner slinging it to Holt, Bruce and Proehl for big play after big play. What a lot of people don’t remember is their defense was pretty awesome that season too. They ended the regular season ranked 4th in points allowed and 6th in yards allowed.
I was shocked to look back on this team and see that London Fletcher was on this defense as well as Kevin Carter and Grant Wistrom with 23.5 sacks between them. Dre Bly and Billy Jenkins in the secondary were also a force to be reckoned with. Dick Vermeil was always a coach my friends and I respected and seeing him win a super bowl with this team, and the way they won it, with Dyson being one yard short and on the back of a guy who was literally bagging groceries months prior, was nothing short of amazing. Every so often the NFL will give us a story line like this that would be crazy if it weren’t true and those are the seasons we remember forever.
Number 6: Elway Finishes Strong
John Elway was an amazing quarterback that had a bit of the Peyton Manning and Dan Marino bug throughout his career. It seemed like he was never going to be able to win the big one. As his career was winding down, it was starting to look like he would go the way of Marino and end up as an outstanding “regular season” quarterback that could never win the big one. In a surprise to many he would make the last two seasons of his epic career his best ones.
The 1997 version of the Denver Broncos was a team that was built on the run game but was also capable of big plays. They would finish the season with a 12-4 record and lead the league in both yards, and points offensively. The one-two punch of Terrell Davis, who would finish the year with 1,750 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs, and Elway who threw for 3,635 yards and 27 passing TDs with only 11 interceptions, would power the offense all season. Rod Smith, Ed McCafferey and Shannon Sharpe were a deadly pass catching trio and gave the Broncos many weapons for opposing defenses to be concerned with.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos defense would finish the 97′ season 6th in points allowed, 5th in yards allowed and 9th in turnovers. Alfred Williams and Neil Smith, along with Maa Tanuvasa each had 8,5 sacks on the season and contributed to the team total of 44 sacks on the season. Linebackers Bill Romanowski and John Mobley laid the lumber and the defense as a unit added an additional five defensive touchdowns for the season. This Broncos team was well rounded and had few areas of weakness,77 if any. They would head to the playoffs as a wild card team since the 13-3 Chiefs edged them out for the division title that year.
Their first round opponent in the wild card game was the new addition to the league Jacksonville Jaguars. Behind a 184 rushing yard and two rushing TD performance from Terrell Davis they would destroy the Jags 42-17 in a first round blowout, Between Davis and backup RB Derek Loville, the Broncos would rush for 287 yards on the ground and combine for four rushing TDs. Elway didn’t have to do much at all this game besides move the chains. He did add a passing touchdown and 223 passing yards and the Denver defense held Mark Brunell scoreless and slowed Natrone Means (RB) to a meager 40 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Their next opponent was the division rival Chiefs who they edged out in a close 14-10 win. Terrell Davis once again was the hero with 101 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. Elway once again had a pedestrian day with only 170 passing yards and no touchdowns. The defense came up big, again, and sacked Elvis Grbac four times and held Marcus Allen to only 37 rushing yards and no touchdowns. In another team win the defense and run game stepped up when Elway was having a rough day and did enough to get the Broncos to the AFC title game.
Their opponent would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, powered by the scowl of Bill Cowher and the legs of Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. This was going to be a slugging-match of a game against a team very similar to their own. Their styles were almost identical and everyone knew this would be no blowout. This game was a close affair with the Steelers going up 14-7 early in the second quarter before Denver rattled off three scoring drives in a row to go into halftime with a 24-14 lead. Kordell Stewart would throw a TD pass in the final quarter to pull the Steelers within three points, but ultimately, another strong performance from Terrell Davis and the Denver defense would carry the day.
Davis ran for 139 yards and a touchdown while the defense picked off Stewart three times, and sacked him three times, making sure the Steelers would come up just short in a hotly contested AFC title game. Elway was finally looking better and ended the game with 18 completions for 210 passing yards, two passing TDs and one interception. The Broncos were clicking in all three phases of the game at exactly the right moment and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Their Super Bowl opponent would be the Green Bay Packers, led by gun slinging quarterback Brett Favre, coming off their Super Bowl victory the previous season and looking to repeat as champions. In yet another close game these two teams would trade scores back and forth, all game, and despite Elway looking better in the AFC title game, he did not play well at all in this game. He did however have a memorable play when he scrambled for a rushing touchdown and was sandwiched between two Packers defenders, he would deflect off them and helicopter through mid air eventually landing in the end zone. This is the play everyone remembers from this Super Bowl, it was a microcosm of the heart and determination Elway had shown all season.
This game was won with the legs of Terrell Davis, who had 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos controlled time of possession 33 minutes to 27 for Green Bay and the defense forced, and recovered, two fumbles and sacked and picked off Favre once. In the end it was a Terrell Davis touchdown run with 1:47 left in the game that sealed the deal for a 31-24 win and Elway’s first Super Bowl victory. While Elway would ultimately get the credit in the history books for the title run it was definitely Terrell Davis and the Denver defense that stepped up big time throughout the playoffs. To be fair all the other times Elway got close to winning the title he never had nearly as complete a team as this Broncos squad was.
They would repeat the next season as Super Bowl champions and win in much the same fashion. In 1998 they managed to win the division with a 14-2 record and secure the #1 overall seed for the AFC going into the playoffs. Behind a 2,000 rushing yard season from Terrell Davis and the 8th ranked defense in points allowed and 11th ranked in yards allowed, the Broncos were once again a very complete team heading into the playoffs.
They annihilated the Miami Dolphins 38-3 in the divisional round, then soundly beat the New York Jets 23-10 in the AFC title game before going on to play the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. They would go on to win comfortably 34-19, behind another solid game from Terrell Davis and a much better performance from Elway this go around. The defense had a pick six and intercepted Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler three times and sacked him twice while also forcing and recovering a fumble. The Falcons were really only in the game through the third quarter, during the final quarter of play the Broncos piled on with a 17 point blitz and put the game away. Elway scrambled for another touchdown in this Super Bowl and threw for 336 yards and a passing touchdown with only one interception. The Broncos dominated the Falcons and easily secured their second championship in a row.
John Elway would retire after this season and go out on top.
What I remember about these seasons, 1997 and 1998, was how impressive and complete these Broncos teams were from top to bottom. They could run the hell out of the ball, play defense and the man under center was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. These Bronco teams didn’t beat just some no name NFC teams in those super bowls either. They took down Brett Favre in his prime and then beat a 14-2 Falcons squad that had blown away everyone all season and had a ridiculous running game (Jamal Anderson had 1,846 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns that season and well over 2,000 yards from scrimmage).
Most quarterbacks get worse closer to retirement, but John Elway was like a fine wine, he just got better with age. Watching Elway in that famous scramble where he got annihilated and spun around in mid-air before falling into the end zone was the perfect metaphor for how badly he wanted to win a Super Bowl before it was too late. He had been close many times before and had never been able to win the big one. Just when it seemed time was running out Elway and the Broncos put together two nearly perfect seasons and sent him out the right way.
Number 5: The Comeback
When you think about the history of the NFL, there have been many games that have ended with a comeback of some sort and we rank all of those in order of importance. How far behind the trailing team was and how much time was left. Obviously more importance is bestowed upon teams that came back during the playoffs and the bigger the deficit the more impressive the feat. Many football fans, these days, consider the Patriots 28-3 comeback in the Super Bowl against the Falcons as the greatest comeback in NFL history.
That’s because many of today’s football fans weren’t watching football yet on January 3rd, 1993. While the Patriots 25-point comeback was certainly impressive it wasn’t a 32 point deficit and they didn’t have to do it with a backup quarterback. The Buffalo Bills had already lost to the Houston Oilers earlier that season, 27-3, and found themselves down 35-3 after an Oilers touchdown drive to start the third quarter in their wild card matchup. Hall of fame quarterback Jim Kelly had been injured earlier in the game and backup Frank Reich was in to try and lead the Bills back from their massive deficit. Things looked hopeless after the Oilers tacked on that score to start the third quarter, but just when there seemed to be no chance at all Frank Reich started to work his magic.
It all started innocently enough with the Bills just trying to make the massacre respectable. Frank Reich led a drive to the Oilers one yard line where Kenneth Davis punched it in to make the score 35-10. What happened next was where the legend was born. Information about this game has been tough to come by, short of re-watching the entire thing on YouTube, which I won’t be doing anytime soon if we’re being honest here. But from what I can gather, the Buffalo defense stepped up and started causing three and outs and Frank Reich caught fire.
The next four scoring drives by either team were all touchdown passes by Frank Reich, three of them to Andre Reed and one to Don Beebe. This furious comeback by the Bills gave them a three point lead with time ticking down in the fourth quarter. The Oilers finally managed to come back to life in time to hit a late field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime, but it was too little, too late, momentum had completely shifted and Steve Christie punched through a 32 yard field goal to complete the comeback and win the game for the Bills. This was “The” comeback, the most furious and unlikely come from behind victory in NFL history, and in the playoffs no less. The Oilers were stunned, the Bills were elated, and the nation had never seen anything like it.
What I remember about this was…really not a whole lot to be honest. I was ten years old and my football knowledge and watching habits were far from solidified. At this point in my life I was mostly watching the Cowboys games with my dad so that’s what I remember the most from this time period, and by an extension of watching so many Cowboys games I remember their arch nemesis the 49ers and Packers as well. Steve Young and Brett Favre were the enemy and the danger, the AFC and in particular some random AFC wild card teams were not on my radar at all.
Being a resident of Connecticut I got to see my share of Jets, Giants and Patriots games as well but the Bills were never really on TV a lot back then. These were the days before Red Zone Channel and Direct TV, and as for the Oilers I had no clue about them at all. I do remember that ESPN went nuts over this game for a little bit so I definitely heard about it, but when it happened I was not tuned in at all. If something like this happened these days we would never hear the end of it, a 32 point comeback with less than two quarters to go was something you don’t see every day.
Even since then, only the Patriots comeback really comes close to this in terms of how important the game was, the deficit overcome and the time remaining to overcome that deficit. The fact that this was done with a backup quarterback was just another level added to this that added to how incredible it really was. Who knows, with the emphasis on scoring and the refs now bailing offenses out seemingly all the time we will probably see something along these lines again in the near future but until that point this will remain “The” comeback.
Thank you for reading part two of this four part series, make sure you read part one if you missed it and keep an eye out for part three dropping next Saturday. Stay tuned all offseason as this is the time of the year I get to write literally whatever I feel like so there will be plenty more articles to come covering everything from The Greatest Defenses of All Time to Defending Emmitt Smith and everything inbetween, only at idpguys.org, your one stop shop for all things IDP and the home of my ridiculous rantings into the void.