Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis says the ’90s Broncos were the “Patriots before the Patriots”
They didn’t know it at the time, but Terrell Davis and his 1998 Broncos defeated the plan for what would become the greatest winning streak in NFL history.
After making it through the regular season at a 14-2 record, the defending Broncos champion strangled Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the divisional round, 38-3. But in the AFC Championship game, the Broncos found themselves behind the Jets 10-0 three minutes into the second half. After being baffled by defensive coordinator Bill Belichick’s defense for more than 30 minutes, the Denver offense woke up to a 47-yard run from John Elway to Ed McCaffrey. The game opened the floodgates for 23 unanswered points en route to Denver’s second straight Super Bowl spot. The Broncos then successfully defended their title, routing the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Denver’s brief reign at the top of the NFL came to an end after Elway retired in the ensuing offseason. Two years later, Belichick led the Patriots to their first of six Super Bowls over the next two decades. And while the Patriots’ run set a new standard of sustained excellence, Davis – a Hall of Fame running back and DEFY co-founder – believes the Broncos set the model that was quickly emulated by the Belichick Patriots.
“We had some very, very good players,” Davis told CBS Sports recently. “We had exceptional training. We had a solid system. We had a mix of really selfless guys playing for each other who didn’t really care who got the credit, and that’s rare. Patriots before. the Patriots. They talk about the “Patriot Way,” well we had the “Bronco Way.” We had players who didn’t buy into that, and Mike [Shanahan] took them out of the locker room. ”
Like many of Belichick’s teams in New England, the Shanahan Broncos were largely a collection of neglected but motivated players. Along with Davis (a sixth-round pick who won both league and Super Bowl MVP honors), the Broncos’ main offensive players in those years included undrafted wide receiver Rod Smith, journeyman wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, the Broncos. tight end Shannon Sharpe (a seventh round pick), fullback Howard Griffith (ninth round pick), linemen Mark Schlereth (10th round pick), Tom Nalen (seventh round pick) and Tony Jones (undrafted ). Defensively, the Broncos had Hall of Fame safety in Steve Atwater, a bad linebacker in Bill Romanowski and an elite passer in Neil Smith, who came from rival Chiefs in order to win a Super Bowl.
“We didn’t have a lot of big names,” Davis said. “We had John, but John was at the end. And he didn’t care to throw for 5,000 yards. He just wanted to win.”
Davis believes the Broncos held a unique advantage with Shanahan, who won a Super Bowl as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 1994 before coming to Denver. The same can be said of the Patriots ‘undeniable advantage with Belichick, who won two rings as the Giants’ defensive coordinator earlier in his career.
“Mike was phenomenal,” Davis said. “He was a teacher. The way he prepared us for the games. The way he allowed us to have a say and to be able to create the environment for training, recovery, nutrition, all that.
“We probably had the most people on our staff in terms of people who weren’t coaches Mike brought in because the players said,” Mike, I think that guy would be good if we brought him in. in our staff. “This is how we drove.”
In addition to an altruistic and first-term culture, both teams began their historic races with Super Bowl upheavals. Denver shocked Brett Favre and the reigning Super Bowl XXXII champion Packers, who became the first AFC Super Bowl champion in 13 years. Four years later, the Patriots were 14-point underdogs when they claimed a surprise 20-17 victory over the Rams, who were trying to win their second Super Bowl in three years.
Both franchises owned Hall of Fame quarters at Elway and Tom Brady, who will be outfitted with a gold jacket five years after hanging up their cleats. But unlike Brady, Elway chose to end his career in the lead after being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII. Elway, who was planning to retire after winning his first Super Bowl, missed four games with injury in season 98. He would also be 39 before the start of season 99, an age considered old at the time. And while the Broncos remained competitive throughout the 2000s (Denver actually ended the Patriots’ quest for a triple round in the 2005 playoffs before losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC), the Broncos wouldn’t return to the Super Bowl until Elway lures Peyton Manning to Denver.
The Patriots are the only team to repeat as champions since Davis and the Broncos did in 1998. The Buccaneers, Brady’s new team, have a good chance of joining this group in 2021, as each of their 22 their 2020 team’s starters are still in Tampa. And while he hasn’t said how his Denver side would have performed under those Patriots teams, Davis wasn’t shy when he assessed his team’s chances against the current champions.
“If we played in today’s game, absolutely we would have beaten the Bucs last year.”