Professional Football: 1998-99 Season Recap
Over and Out
On May 2, 1999 Elway made it official, retiring after 16 thrilling seasons with the Denver Broncos. And like his basketball counterpart Michael Jordan did just four months earlier, he went out on top. In his final NFL game Elway led the Broncos to a 34-19 win over the Cinderella Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami.
The Broncos were dominant all season long, winning their first 13 games of the season and threatening to become the NFL's first perfect team since the 1972 Dolphins. Alas it wasn't meant to be as they were defeated by the N.Y. Giants and the Dolphins in consecutive weeks. But in 1998 the team showed it wasn't just Elway's show. When he aggravated his hamstring in week three, Bubby Brister came on to replace him and didn't miss a beat, promptly leading the team to three straight wins while averaging over 37 points per game in the process. Of course it doesn't hurt to have Terrell Davis coming out of the backfield. Davis, the league's MVP, recorded the third-best season ever by a running back, rushing for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Broncos were expected to make it to the Super Bowl XXXIII. The Falcons, quite frankly, were not. Behind the running of Jamal Anderson, the passing of their healthy quarterback Chris Chandler and the leadership of coach Dan Reeves, Atlanta went 14-2 during the regular season and then shocked the high-flying Minnesota Vikings, 30-27, in overtime of the NFC Championship Game.
The Vikings were clear favorites playing at home, and coming off a 15-1 regular season where they scored an NFL record 556 points due in large part to the aerial attack of Randall Cunningham and rookie phenom Randy Moss. They had their chance to win it in regulation but with 2:07 remaining, kicker Gary Anderson shanked a 38-yard field goal. The miss was doubly shocking because Anderson had just finished the most impressive season by a kicker in NFL history, connecting on 59 of 59 extra points and 35 of 35 field goals. In overtime, Falcons veteran kicker Morten Andersen drilled his 38-yard attempt and sent the Falcons to the Super Bowl, pitting coach Reeves against his former team.
The Broncos advanced to the big game by stomping on the Dolphins, 38-3, in the Division Semifinals, then registering a second-half comeback to beat the resurgent N.Y. Jets, 23-10, in the AFC Championship Game. With offensive stars Curtis Martin, Keyshawn Johnson and quarterback Vinny Testaverde, coach Bill Parcells turned the Jets around in a hurry. The team gained respectability and more in 1998, winning the AFC East with a 12-4 record after finishing a pathetic 1-15 just two years prior.
Elway's retirement, while still a blow to many, was not unexpected. He left a champion and handed the reigns to a younger generation of quarterbacks like Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Arizona's Jake Plummer to take over. Similarly, the departure of all-time sacks leader Reggie White may also be tough to swallow but he leaves behind a number of 300-pound, lightning quick defensive linemen to attempt to fill the void. But the sudden retirement of Lions star Barry Sanders in July came as a shock to all. His moves and his magic will never be duplicated and Thanksgivings will never be the same.