Broncos' top plays: 37-year-old helicopter

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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John ElwayPhoto by Kevin Reece/Getty Images
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This is the third of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. We have already featured Tom Jackson’s 73-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Denver Broncos' quest for the franchise’s first playoff spot in the 1977 seasons, as well as John Elway’s 18-yard completion to Shannon Sharpe on third-and-6 in the final minutes of the AFC Championship Game following the 1997 season.

Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.

Score: Broncos 31, Packers 24
Date: Jan. 25, 1998 Site: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego

The underdog, wild-card Broncos and the heavily-favored Packers had taken their best swings at each other and were deep into the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, tied 17-17. Still in search of the first title of his Hall of Fame career, Elway had the Broncos moving during a possession that had begun at the Broncos' 8-yard line with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

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With Elway sprinkling in a well-timed pass or two, including a 36-yarder to Ed McCaffrey that had moved them into Packers' territory, the Broncos had used running back Terrell Davis’ 27 yards on six carries previously on the drive to get the ball to the Packers’ 12-yard line where they faced a third-and-6. The Broncos would have gladly taken a field goal at that point, but Elway knew the Packers had the NFC's top scoring offense in the regular season and a touchdown was needed.

Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan sent in a pass play, and when Elway initially dropped back he was looking for fellow future Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. But the Packers had Sharpe, with safeties LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson, bracketed nicely with no room for Elway to fit the ball in.

And with the Packers' defensive front closing in, the then 37-year-old Elway had run out of options to do anything but, well, run.

Elway charged into what he has called "the first open space I kind of saw." After eight yards, three Packers -- Butler, Mike Prior and Brian M. Williams -- crashed into a leaping Elway, spinning the quarterback around, before he landed hard on the grass.

The Broncos had their first down, and two plays later they got their touchdown when Davis plowed in from the 1-yard line. And just more than a quarter later, the team and its best-ever player had their first championship.

It was a 13-play, 92-yard drive, pounded out on the game’s biggest stage, punctuated by what Sharpe has called "a 37-year-old quarterback throwing himself at the one thing he didn’t have in his career. You don't forget something like that."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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