John Elway never liked the idea. He made that clear to then-Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan in the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXII -- when the offense was practicing a pass play Shanahan had specially designed for the meeting with the Green Bay Packers -- and he continued to protest every time the Broncos tried it. "Mike kept telling me they'd researched it," said Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who played 16 seasons in Denver. "He told me it was 100 percent certain to work because the Packers always ran the same defense in the situation we'd use it."
It turned out Elway was right. Shanahan called for the play with three minutes left in the third quarter. The was game tied at 17 and the Broncos were facing a third-and-6 at the Packers' 13-yard line. Elway knew his team needed to score touchdowns because the Green Bay offense was so prolific. He also realized this drive, one that had started on the Denver 8-yard line, could give the Broncos much-needed momentum.
But as Elway dropped back and looked for tight end Shannon Sharpe operating underneath, he quickly sensed the play was going nowhere. Green Bay safeties LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson were both shadowing Sharpe. The Packers' pass rush was closing in. The only realistic option for Elway was to charge for the first down. As he said, "I stepped up and then I just started looking for some open spaces."
Elway obviously couldn't ponder all the disappointments he'd faced in three Super Bowl losses before he started scrambling. He also didn't have time to think about what a fourth defeat could mean as three Packers -- Butler, safety Mike Prior and linebacker Brian M. Williams -- raced toward him. Even when Elway collided with those defenders and spun sideways before landing on the turf, he couldn't have grasped what he'd done. In 8 hard-earned yards, he'd produced one of the most memorable first downs in Super Bowl history.
As soon as Elway stood up, he turned to his teammates. "I knew that was going to give us the momentum to win the game because I looked at our sideline and [everybody] was going nuts," Elway said.
The run was so big, in fact, that many people forget the other details of the drive. The Broncos had gone 92 yards in 13 plays. Terrell Davis punctuated the possession with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Today, fans in Denver proudly refer to that play as "The Helicopter." They say that 31-24 upset win over Green Bay propelled the Broncos to a second championship a year later, in Elway's final NFL season. The star quarterback also gives it a special place in his storied career.
"When you think about what it meant and everything we'd gone through," Elway said, "it's certainly my favorite play ever."
-- Jeffri Chadiha and Bill Williamson, ESPN.com
John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith
LeRoy Butler, Eugene Robinson, Mike Prior, Brian Williams
Elway, shown diving for a crucial first down in Super Bowl XXXII,
said, "It's certainly my favorite play ever."
Photo: Sporting News/Getty Images