On one side of the field we have the defending NFL champions, led by their young, dynamic, Uber-talented, superstar QB. A gunslinger who completes passes from every arm angle imaginable, sometimes even with his left hand.
The Super Bowl champs are coached by the stereotypical football lifer — heavyset, ruddy cheeks, a prolific mustache. The coach had pushed all the right buttons a season earlier in delivering a Super Bowl title to his football-crazed city for the first time since the early days of the NFL-AFL merger.
The reigning NFL title-holders have advanced within one game of repeating as champions while barely breaking a sweat, winning their two playoff games by nearly 30 points combined. They are immediately installed as the favorites.
On the other side of the ball we have a Wild Card team. One that had to win three road games just to get here. They are led by an aging QB destined for the Hall of Fame one day, who already boasts multiple Super Bowl appearances on his resume.
Yes, we are talking about Super Bowl XXXII, played on January the 25th of 1998, following the 1997 NFL season. The Green Bay Packers, coached by Mike Holmgren and led by young Brett Favre, had gone 13-3 in defense of their Super Bowl XXXI title won a year before. It was unimaginable that they could lose to a clearly over-matched opponent.
Especially this opponent. The Denver Broncos. Yes, football fans were going to be subjected to having to watch the Broncos take another old-fashioned ass-whupping on yet another Super Bowl Sunday.
A drubbing like the one back in ’87, when the Giants had pummeled them 39-20. Or the following year, when it was the Redskins turn to take a bat to the Denver piñata, 42-10. Or two seasons after that, when the 49ers just refused to stop scoring, stomping on the Broncos 55-10.
Question: How many Denver Broncos does it take to change a flat tire? Answer: One. But if it’s a blowout, the whole team shows up. That was the narrative that accompanied the Denver Broncos and John Elway to San Diego back in ’98, as they traveled west for Super Bowl XXXII.
When the Packers took the field that afternoon as 11-point favorites, the only question being debated across the nation was how much of a bloodbath would this one turn out to be. Then a funny thing happened — they played the game.
And there we were, tied at 17 with a couple of minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Broncos and their punching bag of a QB, with that mouth full of horse teeth that always seemed to form a smile despite his constant failings in the biggest of moments, had the ball on the Green Bay 12, staring down a third-and-six.
John Elway dropped back to pass, and finding no one open, tucked the pigskin and took off running on his 37-year-old legs. As he neared the first down marker he launched himself airborne, determined not to fall short of the most important first down of his Hall of Fame career. Three Green Bay defenders converged and took the old QB’s legs right out from under him, sending Elway into the classic “helicopter spin” descent. When Elway landed with a thud on the San Diego turf, the Broncos had first and goal from the Packers four-yard-line.
Two plays later Terrell Davis punched it in from the one, and the inspired Broncos never looked back.
Never before or since has one play so singularly rewritten the script of a player or a franchise. Elway would even return the following year and lead his Broncos to a second consecutive Super Bowl win, easily thumping the Atlanta Falcons, before riding off into the sunset, heading for a future selling cars and making foolish statements from his post in the Denver front office.
Fast forward now to this upcoming Sunday, and a game many of us fans are finding difficult to handicap. Our answer lies twenty-three years ago, alongside an old quarterback with unfinished business, who’d just helicoptered to the turf.
With the image of that old warrior moving the chains fresh in our minds, SportsAttic brings you with absolute certainty, the winning prediction for Super Bowl LV:
Buccaneers (+3) over the Chiefs — True, Tom Brady carries a very different legacy into this one than John Elway did 23 years ago, but the chip on the GOAT’s shoulder is visible all the way from Foxboro. Logic defies here, because if one is applying logic, it is difficult not to end up concluding that the Chiefs won’t just win this game, but will win it big. Patrick Mahomes is that good. And he’s back with a clear head and two healthy feet. He has weapons that just keep coming at you, and he established in Kansas City’s Week 12 win over Brady and the Bucs that he relishes lining up across from that Tampa Bay secondary. All Mahomes did in that prior matchup was throw for 462 yards and three TD’s, with zero picks. Tyreke Hill racked up 269 of those yards and all three scores on the receiving end of things in that one. And it is hard to imagine, after witnessing Hill play at a speed a couple of gears beyond anyone on the Buffalo defense two weeks back, that the Bucs will have a sufficient answer for him this time around. Or an answer for Travis Kelce for that matter. Or Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Or, or, or… Two weeks ago we put out there that the only way Brady and the Bucs stood a chance at upsetting the Packers was by playing the perfect game. And then Brady went out and threw three picks. And won. They’ll need to be more perfect this Sunday, and it is fair to conclude that it is highly unlikely Tampa can survive another three-pick outing from The GOAT. But the Buccaneers do other things well, too, that will wear down Kansas City. In Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, they have powerful backs that can eat up the clock and keep Mahomes and that scary, quick-strike K.C. offense off the field. On the defensive side of the ball, Tampa Bay boasts the league’s fourth-best pass rush, featuring Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquille Barrett. The Bucs need those two to spend considerable time in the Chiefs backfield for Tampa to have a chance. In fact, the X-factor in this one may end up being whether the Bucs defense can continuously have Patrick Mahomes fleeing the pocket, uncomfortable and threatened. Accomplish that and things can remain close as the game moves into the fourth quarter. Give Mahomes time to find his weapons, and… In other words, the Buccaneer defensive line needs to do to Mahomes what Buffalo could not — put him on the ground over and over again. Ironically, the Tampa Bay D needs to execute on the exact formula the Giants used to knock off Brady and his Patriots in Supes XLII and XLVI. Also ironically, like Elway twenty-three years ago and Eli Manning more recently, Brady is the other quarterback in Super LV. The guess here is that TB12 uses that second-billing for motivation. And being opposed by the reigning Super Bowl MVP? You think Brady doesn’t consider that trophy his personal property at this point in his career? You bet he plans to take it back. So throw away the Week 12 result, folks. Because this one is all about legacy — either burgeoning or last chapter — and for Super Bowl LV, take the QB who already owns six rings. And here’s hoping we get a helicopter moment from him before it’s all over. (Buccaneers, 34-30)