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1998 Broncos, most dominant team in team history, get their own 25-year reunion

'98 Broncos started 13-0. Team won 5 games by average of 21 points behind backup QB Brister. Elam: "It was fun. We would be up 28-0 at halftime."

DENVER — Back to back Super Bowls was great, even historic, but back to back 25-year reunions?

The 1998 Broncos, easily the single-most dominant team in Denver franchise history, say it deserved to have their own separate celebration.

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“Look, there’s only 7 teams that this has ever been done, go back to back,’’ Vaughn Hebron, who is still the Broncos’ all-time kickoff return record holder with 3,324 yards, said Friday afternoon at the Super Bowl XXXIII team’s hotel. “So it’s a beautiful thing. I would tell you I get excited to come back and see all the guys. It’s like a class reunion on steroids. Because it’s a reunion with guys you went to battle with. We were part of something that’s only been done, in this great game, 7 times. When you take that in perspective, it's amazing.’’

The 7 teams who won back-to-back Super Bowl championships:

  • 1966-67 Packers
  • 1972-73 Dolphins
  • 1974-75 and 1978-79 Steelers
  • 1988-89 49ers
  • 1992-93 Cowboys
  • 1997-98 Broncos
  • 2003-04 Patriots

No team has ever three-peated. The 1996 Jaguars ruined that chance for this Broncos’ group. The Broncos’ 1997 Super Bowl team was the organization’s first to win the Lombardi Trophy. The 1998 Super Bowl team stampeded through the NFL from beginning to end, with a two-week exception. Running back Terrell Davis was the league's MVP that year after rushing for 2,008 yards.

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“I mean it was fun. We would be up 28-0 at halftime,’’ said kicker Jason Elam. “It was really a fun time. So to see the guys this weekend, it’s going to be a great, great time. We don’t get to see each other that often so whenever we get a chance we love being together.’’

There was a gathering of hors d’oeuvres and drinks Friday evening at Shanahan’s Steakhouse. There will be breakfast and practice observing Saturday morning followed by a big reunion dinner Friday night at the team headquarters. And then the Super Bowl XXXIII team will be introduced to the Empower Field at Mile High crowd at halftime of the Broncos-Washington game on Sunday afternoon.

“Very exciting to have back-to-back reunions because we won it back to back,’’ said defensive tackle Mike Lodish. “We had a great team. It was really truly a team effort to accomplish that. Clearly the team was stacked. We had excellent talent. But in addition to talent, the chemistry of that team was  -- it was fun to go to the locker room. Everybody enjoyed having laughs. It wasn’t too serious but there was an understanding we were like brothers. Everyone knew when to go to work and that was a function of the commander-in-chief, Mike Shanahan. He set the tone.’’

Bubby Brister, the team's backup quarterback in 1997-98, returned Friday from Louisiana after he was here for the 1997 team's celebration last year.

"This one means more because he played in '98,'' said Bonnie Brister, Bubby's wife.

Indeed, Brister essentially went 5-0 in relief of the injured Elway in 1998. In those five games with Brister at the helm, the Broncos won by scores of 34-17, 38-16, 41-16, 27-10 and 30-7. When a team wins by an average of 21 points a game with its backup quarterback, that's a dominant team.

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Those 1997-98 Broncos teams did more than win a combined 32 regular-season and postseason games, including the two world championship games. It changed the life of Cyron Brown, an undrafted rookie that year who played in four games as a backup defensive end.

“I was not prepared for the NFL,’’ he said. “I was young. A little immature. Mike took a chance on me and I’m forever grateful in my life for that. But to be on that team and see how a real team operates and how real leaders work, John Elway, Terrell Davis, Mark Schlereth, Shannon Sharpe -- to be a part of that has taken me so much further in my life from what I learned that year. So I take some of those lessons to this day. So I’m just appreciative I had that opportunity.”

Brown, who attended the reunion with his wife Alicia, now runs Central Garden & Pet stores throughout the state of Colorado.

There was one blip in that 1998 season. After a 13-0 start, the pressure of joining – even exceeding – the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the league’s only undefeated teams in the Super Bowl era -- caught up to the Broncos. There was a shocking loss to the New York Giants in game 14 followed the next week by a letdown defeat at Miami.

“In ‘98, that’s when there’s pressure,’’ Hebron said. “You’re at the mountain top, it’s always hard to stay on the mountain top. So everybody to a man took that personally. We knew what it was going to be. We knew we were going to be marked by everybody. We weren’t going to sneak up on anybody. So we took that type of attitude and that approach into the season and when we went 13-0, showed it.

“Now the funny thing – and I still tell this story – if I would have told you that we had an all-players meeting at 13-2 you’d be like, that’s crazy. But the record is always about when the record occurred. If we would have lost the first two games and won 13 straight, we don’t have that meeting. But we won 13 straight and then lost two in a row. And we had an all players meeting and John was like, the playoffs start now. And the rest is history.”

John to the 1997-98 Super Bowl teams was John Elway.

“In ’97, we won it for John,’’ said defensive tackle Maa Tanuvasa, who tied for the team lead with 8.5 sacks in the 1998 season. “And in ‘98 we won it for us.”

Why win it for John Elway in 1997?

“Because growing up I saw him going to Super Bowls and get disappointed,’’ Tanuvasa said. “But to be led by a leader like that through my years that I was here in Denver, just knew that he was hungry for one. So that was for John. Just like Pat Bowlen said that was for John.”


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