ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After 25 years, they all came down the elevator banks at the same time.
Separate hotel rooms. No prearranged meeting times. The busses to the cocktail party at the stadium were leaving at 6:15 p.m. Life had taken the 1997 Denver Broncos separate ways but it was as if the structured football schedule of 25 years prior had mystically returned.
The first unofficial gathering of bro hugs and laughs for the 1997 Broncos occurred at 5:55 p.m. Friday, just off the elevator banks at their downtown Denver hotel.
“Haven’t seen these guys in a long time,’’ said Glenn Cadrez, a top backup linebacker and special teams standout on the Broncos’ 1997-98 Super Bowl championship teams. “I’m looking forward to having some drinks and just hanging out.’’
“I couldn’t believe that it’s been 25 years,’’ said starting left linebacker Bill Romanowski. “Went by like that (snaps his fingers). But to get reunited with all my buddies that we won two Super Bowls back-to-back with? Priceless.’’
In some ways 25 years went by fast. In other ways, 25 years was long ago. About 20 alumni from the ’97 team left the team hotel for a cocktail party Friday night at the Broncos’ newly renovated locker room at Empower Field at Mile High.
“What do they need a new locker room for?’’ said left tackle Gary Zimmerman, one of six members from the Broncos’ first-ever Super Bowl team eventually elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Steve Atwater and owner Pat Bowlen were the others. There’s only one Gary Zimmerman, though. “All you need is a stool. And maybe a nail.”
More players were coming in for the dinner and 25-year anniversary program Saturday night at the United East Club at Empower Field. Many former players were to attend the Broncos’ practice Saturday morning and speak to the current team that is struggling with a 2-4 record entering its game Sunday afternoon against the New York Jets.
The 1997 Broncos team will be honored pregame and at halftime with Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis addressing the crowd.
The 1997 team started 6-0 and 9-1. But there were back-to-back road losses at Pittsburgh and San Francisco in December when it didn’t appear the Broncos had much chance at winning the Super Bowl.
“No, we had the blizzard that year (prior to the trip to Buffalo on October 26),’’ Zimmerman said. “We went the hard way. We had the last wild card and we worked our way through it. It was a Cinderella story for sure.”
Zimmerman credited head coach Mike Shanahan, who had been offensive coordinator for the 1994 Super Bowl-champion 49ers, for guiding the Broncos through the late-season 2-3 patch and to a 38-3 shellacking of San Diego in the regular-season finale, followed by postseason wins against Jacksonville at home, Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the road, and the heavily favored Green Bay Packers at the neutral site of San Diego in the Super Bowl.
“It was a season where we were barely getting into the playoffs and we made a stand that we were going to do this thing and ride it out,’’ said David Gamble, a reserve receiver on that 1997 team.
What do those former players think about most when they think about the 1997 season?
“The fact that we had lost a game to Pittsburgh before the playoffs and we were really kind of (ticked) and ready to go and just that whole coming together,” said Cadrez, who spied Steelers’ quarterback Kordell Steward in the AFC Championship Game.
“It was, we weren’t the most talented, but we were the best team in the National Football League,’’ Romanowski said. “And because we gave it up for one another week-in and week-out, that was the difference. We weren’t going to be denied.”
With the Broncos carrying in the burden of an 0-4 Super Bowl record, they were understandably 12-point underdogs to the Packers for Super Bowl XXXII. NFC teams had won 13 consecutive Super Bowls coming in, with three of those victories coming in blowout fashion against the Broncos. The game against the Packers was in doubt until one iconic moment when the Broncos and their faithful really started to believe.
“When John helicoptered there at the end when we were playing the Packers it was probably the highlight of the whole deal,’’ Bubby Brister, the Broncos’ backup quarterback, said of the team’s No. 1 quarterback, Elway. “Because there was this energy all through the sidelines and all of the fans, we felt we could win at that point.’’
Brister played a bigger role in the Broncos’ repeat championship season of 1998 when he essentially went 5-0 filling in for the injured Elway. Brister has been living a nightmare the past 10 days since his son Andrew was involved in an alleged hit-and-run in Louisiana that killed a pedestrian. After much contemplation, Brister decided attending the 25-year anniversary could be therapeutic for his crestfallen state.
“Coach Shanahan put together a heckuva team and I was just glad to be a part of it,’’ Brister said.
“You think back to how we built this team,’’ said John Beake, the Broncos’ general manager for those glory years. “We had a lot of good talent. And we had a real good coaching staff. Very good.”
The Broncos wound up beating the Packers, 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII with Bowlen hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and stating across the public address system: “This one’s for John!”
“They were the defending Super Bowl champion. Favre was the MVP,’’ Gamble said of the Packers and their quarterback Brett Favre. “It was all about us against the world and we ended up shocking the world.”
And then, after about 15 minutes of mingling and getting started on reliving old stories by the hotel elevators, the former Broncos made their way to the busses and on to where the celebration of Denver's first world championship would continue.
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