During his 11-year career with the Broncos, Keith Burns was a special teams ace. Burns led or tied for the team lead in specialteams tackles seven times, notching a total of 186 special-teams stops in 166 career games with the team.
Burns was a key component of the Broncos teams that won Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, and as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXII victory, we'll be sharing memories from the prominent players from that team each Tuesday and Friday until this year's Super Bowl.
WHAT WAS ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST MEMORIES FROM THAT SEASON?
I think the snowstorm stands out, to start off with, because I think that was one of the biggest days. Our team chemistry and camaraderie were really tested because of what we actually went through as far as the blizzard was concerned, being the only flight to leave Denver and then to have to play a one o'clock game in Buffalo. We came together in the off season because of what happened in the playoffs in '96, but I think it was really tested in '97 when the blizzard hit and guys were trying to get out, and guys were over here at the facility for hours and hours at a time, not knowing whether we were going to fly out or if the game was going to be cancelled because the snow was coming down so hard. So that was one of the biggest memories.
WHAT WAS THE CAMARADERIE LIKE ON THE TEAM THAT YEAR?
It was amazing. John (Elway) could have probably said it best, we were going to do whatever it took to put us back in that same position we were in in '96. So I think guys came in in the off season and really put the pedal to the metal and just went out there and gave it all. So I think it started in the off season, but that was a tight-knit group. I still talk to guys to this day about the memories of that team, and also the teams that went beyond that, but I would say that team was like a brotherhood like no other. Nobody on that team was bigger than any other, from upstairs to downstairs, from John being in his 16th or 17th year to some of the young guys, the rookies like Trevor Pryce and John Mobley coming in. I think it was my third or fourth year in the league, Rod (Smith)'s fourth year, (Tom) Nalen, we all came in together, so I think it was probably the best camaraderie and team unity that probably will never be matched, as far as I say in Broncos history as long as I've been here.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MORE MEMORABLE PERSONALITIES FROM THAT TEAM?
You had some of everybody. You had the jokesters with me and Shannon (Sharpe), but John was a silent leader. When he spoke it was almost like E.F. Hutton, because everybody was standing at attention. He rarely spoke to the team, but you knew when he said something he commanded that respect and everybody paid attention. Mike (Shanahan) was mild-mannered and real businesslike. He let the guys be the guys. (The training facility) was pretty much our own and we kept everything in house and those are the type of personalities that we had. I would say the one that would stand out the most was Gary Zimmerman, because he was like that quiet leader. Mild prankster, with the whole offensive line, but he would probably be the biggest surprise personality we had on that team because he was so quiet but his leadership spoke volumes. You hardly ever heard him say anything, he just went on about his business like a true professional, but he played his jokes here and there amongst the linemen. That was the type of unity that they had just amongst them.
WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS GOING INTO THE SUPER BOWL GAME?
I would say we were confident. We believed in ourselves and we knew that if we went out and played our type of football that we would go out there and take care of business, even though we were 14-point underdogs. Shoot, we were 13-3 the year before, so for us to go into the Super Bowl and be 14-point underdogs, it really didn't mean much, it was more like a slap in the face. But I wouldn't even say it was something the guys rallied around, it was just something that we understood. But getting ready for that game, we already knew that it was the ultimate game to play in. It was some of our first times, but having the type of leader that we had in John, I think everybody on that team wanted to put their best foot forward on that given day to make sure that if it was going to be his last (Super Bowl), to have him go out on top. I think that's the type of team it was then, and I think he commands that same type of respect now. I think if the team got back together today, it will still probably be the same thing. I think everybody really knew that if we step in here and take that field tonight and everybody do what they can to win it for No. 7, I think that's the approach that we took.
WERE ANY OF YOU AWARE HOW BAD TERRELL DAVIS' CONDITION WAS WITH HIS MIGRAINES?
We were aware of it, not really during the game, but we were aware of it because it had happened during the season. It was something that you try to prepare for. They had had it under control, but because of the timing, the Super Bowl, that it came on, there was pretty much nothing you could do about that. It was just one of those deals of fate that was handed to us, but us being the professionals that we were, I think Mike handled it the best way he could and I think it speaks volumes about the way they approached it, and looking back on it I wouldn't have changed it for the world. The only thing disappointing about it is if he would have stayed in the game he probably would have rushed for 200 (yards), instead of (157).
WHEN DID IT REALLY HIT YOU THAT THE GAME WAS OVER AND YOU WERE THE CHAMPIONS?
I would say when John (Mobley) knocked the ball down. It was pretty much nip-and-tuck all the way and it pretty much came down to the wire. For me, the best play in football is when you're up and the offense is taking a knee and I think when John Mobley knocked that ball out, and there was no more time left on the clock, regardless of what people may think, we were the best in football that year.
OTHER THAN THE RING, WHAT DID YOU COME AWAY WITH FROM THE SUPER BOWL GAME AND THAT EXPERIENCE?
Just the mere fact that you were on the world's greatest stage for that one shining moment and all eyes were on you. In other sports you have the best of seven series, but in football it's one and done. Did we know if we'd ever get back to this game? No, but to see that confetti come down and to hear that one song play, "We Are the Champions," I think that's when it really sank in.
IN THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S SUPER BOWL, SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYED A BIG PART, AS GREEN BAY KICK RETURNER DESMOND HOWARD WAS THE MVP. BEING A SPECIAL TEAMS GUY, WAS THAT ON YOUR MIND GOING INTO THE GAME?
Yeah, I think so. We ended up causing a fumble on a kickoff, so that was to our benefit. Like I said, it was one of those games where everybody knew that they wanted to go out there and do their part. I think Tony Veland ended up knocking the ball out on Antonio Freeman and Tim McKyer recovered it, so it was one of those momentum type deals. Everybody was pretty much doing whatever it was everybody was going into form and everybody lived up to what they said they were going to do and put their best foot forward on that given Sunday.
WHERE DO YOU KEEP THAT SUPER BOWL RING? DO YOU EVER WEAR IT?
I wear it from time to time, when I go to schools and I'm speaking to kids, sometimes I talk to them with it. But I just keep them in safe deposit boxes. The ring is a ring. My thing is I wish I could get more. The more the merrier, I'll never be satisfied. But at the same time, I think that first one will always be the most special.
Each Tuesday and Friday between now and Super Bowl XLII, we'll spotlight a different member of the 1997 team. This coming Tuesday, Alfred Williams will share his memories.