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Broncos Legends: LB John Mobley's path from small-school star to Super Bowl champion

In our Broncos Legends series, we're revisiting the careers of some of the best players in franchise history with video highlights and rarely seen photos — and they'll join us to break down their favorite moments as a Bronco and more. Here's a refresher on linebacker John Mobley's time in Denver.

Career overview

John Mobley's path to the Broncos was unlikely, to say the least.

As a child, he lived with his father after his parents divorced, but when his dad suffered a debilitating stroke, he went to live with his mother, who wanted him to quit high school to help support their family, according to a 1996 Rocky Mountain News story. John couldn't accept that, and so he was forced to live on the street until the parents of some of his teammates took him in while he finished school.

Even though Mobley could have gone to a large university as a scholarship athlete, he stayed near home at Kutztown University. Even at the small school, Mobley became a special player — and not just on defense. After one game in 1995, he was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week. He had made 11 tackles, recorded three pass breakups, scored a rushing touchdown, returned a kickoff 69 yards and blocked a punt. In another, he made 17 tackles, forced and recovered one fumble, intercepted a pass, ran for two touchdowns and completed a pass for a two-point conversion.

By the end of his days at Kutztown, he had put together one of the finest careers in school history. Mobley was a first-team AP Little All-American in back-to-back seasons in 1994 and '95, and he earned first-team all-conference honors for each of his final three seasons at Kutztown. After his 1995 season, Mobley was named the PSAC Athlete of the Year.

With his college years behind him, a future in the NFL awaited the small-college star. He became the first Kutztown player invited to the Senior Bowl and immediately turned heads.

"The cash register just keeps ringing on that guy the more he plays out here," one scout said, the Charlotte Observer’s Charles Chandler reported.

After recording five tackles in the game, Mobley earned some acclaim from Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, who said, "I thought Mobley played extremely well. He was all over the football field."

Mobley's performance and his athletic gifts helped turn him into a tantalizing NFL Draft prospect. A month after the Senior Bowl, Adam Schefter projected Mobley as a second-round pick for the Broncos in a mock draft for the Rocky Mountain News.

Schefter got the team right, but he was 30 picks too late. Mobley had become such a hot prospect that he received an invitation to experience the Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York, but when the Broncos' No. 15 pick was announced, even Mobley was stunned.

"It came out of the blue and took me by storm," he told a USA TODAY reporter. "I was in the audience when the commissioner read my name. I had no idea the Broncos were even interested in me."

But head coach Mike Shanahan was smitten with him.

In Denver, Mobley became an immediate starter. As a rookie, he recorded 61 tackles, an interception and 1.5 sacks. The previous season, the team ranked 15th in yards allowed; the Broncos ranked fourth in Mobley's first year.

"The young man has had an outstanding year, and their defense is vastly improved," then-Chargers head coach Bobby Ross said near the end of the 1996 season. "You can credit their free agent acquisitions Bill Romanowski and Jumpy Geathers and the rookie, Mobley, for that."

Mobley would only become more instrumental in his second season. He led the team in tackles with 132 — or 162 according to coaches' film review. The next closest player was 50 behind him. He also had four sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a defensive touchdown. Yet, Mobley was snubbed for the Pro Bowl; one reporter for a newspaper in New York called Mobley "probably the most deserving player not to be selected to the Pro Bowl." Despite being overlooked for the Pro Bowl, Mobley earned first-team All-Pro honors instead.

As the Broncos marched to their first Super Bowl victory, Mobley came up with the play to clinch the game. With Brett Favre and the Packers hoping to conduct a game-tying drive in the final moments, the Broncos sent seven men blitzing to pressure Favre on fourth down. Mobley provided the necessary impeccable coverage and broke up the pass on fourth-down to send Denver's sideline into raucous celebration.

"What did I feel? Immediate jubilation," Mobley said after the game. "I think I just threw my arms up and started running up and down the field."

In Mobley's play, perhaps you could see the type of linebacker that become ideal — a sure tackler with a high football IQ who is athletic and fast enough to cover taller tight ends.

"It all came down to fourth-and-6, and I knew I had to make the play," Mobley said. "They set up with only three wides, so I knew he was going to try to get the ball to [TE Mark] Chmura. … I just stayed with him, waited for the ball, and then jumped on it."

Mobley added another ring a year later with the Broncos as they won back-to-back championships, and in the years that followed, he emerged as a top tackler for the team. By the team's tackling numbers based on coaches' film, Mobley led the team in the statistical category in four of the five seasons from 1997 through 2001.

Unfortunately, Mobley's career was cut short as he suffered a serious neck injury midway through the 2003 season.

Still, his career is an impressive one. In 2019, he was named one of the top 100 Broncos players in franchise history.

Career accolades

First-team AP All-Pro selection (1997), 1997 All-AFC selection, 1996 NFL All-Rookie Team selection, 1997 Week 6 AFC Defensive Player of the Week, four-time team leader in tackles, 2000 Broncos Ed Block Courage Award winner, Broncos Top 100 Team selection

Stats to know

105 career games (102 starts), 621 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, five interceptions, one defensive touchdown, at least 28 tackles for loss and 22 passes defensed (official TFL and PD stats not recorded until 1999)

In his own words

"I think I was more of an agile playing-in-space linebacker. I loved just using my speed and getting to the ball as fast as I could, using my speed and athleticism."

Three games to remember

Week 6, 1997 season: Broncos 34, Patriots 13

Under the bright lights of "Monday Night Football," Mobley proved to be one of the Broncos' top defensive players in a prime-time matchup with the Patriots. Midway through the first quarter, Mobley picked off Drew Bledsoe and returned the interception 13 yards for an easy touchdown. He was also credited with 13 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble, according to the Denver Post when they announced Mobley had won AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.

"It was an all-star performance," cornerback Ray Crockett said after the game. "He came into his own tonight."

Super Bowl XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24

You have to wait the entire game to see Mobley's biggest play, but it's worth it. His pass-breakup to clinch the Broncos' first Super Bowl victory was a historic moment for the franchise. Right now, die-hard Broncos fans can probably hear Dave Logan's voice in their head saying "Oh, baby, they're going to win this thing!"

Week 3, 2000 season: Broncos 33, Raiders 24

After missing almost the entirety of the 1999 season with a torn ACL, Mobley had his return to the field delayed even further when he needed an additional surgery on his knee in August before the start of the 2000 season. In his first game back, in Week 2, he tallied eight tackles and got his sea legs. The following week in a rivalry game against the Raiders, he proved he could still make game-changing plays. In the third quarter with the game tied at 24, the Raiders drove deep into Broncos territory. Six yards from the end zone, Rich Gannon dropped back and looked for Andre Rison. Mobley plucked the ball from the air in the end zone and returned it nine yards. From there, the Broncos went nearly the length of the field and kicked the go-ahead field goal that would be enough for the win.

"It could have gone either way if they scored right there," Mobley said afterward. "I think that kind of took the momentum from them and gave us a little bit back."

A look back through John Mobley's time with the Broncos in photos.

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