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Mile High Morning: Nearly four decades later, the legacy of 'The Drive' still shines

The Lead

In the final minutes of the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 11, 1987, the Broncos were about as far away as possible from a Super Bowl ticket as a team could be in a one-possession game.

Ninety-eight yards and the fearsome Cleveland Browns defense separated Denver from closing a 20-13 deficit, with 5:32 of game time to construct one last-gasp drive.

The Broncos didn't waver from the challenge, and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and the Denver offense turned the adversity into one of the most iconic moments of Elway's career and Denver sports lore.

Elway started what would become known as The Drive with a quick 5-yard pass off play action to Sammy Winder to get out of the shadow of the end zone, and two plays later Winder converted a third-and-2 opportunity to record the Broncos' opening first down of the drive. From there, the Broncos started to pick up traction. A 12-yard keeper by Elway picked up another first down, and a 22-yard pass to Steve Sewell and 12-yarder to Steve Watson advanced Denver into Cleveland territory as the two-minute warning sounded.

Needing a touchdown and extra point to tie, the Broncos had little margin for error even with the drive's initial momentum, and the sequence hit a snag in the ensuing plays. The Browns followed up Elway's first incompletion of the drive with an 8-yard sack, bringing up a difficult third-and-18 opportunity. But the Broncos' offense delivered again, converting on a 20-yard connection from Elway to Vance Jackson.

A couple plays later, Elway fired a 14-yard pass to Sewell to move the Broncos into the red zone at the Cleveland 14. The Browns defense tightened up to force Denver's third third-down opportunity of the drive, and the Broncos faced third-and-1 from the Cleveland 5 with 39 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Broncos' offense capped off its incredible drive in thrilling fashion. Elway dropped back in the pocket, then confidently fired a dart to Mark Jackson in the end zone for the touchdown. Moments later, kicker Rich Karlis nailed the extra point to tie the game and send the clash to overtime.

With momentum firmly in their favor, Elway's Broncos finished off the Browns on the first drive of overtime. Denver used a nine-play, 60-yard drive to move into field-goal range, and Karlis connected on another clutch kick to give the Broncos a 23-20 victory and secure Denver's spot in Super Bowl XXI.

The resilience and poise of the Denver offense hasn't been forgotten by Broncos Country in the decades since, and The Drive still ranks as one of the franchise's treasured memories nearly four decades later.

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