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Mile High Morning: Celebrating the 34th anniversary of 'The Drive'


The Lead

On Friday, we left you with memories of Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow electrifying the crowd at Mile High on the first play of overtime. Today, we'll begin the week with perhaps the only other end to a game that can rival it for the chills it creates down Broncos fans' spines.

It starts, as you already know, near the end — both near the end of the field at the Broncos' own 2-yard line and near the end of regulation with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter.

Denver's bigger challenge was the distance more than the time. Before that, the Broncos' longest drive had gone for 61 yards, and they hadn't even gotten into the end zone on that possession. This time, though, they'd have no alternative. The only consolation was they had all three of their timeouts left, and they had an unleashed John Elway under center.

"He was asked to do ball-control offense until two minutes left," Karl Mecklenburg said in 2019. "Then he calls his own plays and they cut him loose, and it was away we go."

Getting out from the shadow of their own goalposts was tricky business, but after Elway scrambled to pick up the second first down of the drive, people could tell he was on the cusp of something special.

"This is going to sound as though I'm trying to wax poetic and I'm not — there was something in Elway’s] eyes after he got about the second first down that absolutely was who he was,” [Tom Jackson told The Athletic in 2020. "It was about who he was; it was about what he was, and we all found out. His greatness literally was revealed to us within that five and a half minutes."

Elway and the Broncos' offense managed to avoid putting themselves in difficult situations — except for a nearly disastrous third-and-18 play when a shotgun snap glanced off Steve Watson as he moved through the formation in pre-snap motion. In spite of that, Elway caught the snap and converted the play with a 20-yard pass.

After four more plays, Elway had the Broncos at Cleveland's 5-yard line on third-and-1. But rather than trying to just convert, Elway went for it all and rocketed a pass into the end zone to Mark Jackson on a slant route.

"I knew if I was going to go inside with it, I didn't want anybody else touching the ball than Mark Jackson," Elway recalled in 2019. "So I remember that throw being one of the hardest throws I made and just barely missed a hand as it went through a defensive lineman."

Of course, that just gave the Broncos the opportunity to tie the game, which they did. In overtime, the defense forced a three-and-out, and Denver was able to put together an easier scoring drive.

Needing just a field goal, Elway picked up 50 yards through the air on two passes and Sammy Winder added 10 yards to get the Broncos to the Cleveland 15-yard line. That set up Rich Karlis for a 33-yard field goal try to send Denver to the Super Bowl.

The rest, of course, is history.

Below the Fold

There may be no more definitive an article documenting “The Drive” than the one from The Athletic mentioned in the previous section. It starts with an anecdote about how Elway has a brick from the Cleveland Stadium and just gets better from there, as it features commentary from key players, coaches and other figures.

The Unclassifieds

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