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Sacco Sez: The 1997 blizzard before Buffalo

A blizzard delayed the Broncos' trip to Buffalo in 1997. But the wait was worth it as the Broncos won in OT.

This is the 20th anniversary season of the Broncos' first Super Bowl championship, which came during the 1997 season, and a year like that sparks a cavalcade of memories. Naturally some of them involve the Bills and the Broncos' trip to Buffalo as a 7-0 team in 1997.

It was as unusual and difficult as any road trip in team history. These are my memories of it.

We were undefeated and rolling, but we had been undefeated before, and you never know what might derail a team.

On the Friday night before we were scheduled to depart, one of those legendary snowstorms began to engulf the city of Denver. Prognostications were dire as to how much snow Denver would get. 

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Dave Bratten, now our college scouting coordinator and an area scout, was then my public relations intern. He called me Friday night and expressed concern about being able to get to the airport Saturday. I told him he had to get there, period, and he left his house immediately.

He went to the airport 18 hours early, which was a wise decision, it turned out. It is also indicative of why he has the position he has today.

Saturday morning was a catastrophe. The snow was deep and travel seemed impossible.

But the airport was open. The problem was that the average citizen could not get to or from the airport. However, we had buses, which were ready to go.

Getting to the team headquarters to catch those buses was easier said than done.

For me, there was no chance in my standard car, but I called a cousin of mine with one of those huge four-wheel-drive trucks, and he was kind enough to pick me up.

On the way, I got a call from the NFL game operations offices. They called me because they could not reach others who were busy digging their cars out. They wanted to know if we could get to Buffalo.

They asked about our plans, and I told them we were going to be there. They were incredulous but accepted what I said, no doubt to get later confirmation from football operations.

When we finally neared the facility, it was one of the most amazing sights I have seen in football. The snow was so heavy and coming down so fast that I could not see the building. We sat with the truck idling for several minutes trying to make out something, and finally you could just see a little orange and blue on a wall, so we headed for it.

Once inside, the resolve of that Broncos team was apparent. They were mostly all there, watching college games, playing cards, passing the time.

Linebacker Bill Romanowski had stopped at a Good Times hamburger stand on his way and purchased what seemed like a hundred burgers.

This was in the days before the team had a catered cafeteria.

Head coach Mike Shanahan met with the team and reminded them it was all business. No matter how or when we got to Buffalo, it was just one more game to win.

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The drive to the airport was surreal, with almost no other vehicles on the roads.

There was a huge delay in leaving Denver due to the snow, preparing the aircraft, loading the equipment truck, which had its own issues getting to the airport, and we finally departed many hours late.

Kickoff was at 1 p.m. Sunday, and we did not arrive at the Buffalo hotel until about 1 a.m., but the hotel had a meal prepared for the team.

In what might have been the latest team dinner ever for a football team, everyone ate at one in the morning and then went to bed.

If ever a team could be expected to lose focus, this was it.

But though no one knew it yet, the Broncos were a truly great team, on the cusp of consecutive world championships and an undefeated calendar year of play.

However, for this moment, it was not about extended success. It was just about Buffalo.

One game at a time.

The Broncos played as if there had been no travel difficulties at all, methodically taking control of the game and building up a 20-0 lead through three quarters.

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Maybe fatigue or the craziness of the situation set in during the fourth stanza, as Buffalo actually tied the game at 20-20, but future Ring of Fame kicker Jason Elam kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime and Denver went to 8-0 with a 23-20 win.

The Broncos' win and weekend travel ordeal was the talk of all the highlight shows and of everyone in the NFL. There was an air of "can you believe this actually happened" in every conversation and report.

Many Denver press members had not been able to get to the game, so a lot of the coverage was from watching television.

One of the main things I observed and took from the weekend was how absolutely professional and committed this team was, in addition to having great talent.

No one would have blamed the Broncos either for not going or for begging the league to reschedule the game or delay the game's start time, or just plain playing a lousy game.

But this was a genuinely great team, with great leadership from quarterback John Elway and head coach Mike Shanahan, and the way it carried itself not just on the field but for the entire weekend sent a great message to anyone who had any questions. The Denver Broncos of 1997 were for real and on a mission, and they were not to be denied by the snowstorm of the century when we beat the snow and the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 26.

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