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Way Back When: Remembering Denver's AFC Championship win over the Steelers on the 1997 'Revenge Tour'


The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers have had a long, tough rivalry.

They first played each other in 1970, the first year in which the merged American Football League teams played in the National Football League.

Denver won that one, 16-13, and along the way they have had a very contentious series.

The Broncos are 8-3-1 at home and 6-6 in Pittsburgh in regular-season play, and while Denver holds the postseason edge, 5-3, each has gone on to win the Super Bowl after a victory in the other guy's stadium.

It was Pittsburgh whom Denver played in the Broncos' first ever playoff game, a 1977 victory that sent Denver to its first AFC Championship appearance. That was the same game when Pro Football Hall of Famer and Steelers defensive lineman "Mean" Joe Greene lived up to his name by punching Broncos guard Paul Howard in the solar plexus, sending Howard temporarily out of the game, and in future weeks Howard played with a steel plate attached to his shoulder pads.

These teams have gone toe to toe many times over the years, and whenever we play in Pittsburgh, as we do this week, my mind quickly races back to the 1997 AFC Championship Game.

The Steelers had beaten Denver by a 35-24 scored at Pittsburgh in Week 15 that year, and the oddsmakers had Pittsburgh as the favorites once again.

But this title game was game three out of four in the Broncos' "Revenge Tour."

Denver was the better team, well prepared and highly motivated — and the Broncos had perhaps the best player in the NFL leading their rushing attack in Terrell Davis.

But Davis had bruised his ribs in the Broncos' wild-card win against the Jaguars. He fought through the pain by wearing a flak jacket in Kansas City the following week, but he attributed his two fumbles to wearing it. After escaping with a win, the injury would surely be a focus for the Steelers' defense. In fact, I recall that the night before the game, Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher told the network announcers, "We will definitely remind Terrell Davis that his ribs hurt."

True to their coach's word, the Steelers hit Davis hard and often, but the Broncos' future Hall of Famer was more than up to the task.

Davis carried the football 26 times from scrimmage for 139 yards, including a 43-yard run, and had an eight-yard running score for the first points of the game. Davis showed that Hall of Fame players lead the way, no matter the goals of the guys on the other side of the ball.

Behind a 24-14 halftime lead, the Broncos strode calmly into the fourth quarter before the Steelers scored the only points of the second half on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 2:46 remaining.

It was a frustrating day for Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart, who completed just 18-of-36 for 201 yards and three interceptions, one each by Tyrone Braxton, Allen Aldridge and Ray Crockett.

After one particularly frustrating bad throw, Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski slowly walked up to Stewart and taunted him — this was legal then — with a slap to Romo's own helmet as if to say some sort of "Man, am I stupid" comment.

"I was just trying to get into his head a little bit," Romanowski said after the game. "He was kind of like, 'Oh, (shoot), what did I do?'"

That Denver team knew what it was and knew its ultimate mission.

While Stewart was having his frustrations, future Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway tied Roger Staubach for fourth place on the NFL's all-time list for postseason touchdown passes (24) by throwing two that day. Defensively, Denver's three interceptions tied the franchise postseason record for most in a game.

Three different Denver players also registered one sack in the win.

Still, late in the game the Broncos had the ball and needed one first down to keep the ball away from Pittsburgh and seal the win.

It was third down, and from one Hall of Famer to another, Elway said to tight end Shannon Sharpe in the huddle, "Just get open."

Sharpe got open, Elway threw him a pass for a first down, and celebration ensued.

After the game the Lamar Hunt Trophy was presented by legendary coach Don Shula, who knew a thing or two about the running game.

"Man, the way this Denver team can run the ball," I recall Shula saying on the field stage. "They have got a real chance to win this thing in two weeks."

The Broncos had run for 150 yards in their championship win at Pittsburgh, and that turned out to be a preview of the fourth game of the Revenge Tour, as two weeks later Denver ran the ball for 179 yards, including 157 and three touchdowns by Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Terrell Davis.

But on Jan. 11, 1998 the Broncos were in Pittsburgh, proving they were the best team and one that would have a date with destiny two weeks later in San Diego.

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