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Way Back When: Taking down the Jets on the way to a title

This week the Denver Broncos play the New York Jets.

Yes, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Fans of the "second team" in New York City have been chanting that for nearly 60 years now, and the Broncos no doubt will hear plenty of it this Sunday.

The two teams have been playing since the American Football League began in 1960, but the New York franchise was known as the Titans then, only becoming the Jets in 1963.

Along the path of history, the Titans beat the Broncos in Denver by a 46-45 score on Thanksgiving Day in 1962, and in 1964 the Broncos were again the victims when the Jets opened Shea Stadium and won the game by a resounding 30-6 score.

Later in the 1960s, Broncos quarterback Steve Tensi quarterbacked road wins over the Joe Namath-led Jets in back-to back years, in Shea Stadium in 1967 and again in 1968.

But when we say back-to-back, Denver Broncos fans only think of one thing, that being our consecutive Super Bowl titles following the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

The New York Jets played a big part in the latter title, as the Broncos clinched their AFC record sixth Super Bowl berth by defeating the Jets 23-10 in the AFC title game before a crowd of 75,482 fans at Mile High Stadium on Jan. 17, 1999.

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I remember that it was a sunny but chilly day with temperatures hovering around the 40-degree mark at kickoff, with Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan matching wits with New York's Bill Parcells all day long.

I remember well that during the week we had been especially careful of visitors watching practice and talking to the players, as there were a number of New York writers and broadcasters in attendance and we were well aware of Coach Parcells' legendary ability to glean knowledge from outside sources.

The Broncos had gone almost a calendar year without a defeat on the way to what would be a second straight Super Bowl win, so the players were veterans used to winning. We did not have many neophytes in that locker room, with vets taking the younger players under their wings starting with training camp.

Coach Shanahan had made it clear that another title was not only our goal but well within our reach and abilities, and the team had played like it all year.

We failed to score in the first half against New York, but Denver scored 20 third-quarter points to take control of the game.

That win propelled the Broncos to the Super Bowl for the second straight season, matching the back-to-back Super Bowl appearances of the 1986 and '87 Broncos.

The Jets took a 10-0 lead after a second quarter field goal and a 1-yard Curtis Martin touchdown run early in the third stanza, set up by a blocked Denver punt at the Broncos' 1-yard line.

But that TD proved to be just the wake-up call that Denver needed to ignite its offense as well as the Mile High Stadium crowd. The stakes were high and fans were nervous and unusually quiet, but they woke quickly as John Elway connected with Ed McCaffrey on a 47-yard pass from the Denver 36, with Elway eventually finding fullback Howard Griffith for an 11-yard scoring pass to narrow the Jets' lead to 10-7.

Then special teams captain Keith Burns recovered a wind-stifled kickoff fumble to set up a 44-yard field goal by Jason Elam to tie the score.

Following another Elam field goal, the Broncos opened up a 10-point lead with Terrell Davis' 31-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

The Broncos' defense deserved credit for keeping the club in the game in the first half when the offense sputtered, and overall, the Denver D forced six turnovers and held the Jets to 14 yards on 13 rushes.

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Darrien Gordon had two of the turnovers on interceptions, and the four fumbles recovered by Denver set a franchise postseason record.

Davis set numerous records during the contest, including passing his own NFL-record total of 2,331 yards rushing in an entire season (regular season and postseason games combined) set in 1997 and rushing for 100 yards for the sixth straight postseason game to tie John Riggins for the most all-time. That record also would tumble when Davis ran for over 100 yards in Denver's Super Bowl XXXIII win two weeks later.

With its win over the Jets, Denver maintained a perfect record (12-0) when leading after three quarters in the playoffs.

Mike Shanahan had said earlier, "There is nothing like the feeling of slipping that Super Bowl ring on your finger."

Once again, the coach proved prophetic, and the Broncos' big win over the New York Jets was a huge stepping stone in the Broncos claiming a second straight world championship ring.

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