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Way Back When: The two most-important moments in the Broncos' history with Atlanta


The Denver Broncos' history with the Atlanta Falcons and with the city of Atlanta is highlighted by two dates: the on-the-field win in Super Bowl XXXIII on Jan. 31, 1999, and a most significant off-the-field moment on Valentine's Day, 1965.

Taking the two in chronological order, the Broncos in early 1965 were a woeful franchise and the consortium of owners had had enough.

It looked like a sale of the team and move of the franchise to Atlanta was imminent.

Broncos owner Gerald Phipps told Sports Illustrated at the time: "I had visits from two very fine men—Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets and Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills. They tried to convince me the Broncos ought to get out of Denver for the good of the league. They considered Denver a detriment to the AFL, and at the time they were right."

But Phipps was a Denver native who believed in the city and in its institutions. The Broncos were not quite an institution at that time, but Phipps felt they were worth saving.

He excused himself from the board room where their fate was being discussed, walked across the street to a bank to take out a seven-figure loan, and then returned to buy out his fellow owners, on behalf of himself and his brother Allan.

A call was made to Atlanta on Valentine's Day to politely decline the offer, and on February 15 it was announced that the Phipps brothers owned the voting majority of the Denver Broncos.

The team was saved for Denver.

Fast forward to 1999.

The Broncos were defending Super Bowl champions and they dispatched the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game to defend their title. Meanwhile, over in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons upset the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings and set up a date with the Broncos.

This game was not predicted to be close, and it proved not to be.

Before we even left our locker room after the Jets game we had already been installed as eight-point betting favorites in Las Vegas, and we had a veteran team with a number of future Hall of Famers on it.

I remember "picture day" in Miami, when the Falcons arrived.  

Head Coach Dan Reeves and I spotted each other and met up for a warm embrace. That was a nice moment, and it got all the emotion out of the way for me early in the week.

The Broncos were all business and we did not give a second of thought to the possibility of losing this game.

Head Coach Mike Shanahan was in his third Super Bowl in five years (including one win with San Francisco). He had a plan and was meticulous about executing it.

I remember we had a tradition of pizza and Popeyes fried chicken on Fridays after practice, and just before practice on Friday, Mike said to me, "We're all set for the pizza and chicken, right?"

This was outside of my job and no one had mentioned it to me. I didn't even know for sure if Miami had Popeyes, but a few frantic phone calls later, dozens of pizzas and enough fried chicken to feed a football team arrived at the stadium. The tradition continued!

The game itself was 17-6 in Denver's favor at halftime, and it seemed over then.

The second half produced a final score of 34-19, as the Broncos had become one of the few franchises to win Super Bowls back-to-back titles. That moment in time was far removed from Gerry Phipps saving the Broncos from a move to Atlanta more than three decades earlier.

The Super Bowl XXXIII Most Valuable Player was John Elway, who had completed 18-of-29 passes for 336 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rod Smith. Elway had also scored himself on a 3-yard run.

When he came down from the podium after meeting the press, I told him, "John, I have been waiting 16 years to tell you this. You have an MVP press conference at the media center at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And decide what kind of car you want." (a long-standing Super Bowl tradition was that the game MVP was given an automobile).

The gift of an automobile to the game MVP was a long-standing Super Bowl tradition. At that time John owned 18 car dealerships, so he laughed good-naturedly and said, "I get a car?!"

When I went back to the locker room, I just hung out and soaked up the ambience.

After Shannon Sharpe had showered and dressed, he reached into a bag that he had brought with him and produced a letterman-style jacket that he had made for the occasion. It had the logos of both of our Super Bowl wins on the back, including this just-concluded one, put it on and wore it on the bus ride back to the hotel.

We were a great team, and we had the confidence of champions. 

Elway made it to his Monday press confidence on time, answered the media's questions, and a good time was had by all.

A lot of moments come and go in pro football, but it is tough to top those two memories of Denver's history with Atlanta.

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