Broncos Country is anxious for the team to get back to the Super Bowl. Last week, I talked about the Broncos creating a new culture when they hired Mike Shanahan and John Fox. Both coaches were able to get the Broncos back in the Super Bowl by their third season.
Something else happened in both of the Broncos runs to the Super Bowl, however. The organization drafted future Super Bowl MVPs.
In 1995, Mike Shanahan arrived in Denver tasked with trying to win John Elway a Super Bowl as his career began to wind down. The offense for the Broncos had talent with wide receivers Anthony Miller and Mike Pritchard, as well as tight end Shannon Sharpe.
The running back position wasn’t as strong on paper, with Rod Bernstine expected to be the starter and Glyn Milburn as a change of pace back. Then, one big hit in preseason by a sixth-round draft pick changed everything.
Terrell Davis famously made a tackle on special teams that caught the attention of the coaching staff. Soon, Davis was receiving more reps in practice and by Week 1 of the 1995 season, he was the starting running back for the Broncos.
Davis’ impact was felt his rookie year as he ran for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns. For the first time in a long time, the Broncos had a star running back in the making.
Davis’ second season in 1996, he made the big jump to elite player running for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns. He likely would have had more production, but the Broncos clinched the No. 1 seed very early in the season and rested Davis towards the end of the season.
As the Broncos entered 1997 expectations were Super Bowl. They were coming off of devastating playoff loss to the Jaguars and Elway was clearly entering the final stage of his career.
1997 would become the most memorable in Broncos history and Davis was the reason. He ran for 1,750 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Broncos opened the playoffs in the wild card round in a rematch against the team that upset them the previous year, the Jaguars. Denver blew out Jacksonville, winning 42-17. That day, Davis was outstanding, running for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
The following week, the Broncos played the divisional round in a cold game against AFC West rival and the No. 1 seed, the Chiefs. Denver would knock off Kansas City, squeaking out a 14-10 victory. The win was powered by Davis as he would run for 101 yards and score both Broncos touchdowns.
For the AFC Championship game, the Broncos traveled to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. The Broncos pulled off the victory, winning 24-21, and Davis once again was unstoppable with 139 yards and one touchdown.
Super Bowl XXXII was the highlight of Davis’ career. Famously, he would leave the game in the second quarter with a migraine headache. It was only temporary, however, as Davis would return and run for 157 yards and three touchdowns, and be awarded Super Bowl MVP. Soon, he was the most-popular player in the National Football League.
Davis would encore his 1997 by rushing for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns. Even though his career was cut short due to injury, he was so brilliant in such a short time, he has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 2011, the Broncos were beginning a new era. They finished 2010 an embarrassing 4-12. The only consolation to the Broncos being so terrible is that they were awarded the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
With Elway now running the team and Fox as the head coach, the Broncos selected Von Miller. Miller quickly proved the Broncos made the right decision, by getting 11.5 sacks and being awarded AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In Miller’s second season, he became one of the most-feared pass rushers in the NFL and finished that season with 18.5 sacks.
The 2013 season was a down year for Von Miller. He was suspended six games and then tore his ACL late in the season. There were questions about his character and long-term prospects. To his credit, Miller bounced back with 15 sacks in 2014 and proved he was still one of the best in the NFL. Miller would not play in Super Bowl XLVIII due to his injury.
To that point, Miller was always one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Then came the 2015 season. With Wade Phillips now running the defense, the Broncos produced one of the most-dominant defenses in NFL history. Miller had 11 sacks and spent the entire season disrupting and terrorizing the opponent’s quarterbacks.
The 2015 playoffs is where Von Miller solidified his legacy. In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Miller was a nightmare for Tom Brady. Miller sacked Brady 2.5 times and intercepted a pass in the second quarter.
Super Bowl 50 will be the highlight of Miller’s career. Miller was able to ruin Cam Newton’s day, sacking him 2.5 times and causing two fumbles along the way. Miller was awarded Super Bowl MVP.
Terrell Davis is in the Hall of Fame and Von Miller will no doubt one day be inducted, as well. Both of the Broncos super runs in the late 1990s and early to mid-2010s was kickstarted by the Broncos drafting a future Hall of Famer.
While the attention was on quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning, it was Davis and Miller that were the game-changing players that were the driving force behind the Broncos winning. Davis and Miller both walked away Super Bowl MVPs.
The Broncos have a lot of young talent, but for the Broncos to ultimately return to the Super Bowl they need a Hall of Famer to emerge. Without Davis and Miller, the Broncos don’t win Super Bowls. It takes more than great players you need all-time great players.
Drew Lock obviously needs to one day become elite. The quarterback is the most important, but as we’ve seen, you need Hall of Fame talent in other areas. Jerry Jeudy and Bradley Chubb are the obvious choices, but generational talent is hard to come by.
Davis and Miller’s postseason performance were impressive because they both became unstoppable. They played a level above everybody else on the field. Jeudy and Chubb were both touted as almost guarantees to be successful in the NFL. We won’t truly know if either player is great until we see them dominate the postseason.
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