Class of 2004 John Elway had one of the most illustrious careers of any quarterback in National Football League history. He was selected by the Baltimore Colts as the first player overall in the 1983 NFL Draft and was later traded to the Denver Broncos.
Sixteen seasons later, he capped his Hall of Fame career by not only leading the Broncos to their second straight Super Bowl victory but by also earning the game's Most Valuable Player honor. Elway completed 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards and threw one touchdown as well as scored another touchdown on the ground as Denver beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.
While his swan song in the NFL was of storybook fashion, his proclivity for leading the Broncos from behind throughout his career was simply magical. Elway chalked up a record 47 fourth quarter come-from-behind comebacks during his pro career. Of those 47 last minute heroics by Elway, the Broncos scored the winning points 21 times under two minutes and 13 times with less than one minute left in the game.
"The thing that was so impressive was the concentration level and poise and thriving on pressure," commented Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan on the comebacks.
John Elway’s Fourth Quarter Comebacks
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(Source: Denver Broncos)
Dec. 11, 1983 vs. Baltimore — Throws three fourth-quarter TD passes, the last a 26-yarder to Gerald Willhite with 0:44 left in 21-19 win.
Nov. 4, 1984 vs. New England — Directs 8-play, 78-yard drive for seven-yard TD pass to Butch Johnson with 4:03 left to tie score at 19-19; Dennis Smith returns a fumble 64 yards for TD with 1:45 left in a 26-19 win.
Nov. 11, 1984 at San Diego — Directs 10-play, 77-yard drive for Sammy Winder one-yard TD run with 0:38 left in 16-13 win.
Dec. 9, 1984 vs. San Diego — Directs 12-play, 40-yard drive for Rich Karlis field goal with 2:08 left in 16-13 win.
Sept. 22, 1985 at Atlanta — Directs three scoring drives (two TDs, one FG) in fourth quarter, erasing 28-27 deficit, in 44-28 win.
Nov. 11, 1985 vs. San Francisco — Directs 9-play, 63-yard drive for Rich Karlis 24-yard field goal with 1:27 left in 17-16 win.
Nov. 17, 1985 vs. San Diego — Directs 7-play, 48-yard drive for Rich Karlis 34-yard field goal with 0:05 left to tie San Diego; Denver wins 30-24 on Louis Wright’s 60-yard TD return of a blocked field goal in OT.
Dec. 1, 1985 at Pittsburgh — Directs 7-play, 58-yard drive for Steve Sewell two-yard TD run with 1:45 left, taking a 24-23 lead; Mike Harden returns an interception 42 yards for a score for 31-23 win.
Dec. 14, 1985 vs. Kansas City — Directs 8-play, 59-yard drive for Sammy Winder one-yard TD run with 0:22 left in 14-13 win.
Dec. 20, 1985 at Seattle — Directs 8-play, 80-yard drive for Steve Sewell one-yard run to tie game at 24-24 with 2:35 remaining; then passes for 27 yards to start a five-play, 34-yard drive (Gary Kubiak takes over when Elway is injured) for a Rich Karlis 43-yard field goal with 0:55 remaining in 27-24 win.
Sept. 7, 1986 vs. L.A. Raiders — Directs 9-play, 39-yard drive for seven-yard pass to Gene Lang with 5:11 left in 38-36 win.
Jan. 11, 1987 at Cleveland (AFC Championship Game) — Directs 15-play, 98-yard drive for five-yard TD pass to Mark Jackson with 0:39 left to tie game 20-20; in Denver’s first OT possession, directs 60-yard drive for Rich Karlis 33-yard FG in 23-20 win.
Sept. 20, 1987 at Green Bay — Directs 18-play, 80-yard drive for Steve Sewell one-yard run with 5:53 remaining to tie game at 17-17; game ends in an overtime tie.
Nov. 16, 1987 vs. Chicago — Directs 8-play, 61-yard drive for Steve Sewell four-yard TD run with 4:58 left in 31-29 win.
Dec. 6, 1987 vs. New England — Directs 6-play, 74-yard drive for two-yard TD pass to Mark Jackson with 12:41 left for 24-20 lead; Mark Haynes later returns an interception for 14 yards and a score in 31-20 win.
Jan. 17, 1988 vs. Cleveland (AFC Championship Game) — Directs 5-play, 75-yard drive for 20-yard TD pass to Sammy Winder with 4:01 left for 38-31 lead; after safety and Ernest Byner fumble, Denver wins 38-33.
Oct. 9, 1988 at San Francisco — Directs 9-play, 58-yard drive for eight-yard TD pass to Vance Johnson with 8:37 left to tie game 13-13; Broncos win in overtime when Steve Wilson’s interception sets up Rich Karlis 22-yard field goal 8:11 into overtime.
Oct. 8, 1989 vs. San Diego — Directs 11-play, 74-yard drive for Bobby Humphrey 17-yard TD run with 1:03 left in 16-10 win.
Oct. 22, 1989 at Seattle — Throws 54-yard TD pass to Vance Johnson with 2:19 left (only play of drive) to tie game 21-21; Dennis Smith interception sets up David Treadwell’s 27-yard field goal at 7:14 of OT for 24-21 win.
Nov. 12, 1989 at Kansas City — Directs 10-play, 72-yard drive for David Treadwell 26-yard FG with 0:01 left in 16-13 win.
Jan. 7, 1990 vs. Pittsburgh (AFC Divisional Playoff) — Directs 9-play, 71-yard drive for Melvin Bratton one-yard run with 2:27 left in 24-23 win.
Sept. 17, 1990 vs. Kansas City — Directs 10-play, 79-yard drive for David Treadwell 22-yard FG with 0:00 left for 24-23 win.
Oct. 21, 1990 at Indianapolis — Directs 9-play, 58-yard drive for David Treadwell 42-yard FG to break tie with 3:45 left; then directs five-play, 56-yard drive for Steve Sewell two-yard run with 1:41 left in 27-17 win.
Oct. 20, 1991 vs. Kansas City — Directs 7-play, 70-yard drive for David Treadwell 27-yard field goal with 2:37 left in 19-16 win.
Oct. 27, 1991 at New England — Directs 9-play, 42-yard drive for David Treadwell 34-yard field goal with 1:56 left in 9-6 win.
Dec. 8, 1991 at Cleveland — Directs 16-play, 64-yard drive for six-yard TD pass to Vance Johnson with 8:54 left to break 7-7 tie; then directs six-play, 66-yard drive for David Treadwell 37-yard field goal with 3:29 remaining in 17-7 win.
Dec. 15, 1991 vs. Phoenix — Directs 6-play, 66-yard drive for Elway’s four-yard TD run with 1:46 left in 24-19 win.
Jan. 4, 1992 vs. Houston (AFC Divisional Playoff) — Directs 12-play, 87-yard drive for David Treadwell 28-yard field goal with 0:20 left in 26-24 win.
Sept. 6, 1992 vs. L.A. Raiders — Directs 7-play, 85-yard drive for Reggie Rivers one-yard TD run with 0:55 left in 17-13 win.
Oct. 4, 1992 vs. Kansas City — Directs 14-play, 80-yard drive for 25-yard pass to Mark Jackson with 1:55 left to pull Denver within six points at 19-13; after a 28-yard punt return, directs a three-play, 27-yard drive for a 12-yard TD pass to Vance Johnson with 0:38 left in 20-19 win.
Oct. 18, 1992 vs. Houston — Directs 3-play, 80-yard drive for Reggie Rivers’ 20-yard TD run with 1:34 left in 27-21 win.
Dec. 12, 1993 vs. Kansas City — Directs three-play, 11-yard drive for six-yard TD pass to Shannon Sharpe with 10:34 left in 27-21 win.
Oct. 23, 1994 at San Diego — Directs 4-play, four-yard drive to set up Jason Elam’s 54-yard field goal with 10:02 remaining that put Denver ahead 17-15; then directed a nine-play, 66-yard drive to set up Elam for a 25-yard field goal that provided the final score of 20-15 with 4:07 remaining.
Nov. 20, 1994 vs. Atlanta — Directs 10-play, 73-yard drive for 32-yard TD pass to Anthony Miller to pull Denver within 28-25 with 10:19 remaining; then drove the Broncos 57 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive with a four-yard TD run to put Denver ahead to stay 32-28 with 1:56 remaining.
Sept. 17, 1995 vs. Washington — Directs 8-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 43-yard TD strike to Rod Smith on the final play of the game (play started at 0:06), breaking a 31-31 tie and giving Denver a 38-31 win. The drive began on the Broncos’ 20-yard line with 1:07 remaining.
Nov. 19, 1995 vs. San Diego — Directs 7-play, 53-yard drive to set up Jason Elam’s game-wining 32-yard field goal, breaking a 27-27 tie, and lifting Denver to a 30-27 win. The drive began on the Broncos’ 33-yard line with 3:43 remaining.
Dec. 24, 1995 at Oakland — Directs 12-play, 79-yard drive to set up Jason Elam’s 27-yard field goal to pull Denver to within 28-20 with 12:47 remaining; then drove the Broncos 87 yards in 13 plays, culminating with a four-yard TD pass to Ed McCaffrey — on which Elway ran in for the two-point conversion — to tie the score at 28-28 with 5:46 remaining; then drove 53 yards in nine plays to set up Elam’s game-winning 37-yard field goal with 0:48 remaining, giving Denver the 31-28 victory.
Sept. 15, 1996 vs. Tampa Bay — Directs 14-play, 80-yard drive over an 8:11 span, capped by Terrell Davis’ three-yard run with 3:32 remaining, giving Denver a 27-23 win.
Oct. 20, 1996 vs. Baltimore — Directs 10-play, 57-yard yard drive in 4:31, culminating with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffrey, to put Denver ahead 38-34 with 10:57 remaining. He later led the club 15 yards in three plays, capped by his own 9-yard touchdown run with 1:16 remaining, to provide the final margin of 45-34.
Nov. 4, 1996 at Oakland — Directs 6-play, 73-yard drive over a 47-second span, culminating with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith with 4:14 remaining to erase a 21-16 Raiders lead and lift Denver to a 22-21 win.
Nov. 24, 1996 at Minnesota — Directs 11-play, 84-yard drive in 5:02, capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffrey with 19 seconds remaining that was tipped three times by Vikings defenders, to give Denver a 21-17 win.
Oct. 26, 1997 at Buffalo — Directs 9-play, 43-yards drive in 4:47 during overtime to set up a 33-yard Jason Elam field goal with 1:56 remaining on the clock, giving Denver a 23-20 win.
Nov. 2, 1997 vs. Seattle — Directs 8-play, 69-yard drive in 4:34 to set up a 22-yard Jason Elam field goal with 7:28 remaining, breaking a 27-27 tie and giving Denver a 30-27 win.
Jan. 4, 1998 at Kanas City (AFC Divisional Playoff) — Directs 6-play, 49-yard drive in 2:38, capped by a 1-yard Terrell Davis touchdown run with 12:32 remaining to give Denver a 14-10 AFC Divisional Playoff victory. Key to the drive was Elway’s 43-yard strike to Ed McCaffrey that set up the Broncos at the Chiefs’ 1-yard line.
Jan. 25, 1998 vs. Green Bay (Super Bowl XXXII) — Directs 5-play, 49-yard drive in 1:42, culminating in a 1-yard Terrell Davis touchdown run with 1:45 remaining to break a 24-24 tie and give Denver a 31-24 win to claim its first World Championship. Key to the drive was a screen pass to fullback Howard Griffith that covered 23 yards and put Denver at the Green Bay 8-yard line.
Nov. 1, 1998 at Cincinnati — Directs 5-play, 53-yard drive in 1:56, culminating in a 5-yard Terrell Davis touchdown run with 58 seconds remaining to break a 26-26 tie and give Denver a 33-26 win. Key to the drive was a 38-yard kickoff return by Vaughn Hebron to stake the Broncos with good field position.
Dec. 6, 1998 vs. Kansas City — Directs 5-play, 50-yard drive in 2:39, capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe with 3:34 remaining to give Denver a 35-31 lead that would hold up for the win — Denver’s 13th in a row to begin the season (tied for second-best all-time) and 18th in a row overall, dating back to the 1997 season (tied for the longest streak in NFL history, regular and postseason combined).