Silver anniversary of John Elway’s sterling final game
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
(Editor’s note: This article is the latest in an ongoing series looking at quarterbacks’ achievements that have aged well over the past 80 NFL seasons.)
The 1998 season marked JOHN ELWAY’S last rodeo in the National Football League.
Super Bowl XXXIII, Jan. 31, 1999, saw Elway take his final snap as a pro, ending a storied and Hall of Fame career that lasted 16 seasons — all with the Denver Broncos.
Following his famed “helicopter spin” in the Broncos’ 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, few could have imagined a more storybook ending to close out one of the finest resumes in pro football history.
After some deliberation, Elway decided to return in 1998 to defend the franchise’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy. As fate would have it, the Super Bowl victory over future Hall of Fame quarterback BRETT FAVRE and the Packers was just the beginning of what would become the strongest run of dominance in Broncos history.
The 1998 season opened with a 27-21 victory of the New England Patriots. Then, against “team of the decade,” Elway and the Broncos dismantled the Dallas Cowboys 42-23.
Elway strained his hamstring during the win and re-aggravated it the next week in a 34-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
The injury moved veteran quarterback Bubby Brister into the starting lineup. He secured wins over the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles the following two weeks and started in wins against the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs later in the season.
At that point, 13 games into the season, the Broncos had not lost.
Consecutive road losses at the New York Giants and in Miami against the Dolphins derailed Denver’s momentum and bid for a perfect season. The Broncos would cap the regular season by hosting the Seattle Seahawks.
Elway entered that game with 296 career touchdown passes — at the time the third most in NFL history. His four-touchdown performance — with zero interceptions for a 138.4 passer rating — brought his career total to 300. The 28-21 victory marked Elway’s 148th career win as a starting quarterback, at that time the most in NFL history.
He ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the AFC in yards per passing attempt (7.9). At home in Denver, Elway was particularly dominant, completing 125 of 187 passes (66.8%) for 1,767 yards (9.5 YPA), 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 118.1 passer rating.
Elway entered the postseason red-hot and with an opportunity to avenge the team’s toughest loss of the season in a rematch with future Hall of Fame quarterback DAN MARINO.
Marino struggled, throwing two picks and zero touchdowns. Future Hall of Fame running back TERRELL DAVIS carried the ball 21 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns as the Broncos rolled 38-3. Elway was razor-sharp, completing 14 of 23 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, one sack, zero interceptions and a 100.3 passer rating.
Elway and the Broncos then defeated head coach BILL PARCELLS' (and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick’s) New York Jets 23-10 in the AFC Championship Game. Davis carried the ball 32 times for 167 yards and a touchdown. Elway threw for 173 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Including the postseason, Elway finished the 1998 season undefeated (9-0) at home, running his record in Denver to 18-0 in his two Super Bowl-winning seasons.
Super Bowl XXXIII: The icing on the cake
Advancing to Super Bowl XXXIII meant a matchup against former Broncos head coach Dan Reeves and the Atlanta Falcons. The teams entered the game with identical 16-2 records.
In the final game of his career, Elway again delivered, completing 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, one interception, zero sacks and a 99.2 passer rating. His 11.6 yards per passing attempt remain second-highest in Super Bowl history (minimum 25 attempts), trailing only Doug Williams’ 11.7 yards per attempt in Super Bowl XXII.
Elway was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII as the Broncos dominated the Falcons in a 34-19 win.
It can be argued there never has been a finer ending to a quarterback’s Hall of Fame career.
Ryan Michael is a sportswriter, a statistician for KOA’s “Broncos Country Tonight” and a contributor to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can follow him on X (@theryanmichael) and on “Broncos Country Tonight”.
This article is the latest in an ongoing series highlighting noteworthy quarterback play over the past 80 seasons. Information from Pro-Football-Reference.com’s database helped make the research possible.
More of this series
- Analysis: Charlie Conerly’s giant accomplishments hold up as eras pass
- Y.A. Tittle’s journey from San Francisco to New York
- Analysis: An appreciation of Sammy Baugh’s historic 1943 season
- Legendary seasons for Sid Luckman, Peyton Manning separated by 70 years
- Looking back at TB12’s historic 2011 season 12 years later
- Russell Wilson’s decade of dominance in Seattle remains elite
- Roger Staubach’s 1971: The greatest season you’ve never heard about
- Silver anniversary: Randall Cunningham’s solid gold season with Vikings
- 50 years since Unitas’ last pass: Some things you might not know about No. 19
- Race to the top: Brady’s battle with Brees for the NFL’s most hallowed record
- Analysis: Did Andrew Luck exceed hype or fall short?
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