A familiar destination; a painfully familiar result

Twenty-four years after the Broncos’ 1989 season ended in a 55-10 defeat to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV, John Elway — by then the Broncos’ general manager — was licking his wounds from a Super Bowl loss as an executive.

Two days after Seattle’s 43-8 demolition of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, Elway was asked how long it took to get over a Super Bowl loss.

Replied the Hall of Famer: “I’m not over them yet.”

That’s all you need to know, really. In 1989, the Broncos rode a balanced offense and swarming defense galvanized by the arrival of coordinator Wade Phillips and safety Steve Atwater to their third AFC championship in four seasons. Once again, the Broncos won the AFC West. Once again, they defeated the Browns in the AFC Championship Game.

And once again, they were crushed in the Super Bowl.

The 1989 season probably represented the moment at which the gulf between the NFC and AFC was at its widest. Seven NFC teams won at least 10 games that year; the Broncos were the only AFC team to break double digits.

The San Francisco 49ers were 12-point favorites in Super Bowl XXIV, but by halftime, that prediction seemed quaint; they were up 27-3 and en route to the most lopsided victory margin in Super Bowl history.

The Broncos’ third Super Bowl loss in four seasons was too much to bear. Some frustrated fans even burned their Broncos gear in front of television cameras. Elway was hounded by the 49ers’ pass rush, and the balanced offense that powered the Broncos in the regular season and AFC playoffs was gone by the Super Bowl, with 1,000-yard back Bobby Humphrey unable to run.

1989 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/10 kansas city chiefs 34-20
9/18 at buffalo bills 28-14
9/24 los angeles raiders 31-21
10/1 at cleveland browns 13-16
10/8 san diego chargers 16-10
10/15 indianapolis colts 14-3
10/22 at seattle seahawks 24-21
10/29 philadelphia eagles 24-28
11/5 pittsburgh steelers 34-7
11/12 at kansas city chiefs 16-13
11/20 at washington redskins 14-10
11/26 seattle seahawks 41-14
12/3 at los angeles raiders 13-16
12/10 new york giants 7-14
12/16 at phoenix cardinals 37-0
12/24 at san diego chargers 16-19
1/7 pittsburgh steelers (afc divisional game) 24-23
1/14 cleveland browns (afc championship) 37-21
1/28 at san francisco 49ers (super bowl xxiv) 10-55

1989 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb john elway 15
qb gary kubiak 1
rb bobby humphrey 12
rb steve sewell 3
rb sammy winder 2
fb jeff alexander 6
fb melvin bratton 3
fb pat kelly 1
wr mark jackson 16
wr vance johnson 16
te clarence kay 16
te orson mobley 5
c keith kartz 16
t ken lanier 16
t gerald perry 15
g keith bishop 7
g jim juriga 16
g doug widell 10

Oct. 15, 1989: LB Randy Gradishar is officially inducted into the Ring of Fame at halftime of a game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Nov. 26, 1989: The Broncos clinch their third AFC West title in four seasons after a 41-14 victory at home against Seattle.

Jan. 28, 1990: Denver loses 55-10 to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV in the Louisiana Superdome.

1989 defense

Pos Player Starts
de alphonso carreker 16
de ron holmes 8
de warren power 1
de andre townsend 10
nt greg kragen 14
lb michael brooks 16
lb rick dennison 12
lb simon fletcher 16
lb karl mecklenburg 15
lb marc munford 5
cb tyrone braxton 16
cb wymon henderson 15
s steve atwater 16
s randy robbins 2
s dennis smith 14

Record: 11-5

1st place, AFC West

AFC champions