Go out on a high note. Leave the audience wanting more. From Broadway shows to George Costanza telling a joke at Kruger Industrial Smoothing, everyone with an audience aspires to depart the stage to a loud, appreciative ovation, rather than pity, scorn, or relief.

Most endings are of the latter kinds. In sports, we think of Willie Mays not getting to balls while with the New York Mets, or Joe Namath unable to avoid a pass rush while wearing the blue and yellow of the Los Angeles Rams. In Denver, fans recall two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy finding no power in his last-ditch attempt to get to 400 home runs with the Colorado Rockies, or former Cowboys star Tony Dorsett playing for the Broncos in 1988 without the breakaway speed that defined him for 11 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons in Dallas.

That’s what made Super Bowl XXXIII so special for the Broncos, Elway and their fans.

The greatest player the team had ever known, and arguably the greatest quarterback in the game’s history, had the ride-off-into-the-sunset-on-a-white-horse finale that would have been rejected by a Hollywood producer as too hackneyed. And that was even without considering that the Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons, who were led by Dan Reeves, the coach who once considered trading Elway.

The Broncos won, 34-19, in a game that was not as close as the score indicated, capping a season that saw the Broncos rip off 13 consecutive wins at the start of the season. Two December defeats to the Dolphins and Giants were hiccups, but by the postseason, the Broncos were rolling again, winning their three playoff games by an average of 21.0 points apiece.

One was nice. Two Super Bowl wins marked a dynasty and put the Broncos alongside the 1966-67 Packers, 1972-73 Dolphins, 1975-76 and 1979-80 Steelers, 1988-89 49ers and 1992-93 Cowboys.

Elway won the game’s MVP award. Owner Pat Bowlen held aloft his second Lombardi Trophy, turned to the Broncos fans at Pro Player Stadium and declared, “This one’s for you!”

When Elway retired three months later, it was emotional, but it wasn’t a surprise. Injuries and the accumulation of wear from a life spent playing football had exacted a toll. The only mountain left to climb would have been leading the Broncos to a third consecutive NFL title, which would have made them the first team to accomplish such a feat since the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers.

But in the previous two years, Elway had proven with trophies that he had the championship mettle that many so long ago predicted.

1998 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/7 new england patriots 27-21
9/13 dallas cowboys 42-23
9/20 at oakland raiders 34-17
9/27 at washington redskins 38-16
10/4 philadelphia eagles 41-16
10/11 at seattle seahawks 21-16
10/25 jacksonville jaguars 37-24
11/1 at cincinnati bengals 33-26
11/8 san diego chargers 27-10
11/16 at kansas city chiefs 30-7
11/22 oakland raiders 40-14
11/29 at san diego chargers 31-16
12/6 kansas city chiefs 35-31
12/13 at new york giants 16-20
12/21 at miami dolphins 21-31
12/27 seattle seahawks 28-21
1/9 miami dolphins (afc divisional) 38-3
1/17 new york jets (afc championship) 23-10
1/31 atlanta falcons (super bowl xxxiii) 34-19

June 5, 1998
Broncos players and coaches receive their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony at team headquarters

1998 offense

Pos Player Starts
qb bubby brister 4
qb john elway 12
rb terrell davis 16
fb howard griffith 14
fb detron smith 2
wr willie green 1
wr ed mccaffrey 15
wr rod smith 16
te dwayne carswell 1
te shannon sharpe 16
c tom nalen 16
t tony jones 16
t harry swayne 16
g dan neil 16
g mark schlereth 16

The Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers are selected to play the first NFL game in Australia

Denver-area voters approve a ballot issue to appropriate tax money to partially fund a new football stadium in Denver

The Broncos clinch the AFC West division title for the ninth time in franchise history with a 31-16 win at San Diego

1998 defense

Pos Player Starts
de harald hasselbach 3
de neil smith 14
de maa tanuvasa 16
dt mike lodish 1
dt trevor pryce 15
dt keith traylor 14
lb glenn cadrez 15
lb john mobley 15
lb bill romanowski 16
cb ray crockett 16
cb darrien gordon 16
cb darrius johnson 2
s steve atwater 16
s tyrone braxton 6
s eric brown 10

Record: 14-2
First place, AFC West
Super Bowl XXXIII champions