Shannon Sharpe knew the history but he liked his team's chances more. The NFC had been so dominant before Super Bowl XXXII -- the AFC had lost 13 straight -- that it seemed a mere formality that the Denver Broncos would play the patsy to the Green Bay Packers.
"When you think about those Super Bowls, they weren't even close," said Sharpe, a Hall of Fame tight end who played 12 of his 14 NFL seasons in Denver. "And people thought our game wasn't supposed to be close, either."
Sharpe also suspected the Packers believed they were destined to win their second straight Super Bowl until a broken play in the third quarter morphed into one of the most compelling images in that game's history. The Broncos faced a third-and-6 at the Green Bay 13-yard line with the score tied at 17. At that point, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan called a play that Denver had run consistently in practice that week, one that should have led to an easy touchdown for Sharpe. The only problem was the Green Bay Packers' defense.
When Sharpe lined up in the right slot of a four-receiver formation, he planned to run 3 or 4 yards inside before cutting back outside. But after the ball was snapped, Packers safeties LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson double-covered him. That's when Sharpe peeked back toward quarterback John Elway and saw the future Hall of Famer scrambling.
"I see him running and I'm thinking that he can't slide because he's got a shot at the first down," Sharpe said. "I thought he'd go low, but looking back, he probably went high to surprise them."
What followed next is seared into Super Bowl lore. Elway leapt for the first down and was hit so hard by three Packers -- Butler, safety Mike Prior and linebacker Brian M. Williams -- that he spun sideways before landing for an 8-yard gain. Sharpe said the play amazed even Elway because "he paused after getting up, kind of like he was thinking, 'I'm OK.'"
That first down changed the game's momentum. Before that point, the Broncos thought they could win. After it, they knew it was their day.
Said Sharpe: "You never want to see your quarterback take any unnecessary punishment, but John knew this was the Super Bowl and he'd never won one. We needed touchdowns to beat Green Bay, not field goals. So I think John got caught up in the moment, and the next thing he knew, he was in the air."
-- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN.com
John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith
LeRoy Butler, Eugene Robinson, Mike Prior, Brian Williams
Elway, shown diving for a crucial first down in Super Bowl XXXII,
said, "It's certainly my favorite play ever."
Photo: Sporting News/Getty Images