ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Elway has told the story of the time before he won a Super Bowl ring.
It was a time when all he knew in his professional life was the disappointment of three blowout losses by the Denver Broncos on Super Bowl Sunday. So much so “that my mom asked me if we really had to go again when we made it back."
Things turned out all right, with the Broncos scoring back-to-back Super Bowl victories to end the 1997 and '98 seasons and Elway’s Hall of Fame playing career. The Broncos will make their record-tying eighth trip to the big game Feb. 7, when they meet the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
The Panthers have been favored by as much as 5 1/2 points after rolling to a 49-15 blowout of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, and the Broncos' underdog status will certainly be a big part of the national narrative.
“Are we the underdog? I mean, you’re going to pick the Broncos or you’re going to pick the Panthers,’’ Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. “That’s your guys’ job. We don’t really pay too much attention to it. We’re the underdog, we’re the favorite -- it is what it is. We’ve got to still go out on Super Bowl Sunday and we’ve still got to play that game. All the picking and who you think is going to win, it doesn’t really matter.’’
Super Bowl history hasn’t always been kind to the Broncos. The team has lived the Super Bowl extremes with their two powerful victories, a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers and a 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
But the five losses? They came by a combined score of 206-58. A couple -- against the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks -- are among the most lopsided in Super Bowl history. When the Broncos have lost on the biggest stage, they have lost big. Take a closer look at things, however, and it appears the Broncos were facing historically good teams in those losses.
This past week, ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters chose each franchise’s best team ever. Three three of the Broncos' five Super Bowl losses came to teams on that list.
The 1986 New York Giants, the only 14-game winner in franchise history and led by Lawrence Taylor, the last defensive player to win the MVP award, got the best-ever nod. They defeated the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI.
The 1989 team was the choice for the 49ers; they won their postseason games by a combined 126-26 -- including a 55-10 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV -- and had four Hall of Famers on the roster: Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Charles Haley and Ronnie Lott.
The 2013 team was chosen as the Seahawks' best; it defeated the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“I think each year is different, what happened before doesn’t mean it happens again," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “This team is different, I think this team has handled the playoffs better than [the 2013 Broncos]. This is a different time, a different team. People always look at what happened before and try to put it on something else, but I don't think it matters. I mean, for me, I didn't even play in that game because I was hurt. This is a totally different deal."