Alright, so here we are in the 1998 NFL Season, or the third of five seasons in the NFL’s Decade of Change, which defined the 1990s and early 2000s in terms of expansions and relocations. But from a uniformed standpoint, the changes occurred often. At this moment, the helmet and entire uniform schemes are becoming darker with three massive changes over the course of 1997 and 1998.
From a non-uniformed standpoint, 1998 was also significant in, as reported by Football Outsiders, was “The last hurrah for quarterbacks who came into the league in the 1980s,” including Vinny Testaverde, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, John Elway, Dan Marino, and Randall Cunningham, where all but two would retire before or at the turn of the century.
So, let’s get down to our helmet designs and figure out who wore what during the Year of Change in the Decade of Change.
Okay, so the Miami Dolphins are now sporting a sleeker, more serious-looking leaping dolphin on their helmets while the Jets returned to what I’ve always called a ‘poor man’s version’ of their 1965-1977 throwbacks, utilizing a darker shade of green which they would hold onto over the next two decades.
In 1997, the Oilers relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, and were known as the Tennessee Oilers for two seasons before settling in Nashville in 1999. Cleveland Browns are in their final season of ‘suspended operations.’ Shortly before the start of the 1998 season, the ‘resurrected’ franchise is awarded to Al Lerner. Two teams from this division will also join the AFC South in four seasons. During the 1998 season, the NFL was debating between two cities, Los Angeles and Houston, to award the 32nd franchise. Houston would eventually prevail, leaving LA without an NFL franchise until 2016.
The Broncos are sporting a navy helmet with a new logo of a bronco’s head.
Yes, that is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers down there, who’d swapped their old Bucco Bruce uniforms for pewter shells, a black facemask, and a jolly roger logo.
Atlanta Falcons: 30
Minnesota Vikings: 27
The 15-1 Vikings entered the game as 11-point favorites over the Falcons and dominated early, taking a 20-7 lead. The Falcons would cut the deficit to six points before halftime on a fourteen-yard touchdown pass from Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis.
A third-quarter field goal cut the Vikings’ lead to three points, but answered the Falcons on the next drive, taking a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter. The next drive for Atlanta resulted in another field goal from kicker Morten Andersen, cutting the lead once more to seven.
With two minutes to go, Minnesota set up a kick for Mr. Reliable, Gary Anderson, who had not missed a field goal or an extra point all season. Well, Anderson sailed the kick, giving Atlanta the ball back with enough time to tie the game. The Falcons managed to tie the contest at 27-all heading into overtime.
The sudden death quarter started off as a defensive struggle and set up a 70-yard drive which put the ball within Morten Andersen’s range, and his ensuing kick punched the Falcons a ticket into the franchise’s very first Super Bowl.
This game is collectively known as Andersen and Anderson as a nod to both aging kickers, who had a combined thirty-four seasons of experience between the two. Neither were of American country of origin, with Morten Andersen coming from Denmark and Gary Anderson, South Africa. Both also went on to rank among the highest scoring players in NFL history, and each played well into the 2000s, with Morten Andersen retiring in 2008 and Gary Anderson, 2005, a combined 49 seasons of experience between the two kickers.
New York Jets: 10
Denver Broncos: 23
In a Tale of Two Distinct Franchises, the Jets earned their first AFC Championship appearance since 1982 and their first AFC East Championship ever, last winning a division championship in 1968 before the AFL-NFL Merger. The Broncos, on the other hand, looked to return to the Super Bowl and defend their title.
It would be the final home game of John Elway’s career, and the quarterback showed his age as the game turned into a defensive struggle with the Jets leading 3-0 after the first half. However, on the heels of running back Terrell Davis, Denver’s offense exploded, scoring 20 points in the third and taking a 20-10 lead into the fourth.
After forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter, the Broncos tacked on 3 more points to seal the deal against the Jets, and hand the team’s head coach, Bill Parcells, his first defeat in a Conference Championship Game.
Super Bowl XXXIII
Denver Broncos: 34
Atlanta Falcons: 19
Super Bowl XXXIII took place at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, and the Falcons struck first on a field goal from Morten Andersen, putting them up 3-0. The Broncos responded with a touchdown, putting them up 7-3 at the end of the first quarter and a 10-3 lead early in the second.
An 80-yard touchdown pass from John Elway to receiver Rod Smith increased Denver’s lead to 17-3. After a turnover Denver got the ball back again, but failed to connect on a field goal, keeping the lead at 14. Atlanta responded with another field goal from Morten Andersen, putting them back into the game facing a 17-6 halftime deficit.
After yet another missed field goal from Elam, Atlanta strung together a drive before turning the ball over on an interception. Denver drove down the field again to yet another miss from Elam. The third-quarter capped off with a nice drive from Atlanta that resulted in another turnover inside Denver territory.
Denver put a drive together and broke the scoring drought with fullback Howard Griffith scoring on a 1-yard-touchdown run. The Falcons turned the ball over yet again and Denver scored another touchdown, increasing their fourth-quarter lead to 31-6 in a matter of minutes.
Returner Tim Dwight gave Atlanta hope with a 94-yard kickoff return, cutting the lead to 31-13, but in the middle of the fourth, Denver tacked on another 3, which gave them a three-touchdown lead. Atlanta scored once more in garbage time, with the final score here being 34-19, with Denver taking its second Super Bowl in as many years, allowing NFL Great John Elway to retire on top.
Coincidentially, another NFL Great named Peyton Manning would also end his career in Denver with a Super Bowl Championship, and even more curious, did so against Atlanta’s division rival, the Carolina Panthers. Even stranger? 1998 was Manning’s rookie season. Strange how things work.