Terrell Davis, running back by non-committee.
Although Super Bowl XXXII was less than two decades ago, players like Davis almost don't exist anymore. For all intents and purposes, Davis was the Denver offense during the 1997 season. Everything revolved around his ability to make one cut and go. "TD" provided John Elway with second-down play-action pass opportunities, as well as every quarterback's biggest wish: third-and-manageable.
"I'm probably more of a 'Give me one guy, and that's the guy I'm gonna ride,' but two backs, it's just hard [to produce]," Davis told me recently. "I was part of a two-back system in college where we rotated like that. It's hard."
There's more to Davis than simply being a workhorse. And there's more to why Mike Shanahan leaned on his star running back to a greater degree than other head coaches did theirs.
Davis was, and would continue to develop as, a big-money player. In contests the Broncoshad to have, Davis was the elixir for all that failed, averaging 142.5 rushing yards per game in career postseason contests.
Davis' work in the 1997 playoffs was truly something to behold. Through the first three rounds of action, a common thread emerged for Denver: Davis pummeled everybody.
But he saved his most inspired showing for the game's biggest stage.
"It was hard to see ... difficult to see ... it was very spotty," Davis said. "So I wanted to tell [the coaching staff] that I couldn't see. 'No. 1, don't give me the damn ball. I don't want to cost this team. Don't give me the ball.' "
Shanahan could have gone with a committee approach then, turning to the "vaunted" Derek Loville or Howard Griffith, fellas who had carried the ball all of 34 times all season. Instead, he asked Davis to go back on the field and merely bluff a goal-line run. Bear in mind, Davis still couldn't see. Shanahan was more than aware of that fact. But no Davis meant no instant keying on the tailback by the Green Bay defense.
"I had run the play a million times, so I knew where I could go," Davis explained. "And my thing was just a nice play-fake to the left. John takes it and rolls out and runs it in. I can't see details, but I can sense enough where I could maneuver my way to a play-action fake. I wouldn't have to run the ball. That was the last play I ran in the first half."
If Davis' misfortune in the first half educated 100 million Americans on the effects of a migraine, and the differences between that and a run-of-the-mill headache ... then in the second half, he showed us what a lone bell-cow running back could do while carrying an offense -- and the title hopes of an organization that had gone 0-4 in the Super Bowl up to that point.
Put another way: On any given day up at Broncos headquarters, quarterback-turned-team-president Elway can look at those two fat rings on his fingers and silently thank Davis' muscular legs.
There was nothing silent about Davis' game after halftime that January night, as he proceeded to rush for 93 yards and two of the most important touchdowns in team history. The first TD -- Terrell Davis, touchdown; take your pick -- drive of the second half ate up half the third quarter, with Davis carrying the football eight times. That put Denver up 24-17.
"I felt like [getting a lot of carries] was one of the advantages that I had, that I felt like I had every game," explained Davis. "First quarter, it's gonna be tough sledding, I know that. Second quarter, it's gonna be tough sledding, you know ... but you best believe, four quarters, they're not gonna sit there for four quarters and just continue to take that pounding with our line. Fourth quarter, I felt like that was my time."
He was setting Denver's backfield-committee-of-one up for another scoring plunge.
All told, the Broncos ran 36 plays in the second half, with Davis touching the ball on 22 -- twenty-two! -- of them. That is what you call a one-back offense.
"You try to make the most of those runs," Davis said. "So you don't have a chance to set up runs for later; you don't have a chance to have a 3-yard run that, you know, 'OK, I'm setting their ass up for later. They think I'm gonna come inside when I know I'm [going to] bounce it.' So you can't even play a chess match. It's all about your production when you get your five carries, your 10 carries, and now you're passing up a 3-yard run trying to hit a 15-yard run and you get tackled in the backfield.
"So there's a lot of things that you look at ... you don't get a chance to wear a defense down ... so you can't wear them down, and you cannot get into a flow."
While Super Bowl XXXII will be remembered for Elway's helicopter run, and Super Bowl XXXIII -- which Davis and the Broncos also won -- will be remembered for the way Elway walked off a champion, what remains more poignant about those title runs is how they captured just how special Davis was in his remarkable, albeit abbreviated, career.
In a broader sense, the film of Super Bowl XXXII is like a dusty old Encyclopedia Britannica, opened up to the page titled, "Running back, workhorse."
Did you know?
Davis put up a whopping 3,758 total yards in the 1997 and '98 seasons. Since the NFL started keeping rushing statistics in 1933, only one running back in history has topped that figure. Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson scampered for 3,913 yards combined in 1983 and '84.