34. Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999: Denver 34 —Atlanta 19
Atlanta’s first trip to the Super Bowl was this rather dissolute effort against the then-defending champion Broncos. The Falcons had stunned a heavily favored Minnesota Vikings team in the NFC championship and came in as heavy underdogs against John Elway, Terrell Davis and company. True to the experts’ predictions, Atlanta fell behind 17-6 at the half and never really got close.
Competitiveness: 5 out of 10. Neither a humiliating blowout nor a game that ever really felt in doubt, the Broncos were simply the better team. A couple fourth-quarter scores by the Falcons made the margin of defeat look better cosmetically, but an offense led by Chris Chandler at quarterback and Terrance Mathis at receiver was never going to beat this version of the Broncos.
Star Power: 4 out of 10. John Elway in his final game is pretty cool. Terrell Davis was a wonderful back during his too brief career. Shannon Sharpe is in the Hall of Fame. Not much to speak of after that.
Controversy/Intrigue: 9 out of 10. In one of the Super Bowl’s great meta-storylines, former Broncos’ head coach Dan Reeves – humiliated in three Super Bowls while with Denver – got to try his luck against his former team as Atlanta’s head man. There was plenty of bad blood between Reeves and his former assistant Mike Shanahan, who he felt sandbagged him in taking over the Broncos coaching job. Also, Falcons veteran safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the night before the game, only this prostitute turned out to be a cop, and Robinson went to jail. So there was a lot going on.
Aftermath: 6 out of 10. Following a long career filled with frustrating postseason defeats, Jon Elway was able to retire at 38 having won back-to-back Super Bowls. Mike Shanahan continued to be a respected coach in the league for another dozen years but never won another championship. Dan Reeves – truly an excellent coach – hung around a few more years, but never got close to the big game again. He is tied for the most Super Bowl losses with Bud Grant, Don Shula and Marv Levy. Football can be cruel.
Aggregate Score: 24 out of 40.
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