Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XXII - Denver Broncos vs Washington Redskins: Pregame
Part 2 - SB XXII 1st Half | Part 3 - SB XXII 2nd Half
After losing to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII, Joe Gibbs' Redskins experienced three good but not great seasons.
  • 1984: 11-5, lost in the first round of the playoffs
  • 1985: 10-6, didn't make the playoffs
  • 1986: 12-4, lost to the Giants in the NFL title game
The 1987 NFL season was complicated by a players' strike that was called after Week 2.
  • The games scheduled for the third week were cancelled.
  • The games for Weeks 4, 5, and 6 were played with replacement players augmented by about 15% of the union members who chose to cross picket lines.
  • The union voted to end the strike and return to their teams for Week 7.

Washington was the only team with no players who crossed the picket line. "I told our guys not to do that," said Gibbs. "I preached it to our veterans: If you're out, stay out together. Or come back together. A team has to function as a team or it's finished."

Washington's staff, led by GM Bobby Beathard and his assistant, Charley Casserly, had been on the lookout for replacement players ever since the summer when word of the impending strike began to circulate during training camp.

  • In September, they kept track of the last players cut across the league, figuring these guys would be the closest in ability to the striking players.
  • As a result, the Redskins won all three of their games with replacement players. By contrast, their NFC East rivals, the Giants and Eagles, each lost all three games. The Cowboys won their first two games before losing to the Redskins. The St. Louis Cardinals won one of three.
  • 11-4 Washington won their division by four games over the Cowboys, Cardinals, and Eagles with the Giants in the cellar at 6-9.

The Redskins starting quarterback to begin the 1987 season was Jay Schroeder.

  • He started all 16 games in 1986 and was named to the Pro Bowl after throwing for a franchise record 4,109y. Rewarded with a three-year, $2.7-million contract, the second-year pro from UCLA seemed set as the franchise quarterback of the future.
  • 32-year-old backup QB Doug Williams could see the handwriting on the wall. After the last preseason game prior to the '87 season, Gibbs gave Doug some great news. He was being traded to the Raiders, whose veteran QB Jim Plunkett had failed his physical. "I'm happy," said Doug, "not so much happy to leave the Redskins, but I'm happy because now I think I got a chance to start." Read about Williams' circuitous journey to the Redskins.
  • But the next day when Williams went to Gibbs' office, the coach told him, "I changed my mind." Crestfallen, Williams demanded to know why. As Doug recalled, "He said, 'I just got a feeling that somewhere along here you're going to come in here, and we gonna win.'"

It didn't take long for Gibbs's intuition to be vindicated.

  • Four and a half minutes into the opening game against the Eagles, all-Pro DT Reggie White smashed Schroeder just as he threw a pass. A badly sprained shoulder with internal bleeding sent Schroeder to the sideline. Williams hurried onto the field and led his team to a 34-24 victory.
  • A week later Williams made his first NFL start since January 1983 for the Bucs. The Falcons prevailed at home 21-20.
  • His shoulder healed when play resumed after the strike, Schroeder resumed his starting role but was not as effective as he had been in 1986. Twice Williams came on in relief in a game to lead the Skins to victory. He also played the entire game against the Los Angeles Rams in which he threw for 308y in a 30-26 defeat.

After Williams brought the Redskins from behind to beat Minnesota 27-24 in the final game, Gibbs made a surprising announcement four days later.

  • Impressed by the way the team responded to Doug's leadership, Gibbs named Williams the starter for the playoffs in place of the inconsistent Schroeder. WR Ricky Sanders said, "There's just something about the guy. He just sparks the team."
    "I think everybody was excited," recalled C Jeff Bostic. "I know I was. Doug was a guy that rallied people around him."
  • Williams was steady but unspectacular in the playoff victories against the Bears (21-17) and Vikings (17-10). He threw for 326y and three touchdowns with one interception.
  • Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon recalled, "We couldn't make Doug feel like he had to do it all. That meant it couldn't come down to a matter of him having to outdo Elway. We had to give him some help defensively."
    The day before the game, Williams talked with his legendary coach at Grambling, Eddie Robinson. Eddie told him, "Just be the best quarterback you can and be so good that nobody can ignore you. Let your play be your statement." Eddie recalled later, "A Grambling player at quarterback in the Super Bowl. I still get smiles when I think of it."

The AFC champion Denver Broncos had no quarterback controversy.

  • John Elway manned that position ever since the Broncos engineered a trade with the Baltimore Colts to obtain the #1 pick in the 1983 NFL draft.
  • After going 9-7 in Elway's first season, Denver won 10 or more games in each of the next four seasons.
  • They won the AFC in 1986 but lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
  • Elway threw to an outstanding receiving corps who dubbed themselves "The Three Amigos" after a popular movie: Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, and rookie Ricky Nattiel. However Johnson would not play in the Super Bowl because of a groin injury.

Heading into the 1987 season, the Broncos were still smarting from that loss to the Giants and determined to redeem themselves in Super Bowl XXII.

  • Denver went 8-3-1 in the games Elway started and won two of their three strike games. The Broncos broke the hearts of long-suffering Cleveland fans in the AFC championship game for the second year in a row.
  • Elway engineered "The Drive" in Cleveland the year before, leading his team 98y in 15 plays to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won the game with a field goal in overtime.
  • A year later, the teams met for the AFC crown in Denver. Down 38-33, the Browns drove inside the Denver 10 only to have RB Earnest Byner lose a fumble at the two with 1:05 left.

The trademark of Dan Reeves's 1987 Broncos, like his first six Denver teams, was toughness.

  • The Broncos weren't big, fast, or overpowering, but they were determined and scrappy.
  • They had an outstanding pass defense that led the AFC in interceptions. However, their secondary was hurting. All the starters were classified as "walking wounded" by Reeves.
  • Dan also worried about how his small front seven would match up against the Redskins and their huge offensive line, still known as The Hogs. They needed to stop Washington's powerful running game led by George Rogers (613y in 11 games) and Kelvin Bryant (406y).
  • The key man for the Broncos wouldn't even be on the field: defensive coordinator Joe Collier, the ingenious mind behind Denver's mystifying defenses.
The opponents compiled amazingly similar offensive statistics and weren't that far apart defensively either.
Offense Denver Washington
Points/game 25.3 25.3
Yards/game 374.9 373.1
Turnovers 36 37
First downs/game 19.4 20.1
Avg. Time of Poss. 31:51 30:30
Defense Denver Washington
Points/game 19.2 19.0
Yards/game 320.9 334.8
Takeaways 47 34
Opp. first downs/game 18.5 19.7
Sacks 31 53

Bookies complained that this Super Bowl matchup failed to excite the betting public.

  • "It's just not a glamour matchup," said Rick Herron, manager of the sports book at the Sands Hotel. "Washington is a very solid football team, but they have no superstars. And the Broncos have only one–John Elway."
  • The game started with Denver a 3 1/2-point favorite but quickly went up to four points.
  • Something that Doug Williams did Saturday would have changed the odds if the public had known about it. He admitted after the game that he missed team meetings because he spent four and a half hours in a dentist's chair Saturday undergoing a root canal for an abscessed tooth. His dinner before the biggest game of his life was painkillers and Hershey's Kisses. Furthermore, he woke up at 4AM Sunday morning and couldn't get back to sleep.
    Another factor that insiders could learn from was that Joe Gibbs was considerably more relaxed Sunday morning than Dan Reeves. Almost everyone who saw the two coaches said substantially the same thing: "Reeves is uptight. Gibbs is ready."
Williams recalled the atmosphere in the Washington locker room before the game. "It was no different in the locker room before the Super Bowl than before any other game. You'd see Dexter Manley marching around with his earphones on, beating on lockers, and breathing hard. You'd see big linemen quietly sitting by their locker looking up into space. You'd see some of the hyper guys like Kelvin Bryant pacing about. You'd see Art Monk making sure that he was neatly put together and Gary Clark looking scraggly. There wasn't a lot of hoopla, but there weren't a lot of heads down either. There were no pep talks. We had a lot of veterans so we didn't need them. Joe Gibbs didn't give any big talk before we went onto the field. He wasn't a preacher or a rah-rah type of coach. He'd just tell you, 'We've worked all week; we know what we're doing; we know what they're going to do; let's go out there and do what we have to do to win.'"

ABC televised the game using their Monday Night Football crew.

  • Al Michaels did the play-by-play with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf providing commentary. The game drew a 41.9 rating and an estimated 80.14 million viewers.
  • Jack Buck and Hank Stram, CBS's Monday night team, called the game on radio.

Trumpeter Herb Alpert played the National Anthem. Legendary NFL receiver Don Hutson assisted with the coin toss.

Joe Gibbs

Bobby Beathard

Jay Schroeder

Doug Williams

Ricky Sanders

Jeff Bostic

Richie Petitbon

Broncos Three Amigos
L-R: Ricky Nattiel, Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson

Dan Reeves

Joe Collier

Dan Dierdorf, Al Michaels, Frank Gifford

Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego, during Super Bowl XXII
1987 Washington Redskins
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
6 Ali Haji-Sheikh K 6-0 170 Michigan 5
10 Jay Schroeder QB 6-4 215 UCLA 3
12 Steve Cox P 6-4 195 Tulsa/Arkansas 7
17 Doug Williams QB 6-4 220 Grambling State 10
23 Todd Bowles S 6-2 205 Temple 2
24 Kelvin Bryant RB 6-2 195 North Carolina 2
28 Darrell Green CB 5-8 170 Texas A&M-Kingsville 5
29 Reggie Branch RB 5-11 230 West Va. St./East Car. 3
31 Clarence Vaughn CB 6-0 200 Northern Illinois 1
32 Vernon Dean S 5-11 180 U.S. Int'l/San Diego St. 6
34 Brian Davis CB 6-2 190 Nebraska 1
35 Keith Griffin RB 5-8 185 Miami (FL) 4
36 Timmy Smith RB 5-11 215 Texas Tech 1
38 George Rogers RB 6-2 230 South Carolina 7
40 Alvin Walton S 6-0 180 Kansas 2
45 Barry Wilburn CB 6-3 185 Mississippi 3
46 Dennis Woodberry CB 5-10 185 Southern Arkansas 2
50 Ravin Caldwell LB 6-3 235 Arkansas 1
51 Monte Coleman LB 6-2 230 Central Arkansas 9
52 Neal Olkewicz LB 6-0 235 Maryland 9
53 Jeff Bostic C 6-2 260 Clemson 8
54 Kurt Gouveia LB 6-1 235 Brigham Young 1
55 Mel Kaufman LB 6-2 220 Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo 7
57 Rich Milot LB 6-4 235 Penn State 9
61 Rich Kehr G 6-3 285 Carthage 1
63 Raleigh McKenzie G 6-2 260 Tennessee 3
64 Steve Hamilton DE 6-4 265 East Carolina 3
65 Dave Butz NT 6-7 295 Purdue 15
66 Joe Jacoby T 6-7 305 Louisville 7
68 Russ Grimm G 6-3 275 Pittsburgh 7
69 R.C. Thielemann G 6-4 260 Arkansas 11
71 Charles Mann DE 6-6 270 Nevada 5
72 Dexter Manley LB 6-3 255 Oklahoma State 7
73 Mark May T 6-6 295 Pittsburgh 7
74 Markus Koch DE 6-5 270 Boise State 2
77 Darryl Grant DE 6-1 275 Rice 7
78 Dean Hamel DT 6-3 280 Tulsa 3
80 Eric Yarber WR 5-8 155 Idaho 2
81 Art Monk WR 6-3 210 Syracuse 8
82 Anthony Jones TE 6-3 250 Md-Eastern Shore/Wic.St. 4
83 Ricky Sanders WR 5-11 180 Texas State 2
84 Gary Clark WR 5-9 175 James Madison 3
85 Don Warren TE 6-4 240 San Diego State 9
86 Clint Didier TE 6-5 240 Portland State 6
87 Terry Orr TE 6-3 230 Texas 2
1987 Denver Broncos
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
2 Mike Horan P 5-11 190 Long Beach State 4
3 Rich Karlis K 6-0 180 Cincinnati 6
7 John Elway QB 6-3 210 Stanford 5
8 Gary Kubiak QB 6-0 190 Texas A&M 5
22 Tony Lilly S 6-0 200 Florida 4
23 Sammy Winder RB 5-11 205 Southern Mississippi 6
24 Tony Boddie RB 5-11 195 Montana State 2
27 Kevin Clark CB 5-10 185 San Jose State 1
28 Jeremiah Castille CB 5-10 175 Alabama 5
30 Steve Sewell RB 6-3 210 Oklahoma 3
33 Gene Lang RB 5-10 195 LSU 4
34 Tyrone Braxton S 5-11 185 North Dakota State 1
35 Ken Bell RB 5-10 190 Boston College 2
36 Mark Haynes CB 5-11 195 Colorado 8
38 Bruce Plummer CB 6-0 195 Mississippi State 1
45 Steve Wilson CB 5-10 195 Howard 9
46 Bobby Micho TE 6-3 235 Texas 4
48 Randy Robbins S 6-2 190 Arizona 4
49 Dennis Smith SS 6-3 200 USC 7
50 Jim Ryan LB 6-1 220 William & Mary 9
54 Keith Bishop G 6-3 265 Nebraska/Baylor 8
55 Rick Dennison LB 6-3 220 Colorado State 6
56 Michael Brooks LB 6-1 235 LSU 1
59 Tim Lucas LB 6-3 230 California 1
61 Andre Townsend DE 6-3 265 Mississippi 4
62 Mike Freeman G 6-3 255 Arizona 4
63 Mark Cooper G 6-5 265 Miami (FL) 4
65 Walter Bowyer DE 6-4 255 Arizona State 5
68 Larry Lee G 6-2 265 UCLA 7
70 Dave Studdard T 6-4 260 Texas 9
71 Greg Kragen NT 6-3 245 Utah State 3
72 Keith Kartz T 6-4 270 California 1
73 Simon Fletcher DE 6-5 240 Houston 3
75 Rulon Jones DE 6-6 260 Utah State 8
76 Ken Lanier T 6-3 270 Florida State 7
77 Karl Mecklenburg LB 6-3 240 Augustana/Minnesota 5
79 Stefan Humphries G 6-3 265 Michigan 4
80 Mark Jackson WR 5-9 180 Purdue 2
81 Steve Watson WR 6-4 195 Temple 9
82 Vance Johnson WR 5-11 185 Arizona 3
84 Ricky Nattiel WR 5-9 180 Florida 1
88 Clarence Kay TE 6-2 235 Georgia 4
89 Orson Mobley TE 6-5 255 Florida State/Salem 2
90 Freddie Gilbert DE 6-4 275 Georgia 2
97 Bruce Klostermann LB 6-4 230 Iowa/South Dakota St. 1
98 Ricky Hunley LB 6-2 240 Arizona 4
Part 2 - SB XXII 1st Half | Part 3 - SB XXII 2nd Half

References: The Super Bowl: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of America's Greatest Game (1990)
Super Bowl Chronicles: A Sportswriter Reflects on the First 30 Years of America's Game, Jerry Green (1995)
Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives, Danny Peary (ed.) (1997)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, selected by Chris McDonell (2004)
Stadium Stories: Denver Broncos, Larry Zimmer (2004)
The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Bob McGinn (2009)
Hail to the Redskins: Gibbs, the Diesel, the Hogs and the Glory Days of D.C.'s Football Dynasty, Adam Lazarus (2015)
Super Bowl Gold: 50 Years of the Big Game, Sports Illustrated (2015)
The Super Bowl: The First Fifty Years of America's Greatest Game, David Fischer (2015)
The First 50 Super Bowls: How Football's Championships Were Won, Ed Benkin (2018)