SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Exactly two members of the Broncos’ defense were alive when the 1985 Bears marched through the regular season, dominated the playoffs and won Super Bowl XX.
If they watched football, they did so in footie pajamas — defensive end Antonio Smith was 4 and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware 3.
So when Broncos players claimed after Sunday’s 24-10 Super Bowl 50 victory against the Panthers that they had the game’s greatest defense ever, they weren’t exactly speaking from experience.
“When you have safeties that will hit you and can cover, and when you have corners (where) you can call man any time of the day … and they you got a D-line that can get after the quarterback and linebackers that can cover just as good as the safeties,” safety Darian Stewart said, “We had the best defense, man, without a doubt.”
Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall called his unit “the No. 1 defense of all time” minutes after they held league MVP Cam Newton to a season-low 55.4 passer rating.
Stats say otherwise — and so does Steve McMichael.
“They gave up a ton of more yards than we did (in the Super Bowl),” McMichael, who played defensive tackle for the Bears from 1981 to 1993, said Monday. “I don’t know what kind of statistician this kid is, what’s his name, Brandon Marshall?
“He needs to read up on the history of the NFL before he talks on a mic next time, that’s all.”
The 1985 Bears shut out the Giants and Rams in the playoffs before allowing 10 points to the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. The allowed one touchdown the entire playoffs — and that’s when they were ahead, 44-3, in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
“That was the reserves,” McMichael quipped.
McMichael doesn’t revel in other teams falling short — “There’s plenty of room on Mount Olympus,” he said — the way the 1972 Dolphins seem to enjoy the last undefeated team losing every year.
“It’s the standard that you grow up with,” McMichael said. “You’re only as great as you’re greatest competitors.”
The fact that Wade Phillips could make a comparison with a straight face Sunday, though, speaks to the Broncos’ dominance. The Denver defensive coordinator first coached as an NFL assistant in 1976, and spent 12 years as a head coach. Asked to compare his team to the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens, he didn’t back down.
“I think they have to go down as one of the top defenses, just because of the way we played the last three games … ” Phillips said.
“There’s been a lot of great teams, a lot of great defenses. But I think in the modern era, where offenses move the ball nowadays, it’s a wide-open game, I think we play as good as anybody.”
Broncos GM John Elway was asked about the 1985 Bears, who the Broncos tied by recording seven Super Bowl sacks.
“What our guys did, the way they played, they will be in the conversation,” he said. “Obviously I am going to pick them.”
The Broncos’ playoff run was remarkable. To win the Super Bowl, they dominated Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was hobbled, the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Newton. They held the three teams to a combined 44 points.
“Any team that holds Pittsburgh to 16, New England to 18 and Carolina to 10 … we’ve got to be up there somewhere,” Phillips said. “We almost led the league in every category, so we’ve got to say this is a special, all-time defense.”
But the greatest? The 1985 Bears allowed 123 yards in the Super Bowl; the Broncos gave up 315 Sunday.
The 1985 Bears led the NFL by allowing 12.4 points regular-season points per game. The Broncos finished fourth this year, with 18.5, though they allowed the fewest yards.
“(The Broncos) are the rawest defense, ever — ever,” said Naperville native Owen Daniels, the Broncos’ tight end. “To do that to the guy that’s changing the game …. unbelievable. Our defense, you have to put them up there with the best ever.”
McMichael said linebacker Otis Wilson would have been Von Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, had Buddy Ryan run a 3-4. He compared Dan Hampton to J.J. Watt and said Richard Dent was better than Ware.
In a different era, he admits, straight lines are hard to draw.
“There’s no way in hell you can measure one of the other against each other,” McMichael said, “because the rules aren’t the same.”
The one Broncos player to avoid the hyperbole was the one most qualified to do it — Miller, who forced two Newton fumbles on sacks that gave Denver its first points and then sealed the victory.
“Comparisons make me uncomfortable,” the outside linebacker said. “A lot of legendary guys that have come before us, the Hall of Fame guys that put their name of the line to change the game to what it is now. …
“It feels good when you get a goal like that, and you’re able to finish it.”
McMichael liked it, too.
“That’s my kinda football, baby,” he said.
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