The 1998 Super Bowl is known as John Elway’s Super Bowl. It’s when, after 14 seasons and three previous Super Bowl appearances, he finally led his Broncos to an NFL title by defeating the defending champion Green Bay Packers, who were favored by a whopping 11.5 points (the biggest spread for a Super Bowl since 1970). The signature moment was the “Helicopter Play,” when Elway, scrambling for an important first down, leapt into the air and was spun around like a chopper blade. Heroic stuff, for sure—the perfect storm of big play, great player and huge stage.
But funny enough, the MVP that night in San Diego wasn’t Elway. It was Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who, at 25, was pretty much the league’s best rusher—a guy who fully earned his MVP award by gashing the Packers for 157 yards. (Elway, meanwhile, threw for 123 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.) Davis’ efforts are even more impressive when you consider he was dealing with a nasty migraine headache, forcing him to sit out most of the second quarter. Despite the setback, Davis managed to run for three touchdowns—including the game-winning score—which set a Super Bowl record that still stands today.
With the NFL Playoffs drawing near, we caught up with Davis on behalf of Gillette Clear Gel Deodorant to ask him about what we’ve officially dubbed The Migraine Game. (Oh, and for a chance to win a football autographed by Davis, check out Made Man’s contest on Facebook here.)
“It’s possible that I suffered a concussion during Super Bowl XXXII. The way they describe what a concussion is now, it could have been one. That’s fair to say.”
So, true or false—you got a migraine during the Super Bowl because you forgot to take your medication before the game?
Yeah, that is true. I usually took my medication during the pregame meal, because it takes a while to kick in. But that day I just forgot to take it. My mind was so focused on the game itself. I was mentally already in it, going through the game, playing it in my mind. And somehow, for the first time ever, I didn’t take it. I realized it right before we went out for introductions. I remember just thinking, “Wow, forgot to take my medication.” I ran back into the locker room and took it. But I knew there was a possibility that I could have a migraine. I was just praying that it wouldn’t happen.
But it did?
Yeah. The end of the first quarter, I take a hit—a direct blow to my head—and it triggers it. And so I’m like, “OK, right now is the wrong time for this.” I was determined to play, but I couldn’t see. When I get a migraine my vision goes out first. And then about 45 minutes later, it clears up. And then the migraine comes on. And the headache is a pounder. And that can last about a day to a few days. After that clears up, then it’s like severe vomiting and stuff like that.
Yikes. When you say medication, are we talking about Advil or what?
Well, the medication that I had at that time was actually Naprosyn, which is an anti-inflammatory. And that worked. Another thing that I took, after the onset of migraines, was a nasal spray. It was not over-the-counter. It was something that my neurologist had sort of concocted. She mixed a nasal spray with some stuff that helped fight migraines, and she found that putting it through the nasal passage was the fastest way for it to get to my head. And so that helped once the migraine came on. It took the pain from about a 10 to about a 6 or 7. So it gives you some comfort but it doesn’t totally eliminate the headache.
Elway had The Helicopter. Davis had The Migraine. And they both had The Lombardi.
When you say you took a direct blow to the head, the first thing I think is: concussion. Do you think you suffered a concussion on that play too?
It’s possible. The hit was a direct knee to the head. The migraine is triggered by a number of things, and a blow to the head is one of them. So it could have been. I’ve had migraines since I was seven. So they weren’t caused by concussions. I’ve had them long before I even played. But yeah, the way they describe what a concussion is now, it could have been one. That’s fair to say.
Yet you still rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Can you describe the game-winning score?
The game was tied and we could go down there and kick a field goal and leave the Packers time. Or we could bleed the clock and then kick a field goal and win the game. But I remember we all wanted to score a touchdown. Because anything can happen if you try to kick a field goal. And I do remember the play. The ball was snapped, and I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t fumble the ball. Hold onto the ball and find your way into the end zone.” And as I get the ball and I’m running downhill, I just remember seeing a hole open so big and so wide that I thought our line did a great job. I was like, “Oh, our line is killing them out here! They just crushed them!” Well, come to find out, they let us score. [Laughs] They didn’t even try to stop us. They wanted us to score so they could get the ball back with time on the clock, and drive down and get the game-tying touchdown. But it didn’t work that way for them.
It’s funny, in my memory, John Elway scored the game-winning touchdown on the Helicopter Play. But it wasn’t even a touchdown. You scored the touchdown.
Yeah, I scored the touchdown. His play was crucial. His play gave us a first down that we needed, because it was third down and he made that play.
Got a Super Bowl pick?
[Laughs] I’m going with Denver this year, man.