By the 1987-88 season, teams were having trouble selling out stadiums, and viewership dropped 20%. Teams also played fewer regular-season games due to another players' strike, taking to the field 15 times rather than the standard 16, with many starting players sitting out during negotiations. The Broncos returned for a consecutive attempt at the title, while the Redskins made their fourth appearance (winning in Super Bowl XVII).
January 31, 1988 marked the latest Super Bowl in the calendar year (pushing closer to February, which is the norm now) and also the first time an African-American player took the field as quarterback during any championship game. By the time you're done reading this article, you'll know which new stadium hosted Super Bowl XXII, how this "equally-matched" game ended up going, and who performed in the star-studded halftime show.
The Denver Broncos returned to Super Bowl XXII after losing miserably to the Giants the year prior (39-20). Denver quarterback John Elway took the loss in strides and nabbed a whopping 19 touchdowns, 3,198 yards, and 304 rushing yards throughout the ensuing regular season.
Also helping the Denver Broncos to the #1 seed in their conference and a 10-4-1 record was a wide receiver/tight end trio capturing a combined 1,754 yards and 104 receptions, linebacker Karl Mecklenburg (seven sacks), and running back Sammy Winder (six touchdowns and 741 rushing yards)
Washington quarterback Doug Williams mainly sat on the bench during the 1986 and 1987 NFL seasons, only earning the starting role with five regular-season games left in the season. Williams managed to amass 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns during his norm-breaking season, with the Redskins' appearance in the championship game making him the first-ever African-American quarterback to start as a quarterback within a once racist franchise.
But Williams couldn't shine without the help of his offensive line, including players like wide receiver Gary Clark (1,066 yards and averaging 19 yards per catch), a wide receiver duo — Sanders and Monk — raking in 1,130 yards, and new running back Timmy Smith. Defensively, the Redskins had players like defensive back Barry Wilburn and Todd Bowles, who brought in a combined 13 interceptions, and Charles Mann (9.5 sacks on the season).
On January 31, 1988, about 73,302 fans piled into Jack Murphy stadium down in San Diego, California — the first time this stadium hosted the big game and also the location of the 1978 MLB All-Star game. Tickets to the Super Bowl also underwent their eighth price hike since Super Bowl I, now costing a lofty $100 (worth around $220.02 today).
The day's festivities began with an endearing tribute to the aging comedian Bob Hope — which included service members — and the last-ever instrumental version of the National Anthem during the Super Bowl by Herb Alpert on the trumpet. Following a coin toss ceremony featuring 11-season Packers legend Don Hutson that broke the three-year "tails" streak by landing on heads, Super Bowl XXII went off without a hitch.
Above, you’ll find a sample ticket that fans purchased to get into Super Bowl XXII.
The first quarter of Super Bowl XXII went as predicted: An early Broncos lead and the Redskins struggling to keep them off the board. The Broncos quickly regained possession after forcing a turnover on just the fourth play of the game. And only 1:57 into Super Bowl XXII, a direct 56-yard pitch to Broncos wide receiver Ricky Nattiel put Denver on the scoreboard with a touchdown at a then-record time.
The Broncos defense again held off the Redskins offense but opted for a 24-yard field goal by Karlis after a long pass to Jackson and a 23-yard pass by halfback Steve Sewell to Elway — the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to catch a pass during the big game. The underdog Redskins ended the first half with fewer than half the Broncos' yards (142 vs. 64) and trailing by ten points (something no other team in Super Bowl history had recovered from).
The Redskins stole the game back as early as one minute into the second quarter. A bullet from quarterback Doug Williams to Sanders allowed wide receiver Ricky Sanders to sprint 80 yards down the field into the end zone for the Redskins' first of many touchdowns of the game. The Redskins nailed another touchdown on their next possession with a diving catch by wide receiver Gary Clark, giving Washington another seven points.
A few moments later, a missed field goal by Broncos kicker Rich Karlis — reminiscent of the previous Super Bowl — allowed the Redskins to score again on a 58-yard touchdown dash by rookie running back Timmy Smith. The Broncos scored once more after Williams threw a direct 50-yard pass to Sanders, making him the second-ever Super Bowl player to nab two touchdowns in a single quarter and giving the Redskins an unexpected 28-10 lead.
Redskins defensive back Barry Wilburn didn't let being on defense pause Washington's scoring pursuit, clinching an interception and returning possession to his team. A series of plays by Smith and Sanders later, Williams connected on his fifth touchdown of the night with an 8-yard toss to tight end Clint Didier. Going into the half, the Redskins' earned a Super Bowl record 35 points and an impressive 356 yards in the first half alone (35-12).
Super Bowl XXII was already a near-blowout for the Redskins by the end of the first place. And while the fans in Jack Murphy stadium awaited the teams' return, they sat back and enjoyed a star-studded performance by rock 'n roll singer Chubby Checker, featuring performances by the Rockettes along with nearly 100 grand pianos. This halftime show brought star power that would only be replicated in future installments.
The Washington Redskins scored one final time nearly two minutes into the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by Smith, bringing the final game score to a completely unpredicted 42-10 (Washington Redskins). Meanwhile, the Broncos added no extra points to the board since the 9-minute mark in the first quarter, and Elway ended the game with a dismal 36.8 passer rating.
Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams didn't just make history as the first African-American play to start as quarterback in a championship game — he also took home the MVP title.
Williams also set another record on the field in San Diego: He helped the Redskins secure a whopping 35 points in a single quarter.
Like the preceding Super Bowl, viewership for Super Bowl XXII was slightly lower — odd given the 127.05 million viewer peak during the twentieth Super Bowl. This time around, 114.6 million viewers coast-to-coast tuned in and helped ABC clinch an unusually low 41.9 Nielsen rating.
Interestingly, this was just the second-ever Super Bowl to debut a brand new television series after the game that ended up being a hit — first was the A-Team during Super Bowl XVII, and this time it was The Wonder Years.
Despite the shorter regular season, many believed the Broncos and Redskins to be of similar talent level. Both teams had nearly identical records (11-4 for the Redskins and 10-4-1 for the Broncos). Still, the quarterbacks from each team were drastically different, as Williams played just five games, and Elway was the league MVP with Super Bowl experience under his belt.
However, the experts severely underestimated the four-time Super Bowl contenders, the Washington Redskins, who covered the Broncos' 3-point spread by an astounding 35.5 points. And with a 47-point over/under and a 41-10 score, betting on "over" was a safe choice. Albeit, many likely assumed those 47 points would've been more evenly distributed on the scoreboard.
Super Bowl XXII was arguably one of the best games in league history, between the Redskins pulling a surprising 32-point upset and an African-American quarterback not only playing in a championship game for the first time ever but also leading his team to the Super Bowl. Additionally, Washington set a massive 16 records — including the largest halftime margin (25 points), most passing yards (340), and most extra points (6).