After suffering a crushing defeat in Super Bowl XXI at the hands of the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos sought to return to the NFL championship game at the conclusion of the 1987 season, now sporting the NFL's AP MVP in John Elway, to win the coveted Lombardi Trophy and their first Super Bowl in franchise history. However, the Washington Redskins, who won Super Bowl XVII, had something to say. Despite their impressive record, the Redskins struggled during the 1987 season with Jay Schroeder at quarterback battling injuries and inconsistency. Head coach Joe Gibbs replaced Schroeder late in the year with Doug Williams, the Tampa bay Buccaneers 17th overall pick of the 1978 NFL Draft and former USFL standout. Williams came off the bench to throw for 1,156 and 11 TDs to earn his spot as the started through the playoffs. Washington posted the second best record in the NFC and NFL at 11-4 and won the NFC East Champions to secure their spot in the playoffs. One there, they snuck by the Chicago Bears 21-17 in the NFC Divisional Playoff and narrowly escaped the Minnesota Vikings 17-10 to reach the title game. The Broncos were, once again, led by John Elway who passed to 3,198 yards and 19 touchdowns during the regular season and led the league in 4th quarter comebacks with three. He was honored with the 1987 NFL Most Valuable Player award leading Denver back to the big game. The Broncos went 10-4-1 in the regular season before trouncing the Houston Oilers 34-10 in the AFC Divisional Playoff. For the second straight year, they faced the pesky Cleveland Browns and Bernie Kosar in the ACF Championship Game. Rather than Elway mounting another signature comeback, the Browns fought tooth-and-nail to the very end and lost due to a fumble when the sure-handed Earnest Byner was stripped of the ball on the 2-yard line. Denver recovered to ice the win and punch their ticket. Byner's unfortunate mishap has come to be known as "The Fumble" among football enthusiasts.
Super Bowl XXII was played at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium on January 31, 1988 and it was the first time that San Diego hosted the NFL Championship game. As expected, given that Denver was a 3-point favorite, Elway and the Broncos shut down the Redskins offense in the first quarter. After Washington went three and out on the opening drive, the Broncos marched back down the field as Elway hit wide receiver Ricky Nattiel with a 56-yard touchdown pass only 1:57 minutes into the game. They stopped Washington once again using a trick play where halfback Steve Sewell threw a 23-yard pass to John Elway leading to a 24-yard Rich Karliss field goal. Elway became the first quarterback to catch a pass in the Super Bowl. They forced Washington to punt on every drive of the first quarter, but unfortunately for Denver, that was the extent of the Broncos highlights. With the Broncos threatening to increase their lead on the next drive for the Redskins 30-yard line, momentum shifted when safety Alvin Walker sacked Elway for a loss of 18 yards on third down effectible pushing them out of field goal range. The Redskins began their scoring spree in dramatic fashion as Doug Williams threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders to cut the Broncos lead to 10-7. Washington scored on every possession of the second quarter. Williams threw three more touchdown passes to Gary Clark (27 yards), Ricky Sanders (50 yards) and Clint Didier (8 yards) while running back Timmy Smith scored a 58-yard rushing touchdown. The Redskins went from down 0-10 to leading the Broncos 35-10 heading into halftime. Little occurred in the second half as the Redskins scored one more time on a Timmy Smith 4-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter, but the damage was done. Records fells right and left that day as the Redskins pummeled the 42-10. Washington recorded the most offensive yards (602), the most rushing yards (280), the most touchdowns in a quarter (5) and most points in a half (35) and set the record for the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (10 points). Doug Williams was named the Super Bowl XII Most Valuable Player after going 18-for-28 for 340 passing yards and four touchdowns.