Elway rescues one-dimensional weekend of ineptitude

Phil Jackman

January 06, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Oh well, one out of four ain't bad. Especially when that one involves a pulsating finish that John Elway surely must hold a patent on by now.

So where did all the parity in the NFL go all of a sudden?

The league had its usual collection of indigent clubs this season, the 1-15 Colts leading a nine-team contingent that combined for a winning percentage of .236 (34-for-110).

OK, with the chaff out of the way it was assumed when the playoff participants stepped forward, games would take on a glow, excitement would be at a fever pitch. Yeah.

The scores on Wild Card Weekend proved far more interesting than the quality of play. The Oilers had a difficult time with the Jets who, with an 8-8 record, should not even have been invited to compete.

The Chiefs-Raiders confrontation produced one touchdown. Everyone knows the only thing duller than the Bears playing on the road is the Bears playing at home. For some reason, the Saints decided to start their season on high and work their way down.

"Revenge weekend," they dubbed it, someone noting that conference semifinals matching the Falcons and Redskins and Cowboys and Lions in the NFC and Oilers and Broncos and Chiefs and Bills in the AFC were all rematches of regular-season tiffs.

To paraphrase the boys in the television booth, from a competitive standpoint, it doesn't get much worse than the stumbling inefficiency displayed by too many of these pretenders to gridiron's valhalla, the Super Bowl.

While it's true, many teams are pretty well chewed up after playing for five months, it qualifies as no less than a travesty that all the Chiefs can do is run and all the Falcons do is pass and, somehow, they made it to this exalted position. Their losing efforts by scores of 24-7 and 37-14, respectively, are in no way indicative of the true manner in which they were manhandled.

The Cowboys, too, took a fearful battering, 38-6. But at least this frolic by the Lions could be chalked up to being "one of those things."

About all us armchair quarterbacks were left to revel in for our 15-hour investment in games and pre-game shows Saturday and Sunday then was the Elway-Warren Moon shootout at Mile High.

Moon had a game the equal of anything Roy Hobbs ("The Natural") ever turned in on a baseball field. He completed 27 of 35 heaves for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He saw to it that Houston gained an average of 7.7 yards every time it snapped the ball. The Oilers' time of possession was greater than that of the Broncos, always a concern for a run-and-shoot offense.

With just a moment beyond two minutes remaining in the game and with a 24-23 lead, however, Houston made a fatal mistake. It punted the ball to Denver and downed the ball on the Broncos' 2-yard line.

That, in effect, was playing right into Elway's hands. Five years ago, in a conference championship game in Cleveland, John was forced to drive the Broncos 98 yards and two feet for a tying touchdown to force overtime. He not only accomplished that, he used up just about all the seven minutes remaining on the clock so the Browns could not retaliate. The march (and subsequent overtime victory by Denver) took on a life of its own complete with title, "The Drive."

This time, Elway had no timeouts but he needed but a field goal to win. He ran, he passed, he jumped, he kicked. He inspired, he pleaded, he counseled and he conserved time.

There was a run to a first down and out of bounds to stop the clock on fourth-and-sixth. On a fourth-and-10, he pushed a pass ahead while scrambling good for 44 yards. The heroics added up to 87 yards spread over 12 plays before Scott Treadwell's 28-yard field goal won it with 16 seconds remaining.

The way it turned out, just one of the four games turned out to be compelling from opening kickoff to final gun. That one taking on epic proportions, though, and considering the showy brilliance of the Bills and Lions and the dominance of the Redskins, in total the weekend gets 2 1/2 stars.

Unfortunately, the season's so long, there are so many games with weather and injuries such factors, some teams just aren't up to sustaining quality performances and they depart looking like bums. Just like too many of the voices and personalities assigned by the networks to entertain and inform the viewers.

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