Overcoming crowd noise won't be a snap for Elway, Broncos in Buffalo

January 09, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

The Denver Broncos have quarterback John Elway's two-minute magic.

The Buffalo Bills have quarterback Jim Kelly's no-huddle offense and home-field advantage.

When it comes to Sunday's AFC championship game, the visiting Broncos don't underestimate the elements at Rich Stadium that help make the Bills an overwhelming 11-point favorite to reach Super Bowl XXVI.

Those elements include crowd noise from 80,000-plus fans that can obscure the snap count, and a chill wind that can wreak havoc with the football.

"Any time you eliminate the use of a snap count on offense, it takes one of your weapons away," Elway said yesterday, "so that's just one less thing we have on offense that we can use as a weapon."

Kansas City quarterback Steve DeBerg found out how loud the Bills' fans can be when the Chiefs lost last week's playoff game in Buffalo, 37-14. The crowd took away DeBerg's ability to audible at the line of scrimmage and effectively change the called play.

If it happens again this Sunday, it could mean a field day for Bills' pass rushers like outside linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley.

"When it's really loud, you don't have the benefit of a snap count to keep those guys honest," said Elway, who engineered a last-minute, game-winning drive to beat Houston last Saturday at Denver's Mile High Stadium. "You use your cadence so they can't get that excellent jump on the ball. . . . They definitely have an advantage on you because no one really can hear the snap count. So the offensive line is really in the same situation as the defensive line."

Denver coach Dan Reeves listened to the Bills-Chiefs game on his car radio while driving to the Broncos' training complex last Sunday, and noticed the difference in the level of crowd noise when different teams had the ball. "It was like listening to two different stations," Reeves said.

"Crowd noise is a big factor, no question about it. Our ability to handle that is going to be one of the real keys for us."

The Bills have won their last four postseason games at Rich Stadium going back to 1989. They had a 17-game winning streak at home halted in the final week of the regular season when coach Marv Levy rested Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas and lost to Detroit in overtime.

Levy said crowd noise is part of the package that comes with playing in Buffalo.

"In Rich Stadium, it's part of the environment," he said. "I'd be more conscious of it if it wasn't there. It's a tremendously uplifting thing for our team to have that kind of support."

The weather could be another critical factor. Last Sunday's game in Rich Stadium was played in mild 40-degree temperatures with no precipitation and only 10-mph winds. But Reeves remembers a 1987 loss in Buffalo in which the Broncos were adversely affected by gusting wind.

"There are situations where, if the wind is blowing a certain way, you can't do certain things," Reeves said. "It makes things like the snap to the punter extremely difficult. If the weather does turn, it can equalize things. But they've been in it, know it a little bit better. So they ought to be able to handle the weather conditions better."

The Broncos, of course, have been known to play in inclement weather, too, at Mile High. And maybe that's why linebacker Karl Mecklenburg said, "We're not worried about playing in Buffalo."

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