When Elway is in 'zone,' Broncos usually end up in end zone QB is a master of late-game magic

NFL WEEK 6

October 11, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Dan Reeves said he thought he was past the point of being amazed by John Elway's feats.

"Every time you think you've seen everything you can possibly see, something like Sunday happens," the Denver Broncos coach said last week.

What happened last Sunday was that Elway -- who hadn't put a touchdown on the board in three games -- engineered two DTC touchdown drives in the last quarter to give the Broncos a 20-19 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Just another fourth quarter at the office for Elway.

How much do teams fear Elway's late drives?

Just look at the unusual move that Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer made on fourth-and-eight at the Chiefs 7 with 1:34 left in the game while still holding a 19-13 lead.

The normal strategy with a six-point lead in that situation is to take a safety and punt from the 20. Schottenheimer, though, feared that, if he did that, an Elway touchdown drive would put the Broncos ahead 22-19, and a Chiefs field goal would only tie the game. He didn't think about simply stopping Elway.

Schottenheimer knows Elway all too well. He's 1-9 against him in Cleveland and Kansas City and was the victim of The Drive in the 1986 AFC title game, when Elway took the Broncos 98 yards to tie and won it in overtime.

As it turned out, Arthur Marshall returned the Chiefs' punt 28 yards to the Chiefs 27, and Elway had the touchdown in three plays and 39 seconds. The Chiefs then needed a field goal to win, but couldn't get past midfield in the final 31 seconds.

"It seems to motivate him the most [at the end]," Reeves said. "It's like when you watch a basketball game and Larry Bird or Magic Johnson or one of those guys at the end of the game. John wants the ball. He's into that zone. You can see the look in his eyes. He's just got tremendous confidence in his ability."

Elway, who has 23 game-winning fourth-quarter drives on his resume, can't describe the zone.

"I don't know exactly what it is," he said. "I don't think I want to figure it out. I think it's something that is natural. I think you get in a hurry-up situation, and you don't have the time you do during the game to think about different things. I guess when you get into that zone, everything else is blocked out except what's coming up next."

Not that Elway's 10-year career has been nothing but last-minute drives. He's also experienced a lot of tough times.

He had to live up to his billing when he came out of Stanford as the first choice in the draft by the Baltimore Colts. He was the subject of much controversy when he pulled off a successful ploy and got Colts owner Bob Irsay to trade him so he wouldn't have to play for Frank Kush in Baltimore.

He then got off to a rocky start before he settled down to take the Broncos to three Super Bowls -- only to lose all three by lopsided margins.

When he plays the Washington Redskins tomorrow night at RFK Stadium, it'll be his first appearance against them since Super Bowl XXII after the 1987 season.

The Broncos did beat the Redskins, 14-10, in a 1989 Monday night game at RFK Stadium, but Elway was ill. He either had the flu or got food poisoning while dining at the White House. He's not sure which, but he won't be visiting the White House this time.

It was just a bit closer than Super Bowl XXII. You remember -- 42-10. So does Elway.

He remembered when Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills came up to him in the off-season and said: "Man, I know what you've been going through."

Elway said: "Even though I hope he wins a Super Bowl, it's nice to see someone go through what I've gone through."

Elway seems to have come to terms with those losses. He mentions that in the Olympic Games, the athletes who won silver medals were honored.

"I started thinking, 'That silver medal isn't that bad,' " he said.

He'd still like another shot at the gold.

"Hopefully, we can get a Super Bowl and take that stigma off our back. That'd be the cherry on top of the sundae. We've already got the whipped cream," he said.

Elway is 32 and wants to finish his career in Denver. Even though his contract is up after the 1993 season, he hopes to extend it after this year. He said he has no interest in free agency, even if he has to take less money to stay in Denver.

"If I think I can make another $500,000, it's not worth me leaving here to go someplace else," he said.

Elway seems eager to play the Redskins.

"It's always a challenge to play the world champs," he said.

Elway, who's played his whole career in a fishbowl, can feel empathy for Mark Rypien, who's struggling this year, but he still envies him.

"I'll tell you what: I'd like to have to handle a year after winning the Super Bowl. He's got that ring."

Getting that ring is the one goal Elway has left in his career.

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