All of a sudden, Broncos aren't feeling so Super

Week 16 Preview

December 12, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Denver Broncos have changed their uniforms but not their identity.

The Broncos, who've lost all four of their Super Bowl appearances and were bounced out of the playoffs in the divisional round last year when they had the AFC's best regular-season record, once again are questioning themselves.

After they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 35-24, on Sunday, quarterback John Elway said: "I get a little upset because it seems like every time we've been asked to answer the bell in big games the last couple of years, we haven't been able to answer the bell. Good teams in big games play great. We haven't done that."

The Broncos will get another chance Monday night, when they go to San Francisco for a game that will be filled with emotion.

The 49ers will retire Joe Montana's No. 16 at halftime and Jerry Rice might play after suffering a knee injury in the opener that was supposed to sideline him for the season.

When the 49ers are recalling Montana's great days, one they'll remember was the 55-10 drubbing of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. That was one of the three Super Bowls that Elway has lost, and now he's facing the reality that he not only might not win one, he might not even get back.

If the Kansas City Chiefs beat San Diego and New Orleans in their last two games, Denver will be a wild-card team, and wild-card teams are long shots in the playoffs.

So, how important is it to Elway to win a Super Bowl?

"It's real important," he said. "It's kind of the cherry on top of the sundae as far as the last things I need to do in my career. Is it a priority? Where does it rank as a priority? Sure, that's one of the main reasons why I'm playing football. But there are so many other things.

"I know one thing. If I get done with my career and can look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, I did everything I could %J possibly do to try to win a Super Bowl,' that's all I can ask of myself."

If Kansas City wins its last two, it may be out of Elway's hands.

But he still hopes to spoil the 49ers' party and keep the Broncos' division title hopes alive.

The 49ers have their own priorities, as they're one game ahead of Green Bay in the battle for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The 49ers know that if they have to go to Green Bay in January for the NFC title game, their chances are slim and none. They want to force the Packers, who have knocked them out of the playoffs two years in a row, to come to San Francisco in January.

But the 49ers' legacy is already secure. They've won five Super Bowls.

The Broncos are trying to live down their legacy of never having won a title.

"We'll find out a lot about ourselves this week in San Francisco," Elway said. "We're going to find out what we're made of."

Best of the rest

Redskins at Giants: This is one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL, the one Bill Parcells used to call "the best the NFL has to offer." For the first times in several years, it once again means something. A Giants victory in this Saturday TV special gives them the division title and would deal a severe blow to the Redskins' playoff hopes.

It features an intriguing quarterback duel between two players who started the year on the bench -- young Danny Kanell and veteran Jeff Hostetler, who once won a Super Bowl for the Giants. The teams played to a 7-7 tie three weeks ago, and this is likely to be another bruising, defensive battle.

Steelers at Patriots: In the second game of an excellent Saturday TV doubleheader, the Steelers and Patriots play a rematch of their playoff game last January. The Patriots won that one, 28-3, when Jerome Bettis was ailing. Now "The Bus" is back in full gear and Curtis Martin and Terry Glenn are questionable for the Patriots.

The Steelers, who already have clinched a playoff berth, are a game ahead of Jacksonville in the AFC Central, while the Patriots are tied with the Dolphins in the AFC East. The Patriots, however, can win the division title by beating the Dolphins next Monday night regardless of how they fare against the Steelers.

Worth a look

Lions at Vikings: The Vikings can clinch a wild-card spot by beating the Lions, but Detroit is likely to get in if it wins this one and then beats the New York Jets next week. The Lions routed Minnesota, 38-14, last month to end the Vikings' six-game winning streak and start them on a four-game losing streak. The Vikings are favored at home even though Randall Cunningham is playing in place of injured quarterback Brad Johnson. The Lions have Barry Sanders, but the key may well be how well Scott Mitchell plays.

Dolphins at Colts: At first glance, this looks like an easy Miami victory. But the Dolphins beat the Colts by just a 16-10 margin at home in Week 1 and can't afford to overlook a team that stunned the Jets on the road last week. The Dolphins, who close out the season with the Monday night game against the Patriots, can clinch a wild-card spot with a victory.

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