It's something old, something new for Chiefs, Broncos Playoff encounter first in rivalry's 76 games

January 04, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What better place to renew one of the NFL's best rivalries than under the glare of the postseason spotlight?

Before another raucous, sellout crowd at Arrowhead Stadium this afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos will ++ square off for the 76th time dating to 1960, back in the early days of the American Football League.

Surprisingly, today marks the first time these longtime AFC West enemies have met in the playoffs.

The backdrop for today's affair features its share of history, beginning with two of the game's more legendary performers. Denver quarterback John Elway and Chiefs running back Marcus Allen have 31 years of NFL experience, four Super Bowl appearances, one championship ring and a slew of personal records between them. Their Hall of Fame busts might as well be under construction.

Events before and during the 1997 season added spice to the teams' familiarity -- like the off-season swap of defensive linemen, as now-Broncos end Neil Smith and tackle Keith Traylor and now-Chiefs end Dan Williams left their old teams via free agency. In addition, the Chiefs acquired nose tackle Michael Dean Perry two weeks ago after the Broncos waived him.

Then there was the regular-season split that marked the annual series. After dropping a 19-3 decision on opening day in Denver, the Chiefs (13-3) sparked their current six-game winning streak -- which earned them the divisional title and the top conference playoff seed -- with a dramatic, 24-22 victory on Nov. 16 at Arrowhead, where kicker Pete Stoyanovich kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired.

Each game was marked by a controversial hit, both by second-year Kansas City free safety Jerome Woods. For a late hit on Elway in the opener, Woods drew a $5,000 fine. In the rematch, Woods' helmet-to-helmet leveling of Denver receiver Ed McCaffrey was worth $10,000.

"This has always been a good rivalry, and rivalries get better as the teams stay better," Elway said. "It got extra-heated this year."

The Broncos (13-4) would enjoy nothing more than dominating the line of scrimmage the same way the league's No. 1-ranked offense did in last week's 42-17 wild-card romp over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Behind Terrell Davis (184 yards), the AFC's top rusher in 1997, the Broncos ran over the Jaguars to the tune of 310 rushing yards.

Davis probably will wear a flak jacket to protect the bruised ribs he suffered against Jacksonville. Elway, as healthy as a 15-year veteran headed for his sixth Pro Bowl can be, provides the offensive balance.

TTC All Elway did at age 37 was throw for 3,635 yards and a team-record 27 touchdowns. His favorite targets are wide receiver Rod Smith (1,180 yards, 12 touchdowns) and tight end Shannon Sharpe (1,107, three TDs).

Things don't figure to be too easy against a Kansas City defense that is well-rested, set an NFL record by going 10 consecutive games without giving up a second-half touchdown and, led by Williams and linebacker Derrick Thomas, had 54 sacks.

The Chiefs made gang-tackling an art form, as four players -- safeties Reggie Tongue and Woods and linebackers Donnie Edwards and Anthony Davis -- recorded more than 100 tackles. They forced an AFC-high 34 turnovers.

Offensively, Kansas City aims to exploit Denver's run defense. The Broncos allowed a league-worst 4.7 yards per rush in 1997.

The Chiefs will depend on quarterback Elvis Grbac (back after making a shaky return two weeks ago from a broken collarbone), wide receiver Andre Rison (a Pro Bowl alternate who had 1,092 yards with his sixth team) and a backfield by committee.

The fastest of the group is Greg Hill (550 yards). The most amazing is Allen (11 touchdowns), the 16-year veteran who led the Los Angeles Raiders to the AFC's last Super Bowl victory in 1984 and has adapted nicely to his primary, short-yardage role.

As Allen fades gracefully, Davis is taking over his torch.

"I like what I see: his physical attributes, his determination, his burning desire," Allen said of Davis.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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