Elway aims at redemption, end of NFC's domination But 0-for-3 Broncos star tends to bring out best in opposing quarterbacks

January 25, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- First it was Phil Simms completing 22 of 25 passes. Then it was Doug Williams throwing for four second-quarter touchdowns. Then it was Joe Montana throwing for five.

That's the list of quarterbacks -- and their record performances -- who have beaten the Denver Broncos' John Elway in the Super Bowl.

Next up, Brett Favre.

This is what Elway gets in the glamour game: three of the most memorable quarterbacking performances in Super Bowl history, and now the hottest quarterback alive.

No wonder the Broncos (15-4) are 12-point underdogs against the defending champion Green Bay Packers (15-3) in Super Bowl XXXII tonight at Qualcomm Stadium.

In a game that hardly ever lives up to its hype, the star-crossed Elway will try to avoid joining Jim Kelly as a four-time Super Bowl loser, a label as unfair as it is cruel.

Elway's 0-3 record in the title game says more about the dreadful defense the Broncos dragged into past Super Bowls than his ability to compete.

Consider that the three quarterbacks who beat him combined to complete nearly 75 percent of their passes for 905 yards and 12 touchdowns. They averaged a numbing 14.6 yards per completion. Each was named MVP.

If there is a glimmer of hope for Elway this time around -- he has a better defense and a legitimate running game -- it may be obscured by the unrelenting pressure on the 15-year veteran.

"There's a lot more pressure on him [than anyone else]," said Denver cornerback Ray Crockett. "I wouldn't want his pressure. Here's a guy who's gone to the Super Bowl and lost three times by huge margins."

The margins were 19, 32 and 45 points, respectively, in losses to the New York Giants (XXI), Washington Redskins (XXII) and San Francisco 49ers (XXIV). The Broncos contributed heavily to the NFC's 13-year winning streak in the Super Bowl and the overall domination (the AFC has been outscored, 490-219).

The Super Bowl is a game in which underdogs appear to have no chance.

"No. 1 in this game, the underdog is not going to catch the favorite by surprise," Elway said. "You don't catch anyone not mentally ready to play in this game, and that happens during the regular season quite a bit."

"As far as the NFC winning 13 straight, I don't have the answer for that."

There is a key indicator, though. In the past 13 years, the NFC has won the turnover battle by an outlandish 44-10. The NFC hasn't committed a turnover since the Dallas Cowboys' Troy Aikman threw an interception just before halftime in a 30-13 romp over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII. That was 3 1/2 games ago.

The year before that, the Bills committed nine turnovers in a 52-17 loss to Dallas.

Mike Shanahan, Denver's maniacally intense coach, has lectured his players all week about giveaways.

"I think the first thing that you look at is not turning the football over," he said. "When you're going against an excellent football team, you can't give them a short field.

"When you give them a short field and give a team a cheap touchdown or a cheap field goal, it really puts a lot of pressure on the so-called underdog. So if I was to allude to one area that I think is bigger than anything, it's giving them that turnover in poor field position."

Elway has been susceptible to those kinds of grievous mistakes, too. He threw six interceptions in his three previous Super Bowl appearances, completing just 45.5 percent of his passes. He generated just four offensive touchdowns in the three games, and scored as many touchdowns rushing (two) as passing.

Now he's going against a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown pass in the last 31 quarters, a span of eight games.

Elway's psyche has been fodder for all the amateur psychologists here this week.

"I don't know what he's thinking," Favre said. "I would think he's feeling a little pressure, like 'This may be my last chance.' Then again, he may feel like it's just another game."

It could be Elway's last stand and his best chance to win the Super Bowl. Although most of those who know him expect him to return for a 16th NFL season, a victory could change that.

In a week when the big news was a helicopter flying over Denver's first practice and Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski's hygienic habits, Elway, 37, remains the most compelling story line in the Super Bowl.

Surrounded by running back Terrell Davis and a blitz-happy defense, he finally has enough weapons to make a reasonable showing in the big game.

"We're really glad to be here," he said, "but I think this is the best team we've ever brought here. Defensively and offensively, it's the best team we've ever had. We really feel if we go out and play our game that we will like the situation we'll be in. We won't be allowed any mistakes."

And if public sentiment falls heavily toward Denver today, there is a motivational twist to that for the Packers.

Said Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler: "You don't want to be the team he beats."

Elway tormentors

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