All can appreciate joy of Broncos' happy ending

January 26, 1998|By John Steadman

SAN DIEGO -- This man and a team, too, realized they were on a mission that would measure the depth of their character.

They fought their own crusade to finally silence the bombardment of criticism that had been so unjustly thrust upon them.

The Denver Broncos and John Elway prevailed, 31-24, in glorious style. And those with compassion and mercy in their hearts are elated that the story had a happy ending.

The Broncos beat back substantially favored defending champions, the Green Bay Packers, and scored one of the most exciting victories in the history of the Super Bowl series.

Terrell Davis, provided a fine homecoming celebration for his San Diego neighbors that was right out of a storybook. He ran his way for three touchdowns, gaining yards when they were hard to come by and took away the Most Valuable Player award. His power running, plus a turn of speed when he needed it, was instrumental in a victory that was dedicated to their senior quarterback, Elway, who had been to the Super Bowl three previous times and went for the collar.

The evil spirits that bedeviled Elway were exorcised as the Broncos exercised the most notable triumph in the history of the too-often rebuffed and maligned franchise.

Denver had reason to celebrate and its sideline was animated as a chorus line as the players counted down the final seconds.

Never has the Super Bowl allowed a player to recover from the ignominy of an 0-for-3 individual quarterback performance.

When the Broncos and Elway were here before they suffered embarrassment. On this same field in 1988, they lost to the Washington Redskins, 42-10.

But now all is finally right with the world of Elway and the team he guides, the Broncos. They disposed of the defending champion after clawing with all the determination of an infantry unit fighting for its pride.

How many times was the gunslinging Elway, age 37 and with 15 tough seasons behind him, going to hear the all-condemning protests, along with the choke-sign, that he couldn't win the Big One? According to the snarling cynics, the Broncos were a collection of faint-hearted athletes who lacked the resolve and perseverance to win when it counted the most.

Such twisted thinking is eliminated, hopefully, for now and evermore, by the way the Broncos took the bit and asserted themselves.

Their critics be damned.

This was an occasion for glorious retribution. What the Broncos are collecting in belated acclaim, they earned and deserved.

Much of what they achieved had to do with establishing their own self-respect. No longer can they be accused of taking the apple or running for the gas pipe. They beat a highly favored and much respected foe in Green Bay that was motivated and wanted so much to add another Super Bowl conquest to its history.

On the Green Bay side of the argument, Brett Favre, had an adequate day (for him), but the Packers as a team seemed to be devoid of the intensity they brought with them to the Super Bowl XXXI vs. the New England Patriots, a game they won 35-21.

Antonio Freeman, a graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of Favre's receivers, had an exceptional afternoon, catching the ball in heavy traffic, scoring two touchdowns and doing all that any one player could possibly do.

The Packers went down but only because the Broncos reached back for the super kind of effort that comes from teams that have had their pride wounded one too many times.

The mobile and somewhat undersized offensive line of the Broncos, namely Gary Zimmerman, Mark Schlereth, Tom Nalen, dTC Brian Habib and Tony Jones, played extremely well against the ponderous Packers they had to handle.

It was Elway's occasion to finally walk away from the Super Bowl as the winning pitcher. His teammates rallied around him and told him of their desire to "win one for John." They were possessed with a craving to justify things for their old pro leader and responded with the games of their lives -- the most epochal victory in the history of the Denver franchise.

A story with a happy ending for a man who has given much of himself to football. "You wonder if you are going to run out of years," Elway said. "But fortunately I hung on and Mike [Shanahan] came in here and got it done for us."

No longer does J. Elway have to carry around the disappointment of being a total Super Bowl loser.

He's finally enjoying a Rocky Mountain high -- holding the trophy in his arms and realizing how much his fellow players wanted to succeed for themselves but mostly for him.

A professional of immense respect who beat back the long run of bad luck that beset him and now knows deep within himself that, on his own merits, he finally prevailed.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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