Offensive line gives Broncos a big boost Undersized unit handles Packers on the interior, springing MVP Davis


Super Bowl Xxxii

January 26, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Although the Broncos came into Super Bowl XXXII with the NFL's top-ranked offense behind the AFC's best rusher in Terrell Davis, much of the pre-game analysis centered on the matchups that awaited Denver's superb offensive line.

How would the Broncos, with a line that featured no 300-pounders, handle 345-pound (probably more like 375) run-stuffer Gilbert Brown in the interior?

How would they contend with defensive ends Reggie White and Gabe Wilkins, who supposedly would keep Davis from breaking runs off-tackle?

Those questions clearly rubbed the Broncos the wrong way, although their offensive linemen said all the right, respectful things about Green Bay throughout the weeklong buildup to yesterday's 31-24 upset victory.

"When you hear that for two weeks, it builds a fire under you," Denver left tackle Gary Zimmerman said. "We had to sit quiet and bite our tongues for two weeks, and the last few days we've been having to suck it up and tell [the Packers] how good they are, and we're pretty good ourselves."

In the end, the matchup heavily favored the lighter, better-conditioned, better-coordinated Denver offensive line, which sprung Davis for 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns and kept Green Bay's vaunted blitz off quarterback John Elway.

The fire started dying in Green Bay's front four after Wilkins left the game with a sprained left knee midway through the first quarter. He was replaced by Darius Holland, who did not exactly pick up the slack. He finished without a tackle and played a key role in Denver's game-winning drive. Holland's 15-yard face-mask penalty kick pushed the Broncos to the Green Bay 32 with three minutes left.

As for Brown, the Broncos spent a good portion of the evening pushing him off the line of scrimmage, with center Tom Nalen and some strong double teams combining to do the job. On Denver's first touchdown drive, which ended with 1-yard runs by Vaughn Hebron and Davis, Denver pushed Brown into the end zone both times.

Brown, whose sore ankle affected his conditioning much of the season, tired noticeably in the second half, as did White, who was on the sideline in discomfort for several key stretches of the fourth quarter.

"When Gabe Wilkins got hurt early in the game, that affected us a little bit," Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren said. "We had good range defense in the last several weeks, and Denver did a nice job. But their rushing surprised me just a little bit."

Denver fullback Howard Griffith said: "Offensively, we did the job up front like we've been doing all season. We've been hearing how we've got an undersized offensive line, [but] we play physical and we make the most of our opportunities."

End of the jinx

The historical significance of the victory was not lost on the Broncos. The players have been endlessly reminded that the AFC had failed to win the Super Bowl in 13 consecutive tries. Three of those losses have hung over Denver, particularly Elway.

"There have been a lot of things that go along with losing three Super Bowls and playing for 14 years and being labeled as a guy who has never been on a winning Super Bowl team," Elway said. "This is what we play for. This is what I play for."

Broncos cornerback Ray Crockett said: "I talked to [Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver] Keenan McCardell awhile back, and he just told me to go out there and win this thing for the AFC. It's great to put that losing streak behind us and the AFC."

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had suffered through three of the four Super Bowl losses as an assistant with Denver.

"So I know how it feels for the players and coaches who were a part of that," he said. "This is special for the city of Denver. To be able to bring a trophy for those who have supported this organization for so long is really special."

Early returns

Both teams always preach about getting off to a fast Super Bowl start, and yesterday's opponents executed that unwritten law to the letter.

Green Bay opened with an eight-play, 76-yard drive, which quarterback Brett Favre ended by hitting Antonio Freeman with a 22-yard touchdown pass, as Freeman beat Ray Crockett badly in the back of the end zone.

The Broncos promptly answered with a 10-play, 58-yard march that consumed 5: 19, mostly on the strength of Davis. He carried five times for 39 yards on the drive, breaking a 27-yarder on a sweep down the left sideline to the Packers' 14, before finishing the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

With 5: 39 left in the first quarter, the score was tied at 7. And Davis' touchdown run marked the first time in Super Bowl history that each team had produced a touchdown on its opening possession.

Something special

Denver figured to have an edge in special teams coming into the game, and the Broncos used a decided advantage in that area to set the tone for their historic victory by putting the Packers in an early 17-7 hole.

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