Fallen Goliath is slingshot in arm for game

January 27, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO -- It wasn't the biggest upset -- the New York Jets and Kansas City overcame greater point spreads in 1969 and '70.

It wasn't the closest outcome -- the New York Giants beat Buffalo by one point in '91.

It wasn't even the most dramatic finish -- San Francisco marched 92 yards for the winning score in '89, finishing off Cincinnati with 34 seconds left.

Still, Denver's 31-24 victory over Green Bay was a pivotal chapter in Super Bowl history. For historical significance, it might rank second only to the Jets' victory over the Colts.

Few thought the upstart AFL could overcome the mighty NFL back then. Few thought the hapless AFC could overcome the omnipotent NFC on Sunday.

Thirteen straight losses will create negative perceptions, even if each game is different. Thirteen straight losses will lead to inflated predictions and diminished expectations, regardless of the matchup.

The annual NFC romps didn't hurt television ratings any -- nine of the 10 most-watched events in history are Super Bowls -- but the game was producing a certain sense of dread, not to mention boredom.

No more.

In an era of startling parity, Denver's victory proved once and for all that the NFC no longer is the dominant conference, and that it's safe to watch the Super Bowl again.

No one will dismiss the AFC champion as just another patsy before next year's Super Bowl. No one will (ahem) predict a 68-10 NFC triumph, even in jest.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming -- the AFC went 31-28-1 in head-to-head matchups this season, including the Ravens' 2-1-1 mark against the once-powerful NFC East, and 0-10 Indianapolis' upset of the Packers.

Even the previous two Super Bowls were relatively competitive: Pittsburgh trailed Dallas 20-17 and had the ball with 4: 15 left two years ago. New England trailed Green Bay 27-21 with 3: 27 left in the third quarter last year.

Still, Green Bay played in a division that included three other playoff teams -- Tampa Bay, Detroit and Minnesota.

And Denver didn't even win a division that featured three teams that went a combined 16-32 -- Seattle, Oakland and San Diego.

No one considered the Broncos a fraud, but with their defense allowing a league-worst 4.7 yards per carry, this looked like another setup.

Well, for the 27th time in 32 Super Bowls -- and 17th time in the last 18 years -- the better running team won again.

And this time, it wasn't the NFC entry.

Running behind the lightest offensive line in the NFL, Terrell Davis rushed for 157 yards, the fifth-highest total in Super Bowl history.

The Packers averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but without a second-half lead, they couldn't pound Dorsey Levens, while the Broncos just kept running Davis.

The Broncos out-rushed the Packers, 179 yards to 95, including 100-28 in the second half. The Packers had only seven rushing attempts after halftime, and the Broncos' edge in time of possession was 18: 27-11: 33.

Of the recent Super Bowls, the game this most resembled was the Giants' victory over Buffalo in '91. The difference was, the Broncos controlled the ball, and the Bills didn't.

Remember that night in Tampa?

Bills running back Thurman Thomas turned in a Davis-like performance, accounting for 190 yards from scrimmage, including 135 on the ground.

But the Giants held possession for a Super Bowl-record 40: 33, and Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning field goal from 47 yards with four seconds left.

The Bills should have won that game. The Broncos won this one.

Eventually, it had to happen.

Eventually, the streak had to end.

"I don't think as a participant you pay any attention to 13-0," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who was the Bills' offensive coordinator in their Super Bowl losses to the Giants and Redskins.

"You're in the Super Bowl. Every one of those 13 teams thought they were going to win. What happened previously was no indication of what was going to take place in that particular game."

True enough, but the Denver players were fully aware of the streak. Quarterback John Elway spoke of "so many things going against us, the AFC, NFC, all those type of things."

Asked if the other 14 AFC teams were pulling for the Broncos, safety Steve Atwater said, "Oh, without a doubt. That takes so much burden off the AFC, and also off the Denver Broncos with the losses we've had.

"I think other teams in the AFC are going to be thinking, 'We've lost some in the past, we can get there and win it now.' We represented a lot of people here today, and I'm just glad we could come away with the victory."

It wasn't the best-played Super Bowl -- the Giants and Bills didn't commit a turnover in their '91 classic, while the Broncos and Packers combined for five.

Still, it wasn't as if the Packers turned in a stinker. They had touchdown drives of 76, 95 and 85 yards. The way they cruised down the field on their opening series, it looked as if this might indeed be another blowout.

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