Chandler finds home, redemption

Falcons: Quarterback Chris Chandler arrived in Atlanta last season as an often-injured journeyman, but he has pushed adversity aside to revive his game and career.

Super Bowl Xxxiii

January 29, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Don't tell Chris Chandler that he's the best quarterback in Super Bowl XXXIII.

"That amuses me," the Atlanta Falcons quarterback said when it was suggested his team has the edge at quarterback against the Denver Broncos. "I've been playing really well, but to say I'm the better QB, well, I find that kind of funny."

It might be no laughing matter on Sunday at Pro Player Stadium.

The strange thing is that with Denver's John Elway, 38, nearing the end of his career -- this might be Elway's last game -- Chandler, 33, may be better right now than Elway is. He had a better quarterback rating than Elway the last two years and put up better numbers in both playoff games this season.

Chandler, though, has overcome too much adversity to even consider that he might be better than Elway right now.

He's overshadowed even in his own family. His father-in-law is former San Francisco 49ers great John Brodie.

He wasn't the first pick in the draft like Elway, although both were taken by the same franchise.

Elway was the first pick in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts, but Elway was so distraught at the idea of playing for the Colts and coach Frank Kush that he demanded a trade. Owner Bob Irsay, who wasn't thrilled with Elway's salary demands, traded him to Denver.

Chandler was a third-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1988. He started 13 games for them and won all-rookie honors while leading them to a 9-7 record.

He had no idea that he wasn't destined to play on another team with a winning record until this year.

He tore up his left knee the following year, so the Colts drafted Jeff George with the first pick in 1990 and traded Chandler to Tampa Bay for a first-round pick.

"The Colts showed me what loyalty was in the NFL," he said.

Chandler wound up backing up Vinny Testaverde and wasn't very happy about it. He admits he was an angry young man who was quick to pout and blow up.

"I just couldn't handle going from college, where football was so much fun, to the NFL, where it was no fun at all," he said.

Six games into the 1991 season, he was gone again after sounding off to coach Richard Williamson, suggesting that Williamson wouldn't know a quarterback if the sky opened and one fell on him.

"I snapped," Chandler admitted. When he did play in Tampa, he had five touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in six starts over two seasons, so his resume wasn't exactly impressive.

He was then claimed off waivers by the Phoenix Cardinals. That's where he hooked up with offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome, a noted quarterback guru. Chandler credits Rhome with saving his career.

"He made it fun for me to compete again," he said.

Rhome also tutored him in the finer points of the game and drained the anger out of him. He started 13 games for the Cardinals in 1992, but the team went 4-12 and coach Joe Bugel decided to sign Steve Beuerlein as a free agent.

Chandler backed up Beuerlein in 1993 and then moved on to the then Los Angeles Rams in 1994, but they decided to go with Chris Miller. Chandler rejoined Rhome in Houston in 1995, but the Oilers then drafted Steve McNair with the third pick in the draft.

Chandler started 13 games in 1995 but knew he was a short-timer with McNair waiting to take over.

In 1996, it didn't help that Chandler came down with a case of mononucleosis after starting 12 games. The Oilers were ready to go with McNair and they put Chandler on the trading block.

Teams weren't exactly offering the farm for him. His reputation was sealed. He was an injury-prone whiner. They called him Crystal Chandelier.

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves made the best offer for him -- fourth- and sixth-rounds picks. The Atlanta players weren't exactly thrilled at the acquisition.

"No one really knew the story about Chris," said running back Jamal Anderson. "When he arrived here, we're all like, `We traded for him? He's going to be our quarterback?' "

It only took one workout to convince Anderson and wide receiver Terance Mathis that Chandler could be the answer for the Falcons.

"Jeff George was here before him, so we were used to a quarterback who had a great arm," Anderson said. "When Chris comes in and starts throwing the ball around, me and Terance are like, `Whoa, What's happening here? There are other teams that don't want this guy?' We love him."

Chandler also managed to stay healthy. In 1997, he missed parts or all of six games and the Falcons lost all six.

This season, he has missed just two games and parts of two others, but the team went 3-1 in those games.

He has pumped more air into his helmet to cushion the blows and credits his wife, Diane, who had their third child last week, with helping him avoid injuries.

"She looked at me one day and said, `You're not going to get any more injuries.' She's a firm believer in that you kind of create what happens to you. She has been a real positive force the last year. I guess, mentally, I am trying to prevent the [injuries]."

He also has proved that if teams put their emphasis on stopping Anderson, he can hurt them in the air. The Minnesota Vikings found that out in the NFC championship game.

"You heard all week that they had to stop our running game. I wanted to show everybody, especially the Vikings, that overlooking our passing game is a mistake. We can throw the ball," Chandler said.

That's why the Broncos can't make the mistake of thinking they're throwing a retirement party for Elway on Sunday.

If the Broncos aren't careful, Chandler has shown he's good enough to spoil the party.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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