Broncos' problems start with the man at the top

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

September 26, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is befuddled by his team's 0-2 start. He noted they have the same group of players who won the last two Super Bowls, "minus one."

The one minus is a big one -- John Elway. But his absence isn't the only problem.

Bowlen only has to look in the mirror to check out the rest of his team's problems. They're having trouble dealing with success, and it starts at the top.

At the season's start, Bowlen said the Broncos were hated around the league because of their success.

"They hate the idea of us winning again, because it's almost insulting to the rest of the players and coaches in the league if we win three straight. People are going to be saying about their teams, `Well, why couldn't you do it? Why are [Mike] Shanahan and Bowlen and the rest of those guys, why are they so much better than the rest of you?' And that really does get under your skin. I'm telling you, it really does," he said.

Well, once you start thinking you're better than everybody else, the seeds of destruction are sown.

It's easy to start making bad decisions, as Shanahan did going to camp with Bubby Brister and Brian Griese at quarterback. He should have gotten a proven veteran, a Neil O'Donnell type, if not O'Donnell himself.

It's also easy to get distracted when you're on top. Shanahan's out with a new book in which he rehashes his feud with his former boss, Atlanta coach Dan Reeves. Hey, we already knew they hate each other. Give it a rest.

Shanahan's even unhappy that Reeves came up to him at the owners meeting last March and shook hands.

"Dan comes right over to me as if he didn't criticize me two months earlier, didn't fire me eight years ago, didn't charge me with insubordination, didn't try to tarnish my coaching reputation," he said.

"He shakes my hand and acts like there's never been a single problem between us. And I'm going, `This guy's got to be crazy.' But then, that's Dan. The man knows a lot about winning but not as much about communication."

Bad starts

At 0-2, the odds are against the Broncos winning a third straight Super Bowl this year.

Dallas in 1993, when Emmitt Smith held out for two games, is the only team to start off 0-2 and win the Super Bowl.

If the Broncos lose to Tampa Bay and fall to 0-3 today, they may not even make the playoffs. Buffalo came back from 0-3 last year to do it, but Detroit in 1995 and the Jets in 1981 are the only teams since 1970 to do it in a non-strike year.

Ravens-Browns hype

The Ravens-Browns game may not be much on the field, with the Browns a 12-point underdog.

But the hype was certainly better than for most Ravens games, with Browns fans and Ravens fans taking potshots at each other on the Internet.

In Cleveland, it was even a story that Ravens owner Art Modell declined to comment on the game.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, and coach Brian Billick filled the gap for the Cleveland reporters.

Newsome said, "I've been getting some early-morning phone calls. He [Modell] wants me to understand the importance of the football game. It's more of a front-office thing than a player thing. Time heals all wounds, and maybe at some point this will, but this thing became a lot bigger than anybody could imagine. It may get to the point where the Modells sell this franchise before it's all over."

Billick, who rejected Cleveland's coaching offer, told reporters there Baltimore fits him better because, among other things, "I'm kind of cosmopolitan."

Although he quickly added: "I know very little about Cleveland." In Cleveland, offensive lineman Lomas Brown said, "I had no idea the son [David Modell] was hated, too. Someone came up to me and said they hate the son more than the dad."

Looking to the future

The real question about the Baltimore-Cleveland rivalry is whether the teams will figure out how to improve so the games will have something at stake.

Cleveland appears to have its quarterback of the future in Tim Couch but appears to have done little in its first year to put the team around him.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have to start finding good players after the first round. Jermaine Lewis is the only Pro Bowl player they've drafted after the first round.

It'd also help if they'd stop trading so many picks. It's hard to improve a team that drafts only four players, the way the Ravens did this year. They've also drafted only one player in the third round (Jay Graham) in their four Baltimore drafts.

They gave away five picks for Lovett Purnell (cut last week), Scott Mitchell and Tony Banks, who are on the bench. Even though they got two back for Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier, trading picks for players who don't play doesn't improve the team.

The team that gets the last laugh in the Cleveland-Baltimore rivalry is the one that gets to the playoffs first.

Quarterback derby

When Stoney Case becomes the Ravens' starting quarterback today, his real competition won't be backup Banks.

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