MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 1998, SPORTS
Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Something to Celebrate — Finally; Script Changes for Denver
Finally, a Super Bowl that was Super!
As this is written, Roman candles are going off in the air, music is blasting, metallic confetti is blowing through the air.
Disney would love the outcome. The most popular victory since Bambi.
America’s Sweetheart finally wins one. No, dummy, not Bill Clinton. John Elway!
The Green Bay Packers were the bad guys in this melodrama. The guys in the black hats.
They went out with their guns drawn and their boots on. They had the ball on the Denver 31 marching to the tying score when a fourth-down pass tipped off the end of a receiver’s fingers.
But if you had an ounce of compassion, you were supposed to be for Elway. It was supposed to be another four-handkerchief picture. A tear jerker for poor John. Where he dies in the fadeout. You had to root for him the same way you rooted for John Wayne or Gary Cooper. The American flag. Apple pie. Motherhood.
So we got the happy ending. This was a horse opera, not grand opera.
But Elway had a sidekick in the best tradition of Hollywood cliffhangers. This was a guy whose initials translated out, fittingly enough, to “T.D.”
Terrell Davis is his name. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. And John Elway had T.D.
Elway passed the ball only 22 times in Super Bowl XXXII. Normally, that’s barely a good half for him. But he schlepped the ball out to Davis often enough to make the difference. In the smart game plan, Davis took it in for a record three touchdowns.
“We shocked the world!” crowed Denver’s Shannon Sharpe.
In a way, they did. The gamblers took a look and gave you 11 1/2 points if you wanted Denver, heartless wretches that they are.
I’ll be honest with you. I expected to be starting this column by writing something like “The Green Bay Packers and the NFC won the Super Bowl on Sunday. And a pie is round, and the sky is blue and the Pope is Catholic. “
But it ran the wrong way. It turned out man bites dog. No cliche.
It was vintage Elway. In the first quarter, trailing 7-0, he had the ball on the Green Bay 12-yard line. He faded to pass, watched Green Bay peel back frantically to stop it. So, he helped himself to a vital 10 yards and Davis scored two plays later. Another time he started on his eight-yard line and marched the Broncos 92 yards for the score that gave them a 24-17 lead.
The game really was a classic boxer-vs.-puncher. Green Bay was bigger. But Denver was faster. Quicker. If anything, more resourceful.
But if Elway and Davis got carried off on shoulders and will bask in a Denver ticker-tape parade, two of the Denver cast of characters found sweet vindication too.
All his career, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey has had an identity crisis. He has had trouble convincing people he’s fast enough for the position. Then, of course, he went to Stanford. That’s not Miami or Notre Dame. In other words, suspect, too.
McCaffrey was on the New York Giants and caught 49 passes one year, with five touchdowns. But the Giants dubbed him a “possession receiver.” Translation: sure-handed but slow. He went to San Francisco where they threw to him enough for only 11 catches.
Denver got him because its coach had seen him when both were at San Francisco. Says coach Mike Shanahan: “We thought here’s a 6-5 receiver and as we saw him he consistently won one-on-ones and could beat bump coverage. So we jumped to get him.”
In the middle of the third quarter, with the score 17-17 and Denver gasping, Elway threw two passes to McCaffrey, one for 36 yards and one for nine. They were key in the drive that gave Denver its 24-17 lead.
But if McCaffrey was validated, so was the coach who got him, Shanahan.
Mike Shanahan is a strange character in this violent game. He himself was a college player who lost a kidney in a pileup. So he became a coach.
Shanahan is a character who looks more or less like a guy gazing at his own corpse. His eyes look as if they had a light shining behind them. He rarely smiles. He’s always going to look 15 years younger than he is (45).
He came to Denver with the reputation of being one of those cerebral types, a coach who draws up plays on the blackboard and is a whiz with the Xs and O’s. But he is supposed to stay in his ivory tower and not come out and try to be a field leader. They thought that about Bill Walsh, once, too.
The Raiders’ Al Davis enticed him away from his drawing board at Denver and made him head coach at L.A. but barely gave him time to learn the names of his secondary before jerking the rug out from under him.
Shanahan came back to Denver as an assistant licking his wounds and embarrassed. But, Elway, for one, loved him. Eventually, so did the owner. He made him head coach. If there’s one thing needed on the Broncos, it was a guy who has John Elway’s complete confidence.
Super Bowl XXXII showed that Mike Shanahan is no mad scientist (even if he sometimes looks like one). It showed Ed McCaffrey can get open with the best of them. It showed John Elway can win any game he has the sidekicks to do it.
It showed Denver can win at sea level. It showed speed and smarts can neutralize superior strength.
And it showed a Super Bowl can be a very exciting game. This was a fight between two top heavyweights that had the crowd on its feet. And that it can be won by the guys in the white hats, the Public’s Choices. Boffo Box office.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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