January 26, 1998 in Sports

Elway Proves Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last

Jim Litke Associated Press
 

Just this once, the nice guy did not finish last.

Just this once, John Elway was not the best player on the field. Not even close. That distinction went to MVP Terrell Davis, who lined up behind him. He was not among the five or six next best guys playing Sunday, either. Those were the men who lined up in front of him.

But they were all clear about this much: They owed him. They owed John Elway the same way a franchise and a city and maybe even an entire league owed him. Because for 15 years, through three stinging Super Bowl losses and a dozen more that would have broken plenty of other stars, he never gave up.

He never ducked responsibility, never blamed anyone else. He was always the best player and the bravest because he did everything the way a winner was supposed to - except win.

And when he finally did that, too, when the rest of the Denver Broncos put him over the top and outlasted Green Bay 31-24, Elway breathed deep enough to reflect for a moment, then showed the same grace that had always marked him so memorably in losing. He gave the credit to everybody else.

To the Denver organization. To a running back that lasted six rounds into the draft because everybody else thought he was too small to waste a pick on. To an offensive line that was supposed to be too small.

And this time, the credit came ringing back.

“John made it possible for me to get here,” said Neil Smith, the perennial All-Pro defender who traded a Kansas City jersey for a Denver one before the season and wondered if the gamble would pay off.

“And the only thing I’ve got to say now is this is going to be a chapter in my book. I’ve played with Hall of Fame guys, Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and now John. He deserves it.”

That was never the question with Elway.

The question was whether, deserving or not, he’d ever get another shot at a Super Bowl. The Giants and Redskins and 49ers destroyed the first three, and at some point late into this marathon of a season, he looked around, a 37-year-old quarterback closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and started asking that question himself.

“Sure,” he conceded, “you wonder if you’re going to run out of years.”

But the longer the Broncos’ improbable run was extended, the more confident Elway sounded when he insisted this team was different from the previous ones, that it had more strengths, that he could get further doing less.

Then, early in the second quarter, Davis was knocked out of the game, Elway wasn’t throwing the ball particularly well - he finished 12-of-22 for 123 yards - and it looked like only a matter of time before Brett Favre, the young gunslinger on the other sideline, would put a bullet in this chance, too.

After Davis returned, only to fumble on the first play of the third quarter, Favre marched the Packers to a tying field goal at 17-17. A change of possession later, Elway got his chance to answer.

All of the drives on which Elway’s reputation was built came at the end of games. He did it in his rookie season with a three-touchdown explosion in the last quarter of a 21-19 victory over Baltimore in 1983. And then, just as spectacularly, he did it another 43 times after that.

But this time he needed the magic in the middle of a game, with a running back still woozy, a fast-tiring offense that had only managed one first down since the first quarter, and an arm that had only so many heroic throws left in it.

Patiently, Elway sandwiched quick slants to Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCaffery around Davis runs between the tackles. On third-and-6 from the Packers’ 12-yard-line, he stepped up to throw, found no one open and took off to his right.

When he was a young man, Elway running in an open field scared defenders. Now, his wife and his kids and his coaches and his teammates are much more likely to be scared by the sight. But he kept running and when Green Bay linebacker Brian Lewis, safeties LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior - a combined 650 pounds of stopping power - put up an emergency roadblock at the 6, Elway tried vaulting over the top.

“The way John Elway plays exemplifies what he is,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan marveled afterward. “He’s going to throw his body on the line every time he plays.”

Upon his arrival in Denver three seasons ago, Shanahan had installed a quarterback-friendly offense to prevent just those kinds of heroics. He wanted Elway to throw shorter passes, hand off more, do less on his own and last longer. All of it went out the window in that moment when Elway launched himself at three Packers.

“I’ve watched him do that since the start of his career, so today was no different,” Shanahan said. He just doesn’t play that way in Super Bowls. He does that in every game. That tells you what type of guy he is.”

He tried to apply the killing blow by himself after Green Bay’s Antonio Freeman fumbled the ensuing kickoff. The quick strike was intercepted in the end zone by Eugene Robinson and led to the Packers’ tying score.

But this time, the guys that owed him bailed Elway out. With 3-1/2 minutes left, playing off Elway’s calm leadership and his reckless example, they marched 52 yards for the winning touchdown.

The debt was paid in full, and even the team it cost had to admit there was some justice in a nice guy finally winning one.

“In kind of a strange way,” Packers coach Mike Holmgren said, “I’ve enjoyed John Elway and admired him and liked him. I just wish he hadn’t done it against me.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

SUPER BOWL XXXII AT SAN DIEGO

NFL postseason

All Times PST

Wild Cards

Saturday, Dec. 27

Minnesota 23, New York Giants 22

Denver 42, Jacksonville 17

Sunday, Dec. 28

New England 17, Miami 3

Tampa Bay 20, Detroit 10

Divisional Playoffs

Saturday, Jan. 3

Pittsburgh 7, New England 6

San Francisco 38, Minnesota 22

Sunday, Jan. 4

Green Bay 21, Tampa Bay 7

Denver 14, Kansas City 10

Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 11

Denver 24, Pittsburgh 21

Green Bay 23, San Francisco 10

Super Bowl

Sunday, Jan. 25

At San Diego

Denver 31, Green Bay 24

Pro Bowl

Sunday, Feb. 1

At Honolulu

AFC vs. NFC, 3 p.m. (ABC)

Super Bowl champions

1967 Green Bay (NFL) 35, K.C. (AFL) 10

1968 Green Bay (NFL) 33, Oak. (AFL) 14

1969 N.Y. Jets (AFL) 16, Balt. (NFL) 7

1970 Kansas City (AFL) 23, Minn. (NFL) 7

1971 Baltimore (AFC) 16, Dallas (NFC) 13

1972 Dallas (NFC) 24, Miami (AFC) 3

1973 Miami (AFC) 14, Wash. (NFC) 7

1974 Miami (AFC) 24, Minnesota (NFC) 7

1975 Pittsburgh (AFC) 16, Minn. (NFC) 6

1976 Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Dall. (NFC) 17

1977 Oakland (AFC) 32, Minn. (NFC) 14

1978 Dallas (NFC) 27, Denver (AFC) 10

1979 Pittsburgh (AFC) 35, Dall. (NFC) 31

1980 Pittsburgh (AFC) 31, L.A. (NFC) 19

1981 Oakland (AFC) 27, Phil. (NFC) 10

1982 S.F. (NFC) 26, Cincinnati (AFC) 21

1983 Wash.(NFC) 27, Miami (AFC) 17

1984 L.A. Raiders (AFC) 38, Wash. (NFC) 9

1985 S.F. (NFC) 38, Miami (AFC) 16

1986 Chicago (NFC) 46, N.E. (AFC) 10

1987 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 39, Den.(AFC) 20

1988 Wash. (NFC) 42, Denver (AFC) 10

1989 S.F. (NFC) 20, Cincinnati (AFC) 16

1990 S.F. (NFC) 55, Denver (AFC) 10

1991 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 20, Buff. (AFC) 19

1992 Wash. (NFC) 37, Buffalo (AFC) 24

1993 Dallas (NFC) 52, Buffalo (AFC) 17

1994 Dallas (NFC) 30, Buffalo (AFC) 13

1995 S.F. (NFC) 49, San Diego (AFC) 26

1996 Dallas (NFC) 27, Pitt. (AFC) 17

1997 Green Bay (NFC) 35, N.E. (AFC) 21

1998 Denver (AFC) 31, G.B. (NFC) 24

Super Bowl MVPs

1967 Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay

1968 Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay

1969 Joe Namath, QB, N.Y. Jets

1970 Len Dawson, QB, Kansas City

1971 Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas

1972 Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas

1973 Jake Scott, S, Miami

1974 Larry Csonka, RB, Miami

1975 Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh

1976 Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh

1977 Fred Biletnikoff, WR, Oakland

1978 Randy White, DT and Harvey Martin, DE, Dallas

1979 Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh

1980 Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh

1981 Jim Plunkett, QB, Oakland

1982 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1983 John Riggins, RB, Washington

1984 Marcus Allen, RB, L.A. Raiders

1985 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1986 Richard Dent, DE, Chicago

1987 Phil Simms, QB, N.Y. Giants

1988 Doug Williams, QB, Washington

1989 Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco

1990 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1991 Ottis Anderson, RB, N.Y. Giants

1992 Mark Rypien, QB, Washington

1993 Troy Aikman, QB, Dallas

1994 Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas

1995 Steve Young, QB, San Francisco

1996 Larry Brown, CB, Dallas

1997 Desmond Howard, KR, Green Bay

1998 Terrell Davis, RB, Denver

1998 Super Bowl records

SAN DIEGO (AP) Records set or tied in the 1998 Super Bowl:

INDIVIDUAL

Records Set

Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game 3, Terrell Davis, Denver (old record: Elijah Pitts, Green Bay vs. Kansas City, 1967; Larry Csonka, Miami vs. Minnesota, 1974; Pete Banaszak, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1977; Franco Harris, Pittsburgh vs. L.A. Rams, 1980; Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders vs. Washington, 1984; Jim McMahon, Chicago vs. New England, 1986; Tim Smith, Washington vs. Denver, 1988; Tom Rathman, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990; Gerald Riggs, Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992; Emmitt Smith, Dallas vs. Buffalo, 1994; Emmitt Smith, Dallas vs. Pittsburgh, 1996).

Oldest Player To Score A Touchdown - 37 years, John Elway, Denver (old record: 36 years, Willie Brown, 1977).

Records Tied

Most Games, Career - 5, Mike Lodish, Denver (ties record shared by eight others).

Most Points, Game - 18, Terrell Davis (old record: Roger Craig, San Francisco vs. Miami, 1985; Jerry Rice, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990 and vs. San Diego, 1995; Ricky Watters, San Francisco vs. San Diego, 1995).

Most Touchdowns, Game - 3, Terrell Davis (old record: Roger Craig, San Francisco vs. Miami, 1985; Jerry Rice, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990 and vs. San Diego, 1995; Ricky Watters, San Francisco vs. San Diego, 1995).

Most Passes Intercepted, Career, 7, John Elway, Denver (Craig Morton, Jim Kelly).

TEAM

Records Set

Fewest Punt Returns, Both Teams - 0, Denver vs. Green Bay (old record: 2, done in four games).

Fewest Punt Return Yards, Both Teams - 0, Denver vs. Green Bay (old record, 9, Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992).

Records Tied

Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game - 4, Denver (ties record by Chicago, 1986).

Most Rushing Touchdowns, Both Teams, Game - 4, Denver (4) vs. Green Bay (0) (ties record done in three other games).

Fewest Times Sacked, Both Teams, Game - 1, Denver (0) vs. Green Bay (1) (ties record set by Oakland vs. Philadelphia, 1981).

Fewest Punt Returns, Game - 0, Denver; Green Bay (ties record shared by three other teams).

Super Bowl winners fared

How the Super Bowl winners fared in their next season:

1967-Green Bay repeated and beat Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl.

1968-Green Bay finished third in the Central divison with a 6-7-1 record.

1969-New York Jets lost to Kansas City 13-6 in AFL divisional playoff.

1970-Kansas City finished second in the Western division with a 7-5-2 record.

1971-Baltimore lost to Miami 21-0 in AFC Championship.

1972-Dallas lost to Washington 26-3 in NFC Championship.

1973-Miami repeated and beat Minnesota 24-7 in Super Bowl.

1974-Miami lost to Oakland 28-26 in AFC divisional playoff.

1975-Pittsburgh repeated and beat Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl.

1976-Pittsburgh lost to Oakland 24-7 in AFC Championship.

1977-Oakland lost to Denver 20-17 in AFC Championship.

1978-Dallas lost to Pittsburgh 35-31 in Super Bowl.

1979-Pittsburgh repeated and beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in Super Bowl.

1980-Pittsburgh finished third in the Central division with a 9-7-0 record.

1981-Oakland finished fourth in the Western division with a 7-9-0 record.

1982-San Francisco finished eleventh in the conference with a 3-6-0 record.

1983-Washington lost to the Los Angeles Raiders 38-9 in Super Bowl.

1984-L.A. Raiders lost to Seattle 13-7 in AFC wild-card game.

1985-San Francisco lost to N.Y. Giants 17-3 in NFC wild-card game.

1986-Chicago lost to Washington 27-13 in NFC divisional playoff.

1987-N.Y. Giants finished last in NFC East division with a 6-9-0 record.

1988-Washington finished third in NFC East division with a 7-9-0 record.

1989-San Francisco repeated and beat Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl.

1990-San Francisco lost to N.Y. Giants 15-13 in NFC championship.

1991-N.Y. Giants finished fourth in NFC East division with 8-8-0 record.

1992-Washington lost to San Francisco 20-13 in NFC divisional playoff.

1993-Dallas repeated and beat Buffalo 30-13 in Super Bowl.

1994-Dallas lost to San Francisco 38-28 in NFC championship.

1995-San Francisco lost to Green Bay 27-17 in NFC divisional playoff.

1996-Dallas lost to Carolina 26-17 in NFC divisional playoff.

1997-Green Bay lost to Denver 31-24 in Super Bowl.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SUPER BOWL XXXII AT SAN DIEGO NFL postseason All Times PST Wild Cards Saturday, Dec. 27 Minnesota 23, New York Giants 22 Denver 42, Jacksonville 17 Sunday, Dec. 28 New England 17, Miami 3 Tampa Bay 20, Detroit 10 Divisional Playoffs Saturday, Jan. 3 Pittsburgh 7, New England 6 San Francisco 38, Minnesota 22 Sunday, Jan. 4 Green Bay 21, Tampa Bay 7 Denver 14, Kansas City 10 Conference Championships Sunday, Jan. 11 Denver 24, Pittsburgh 21 Green Bay 23, San Francisco 10 Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 25 At San Diego Denver 31, Green Bay 24 Pro Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1 At Honolulu AFC vs. NFC, 3 p.m. (ABC)

Super Bowl champions 1967 Green Bay (NFL) 35, K.C. (AFL) 10 1968 Green Bay (NFL) 33, Oak. (AFL) 14 1969 N.Y. Jets (AFL) 16, Balt. (NFL) 7 1970 Kansas City (AFL) 23, Minn. (NFL) 7 1971 Baltimore (AFC) 16, Dallas (NFC) 13 1972 Dallas (NFC) 24, Miami (AFC) 3 1973 Miami (AFC) 14, Wash. (NFC) 7 1974 Miami (AFC) 24, Minnesota (NFC) 7 1975 Pittsburgh (AFC) 16, Minn. (NFC) 6 1976 Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Dall. (NFC) 17 1977 Oakland (AFC) 32, Minn. (NFC) 14 1978 Dallas (NFC) 27, Denver (AFC) 10 1979 Pittsburgh (AFC) 35, Dall. (NFC) 31 1980 Pittsburgh (AFC) 31, L.A. (NFC) 19 1981 Oakland (AFC) 27, Phil. (NFC) 10 1982 S.F. (NFC) 26, Cincinnati (AFC) 21 1983 Wash.(NFC) 27, Miami (AFC) 17 1984 L.A. Raiders (AFC) 38, Wash. (NFC) 9 1985 S.F. (NFC) 38, Miami (AFC) 16 1986 Chicago (NFC) 46, N.E. (AFC) 10 1987 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 39, Den.(AFC) 20 1988 Wash. (NFC) 42, Denver (AFC) 10 1989 S.F. (NFC) 20, Cincinnati (AFC) 16 1990 S.F. (NFC) 55, Denver (AFC) 10 1991 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 20, Buff. (AFC) 19 1992 Wash. (NFC) 37, Buffalo (AFC) 24 1993 Dallas (NFC) 52, Buffalo (AFC) 17 1994 Dallas (NFC) 30, Buffalo (AFC) 13 1995 S.F. (NFC) 49, San Diego (AFC) 26 1996 Dallas (NFC) 27, Pitt. (AFC) 17 1997 Green Bay (NFC) 35, N.E. (AFC) 21 1998 Denver (AFC) 31, G.B. (NFC) 24

Super Bowl MVPs 1967 Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay 1968 Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay 1969 Joe Namath, QB, N.Y. Jets 1970 Len Dawson, QB, Kansas City 1971 Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas 1972 Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas 1973 Jake Scott, S, Miami 1974 Larry Csonka, RB, Miami 1975 Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh 1976 Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh 1977 Fred Biletnikoff, WR, Oakland 1978 Randy White, DT and Harvey Martin, DE, Dallas 1979 Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh 1980 Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh 1981 Jim Plunkett, QB, Oakland 1982 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 1983 John Riggins, RB, Washington 1984 Marcus Allen, RB, L.A. Raiders 1985 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 1986 Richard Dent, DE, Chicago 1987 Phil Simms, QB, N.Y. Giants 1988 Doug Williams, QB, Washington 1989 Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 1990 Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 1991 Ottis Anderson, RB, N.Y. Giants 1992 Mark Rypien, QB, Washington 1993 Troy Aikman, QB, Dallas 1994 Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas 1995 Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 1996 Larry Brown, CB, Dallas 1997 Desmond Howard, KR, Green Bay 1998 Terrell Davis, RB, Denver

1998 Super Bowl records SAN DIEGO (AP) Records set or tied in the 1998 Super Bowl: INDIVIDUAL Records Set Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game 3, Terrell Davis, Denver (old record: Elijah Pitts, Green Bay vs. Kansas City, 1967; Larry Csonka, Miami vs. Minnesota, 1974; Pete Banaszak, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1977; Franco Harris, Pittsburgh vs. L.A. Rams, 1980; Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders vs. Washington, 1984; Jim McMahon, Chicago vs. New England, 1986; Tim Smith, Washington vs. Denver, 1988; Tom Rathman, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990; Gerald Riggs, Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992; Emmitt Smith, Dallas vs. Buffalo, 1994; Emmitt Smith, Dallas vs. Pittsburgh, 1996). Oldest Player To Score A Touchdown - 37 years, John Elway, Denver (old record: 36 years, Willie Brown, 1977). Records Tied Most Games, Career - 5, Mike Lodish, Denver (ties record shared by eight others). Most Points, Game - 18, Terrell Davis (old record: Roger Craig, San Francisco vs. Miami, 1985; Jerry Rice, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990 and vs. San Diego, 1995; Ricky Watters, San Francisco vs. San Diego, 1995). Most Touchdowns, Game - 3, Terrell Davis (old record: Roger Craig, San Francisco vs. Miami, 1985; Jerry Rice, San Francisco vs. Denver, 1990 and vs. San Diego, 1995; Ricky Watters, San Francisco vs. San Diego, 1995). Most Passes Intercepted, Career, 7, John Elway, Denver (Craig Morton, Jim Kelly). TEAM Records Set Fewest Punt Returns, Both Teams - 0, Denver vs. Green Bay (old record: 2, done in four games). Fewest Punt Return Yards, Both Teams - 0, Denver vs. Green Bay (old record, 9, Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992). Records Tied Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game - 4, Denver (ties record by Chicago, 1986). Most Rushing Touchdowns, Both Teams, Game - 4, Denver (4) vs. Green Bay (0) (ties record done in three other games). Fewest Times Sacked, Both Teams, Game - 1, Denver (0) vs. Green Bay (1) (ties record set by Oakland vs. Philadelphia, 1981). Fewest Punt Returns, Game - 0, Denver; Green Bay (ties record shared by three other teams).

Super Bowl winners fared How the Super Bowl winners fared in their next season: 1967-Green Bay repeated and beat Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl. 1968-Green Bay finished third in the Central divison with a 6-7-1 record. 1969-New York Jets lost to Kansas City 13-6 in AFL divisional playoff. 1970-Kansas City finished second in the Western division with a 7-5-2 record. 1971-Baltimore lost to Miami 21-0 in AFC Championship. 1972-Dallas lost to Washington 26-3 in NFC Championship. 1973-Miami repeated and beat Minnesota 24-7 in Super Bowl. 1974-Miami lost to Oakland 28-26 in AFC divisional playoff. 1975-Pittsburgh repeated and beat Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl. 1976-Pittsburgh lost to Oakland 24-7 in AFC Championship. 1977-Oakland lost to Denver 20-17 in AFC Championship. 1978-Dallas lost to Pittsburgh 35-31 in Super Bowl. 1979-Pittsburgh repeated and beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in Super Bowl. 1980-Pittsburgh finished third in the Central division with a 9-7-0 record. 1981-Oakland finished fourth in the Western division with a 7-9-0 record. 1982-San Francisco finished eleventh in the conference with a 3-6-0 record. 1983-Washington lost to the Los Angeles Raiders 38-9 in Super Bowl. 1984-L.A. Raiders lost to Seattle 13-7 in AFC wild-card game. 1985-San Francisco lost to N.Y. Giants 17-3 in NFC wild-card game. 1986-Chicago lost to Washington 27-13 in NFC divisional playoff. 1987-N.Y. Giants finished last in NFC East division with a 6-9-0 record. 1988-Washington finished third in NFC East division with a 7-9-0 record. 1989-San Francisco repeated and beat Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl. 1990-San Francisco lost to N.Y. Giants 15-13 in NFC championship. 1991-N.Y. Giants finished fourth in NFC East division with 8-8-0 record. 1992-Washington lost to San Francisco 20-13 in NFC divisional playoff. 1993-Dallas repeated and beat Buffalo 30-13 in Super Bowl. 1994-Dallas lost to San Francisco 38-28 in NFC championship. 1995-San Francisco lost to Green Bay 27-17 in NFC divisional playoff. 1996-Dallas lost to Carolina 26-17 in NFC divisional playoff. 1997-Green Bay lost to Denver 31-24 in Super Bowl.


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