Originally published in the Daily Union (Shelbyville, IL) on February 2, 1999:
With as many pigskin prognosticators picking the Falcons in last Sunday’s Super Bowl as there were, one might have had the impression that they were the defending champions.
That’s just par for the course for the Denver Broncos, whose resounding losses during the franchise’s first four trips to the Super Bowl sadly earned them more disrespect than anything else.
Last year, most predicted the ever-glorious Packers, led by Brett Favrvrvrvre, would mop the field with John Elway’s head.
This year, the Falcons were supposed to hang in there ’til the final moments, with a chance to steal away a victory at the end.
Instead, Elway made the famed “Dirty Birds” look more like the “Diseased Pigeons”.
If Dean Smith was the only man capable of stopping Michael Jordan, then Super Bowl XXXIII only proved that Elway’s former coach Dan Reeves – with his equally conservative philosophy – apparently was the only man capable of stopping No. 7.
Kind of funny that perhaps Elway’s finest throw in a Super Bowl – an 80 yard touchdown to Rod Smith – came at the expense of Atlanta safety Eugene “I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Hooker!” Robinson, leaving him with much the same bewildered look he gave to an undercover cop just a few hours earlier.
In all fairness to Robinson, the cop that busted him reportedly was wearing the same outfit as the game’s National Anthem singer, Cher.
That could fool anybody.
It is somewhat of a shame the Falcons won’t be the ones visiting the White House later this month. Eugene and “Wild” Bill Clinton would have had plenty to talk about. Maybe he could give Robinson a few pointers for next time.
I will say this for the Atlanta free safety: When he got caught red-handed by the entire world, at least he owned up to it.
All joking aside, this article isn’t about Robinson’s visit to the Super Bowl gutter. It’s about Elway’s ability to climb out of it.
Sunday’s 336-yard effort puts him third on the list of top Super Bowl passing performances of all time.
The man who “couldn’t win the big game” has now won two, reducing the Elway detractors to making fun of his prominent front teeth, which are undoubtedly smiling from ear to ear now.
Of course, the only body parts that matter are the nimble legs and powerful right arm that have produced some of the game’s most jaw-dropping plays.
I truly pity those who think the best quarterback in history is one of the other back-to-back Super Bowl winners, who shall remain nameless here.
If you ever watched No. 7 in his younger days, scrambling away from two or three 300-pounders to fire a rocket 60 yards down – and across – the field for a completion into double-coverage, you missed it. Or never saw him take off and dive, not slide, head-first into a defender – bowling his way into the end zone. Or never looked in amazement as he handed the ball off, only to metamorphose into Steve Largent and beat his man for a touchdown reception.
But alas, 38 years on this Earth and the battering of an NFL lifetime have reduced the Broncos legendary signal-caller to your everyday, average Pro Bowl quarterback.
And to think, many of those same “experts” said if Sunday’s affair came down to a classic QB duel – that Atlanta’s Chris Chandler would have the edge.
That’s like thumbing your nose at a slab of beef wellington, instead opting for a stick of beef jerky.
In his first three trips to the Super Bowl, Elway was the one leading a cast of dead meat, only to be butchered by a team full of better players.
Never mind that no other quarterback could have taken those mediocre Bronco teams that far. Then someone got the bright idea of giving Elway a surrounding cast: offensive linemen that actually block, receivers taller than Warwick Davis sitting on Dr. Ruth’s shoulders. A defense that (gasp) defends!
And of course, a Hall-of-Fame running back in Terrell Davis doesn’t hurt either.
Now Elway’s NFL record 47 come-from-behind victories serve as a metaphor for his career – always saving the best for last.
So many times throughout his 16 seasons, it seemed as though John Elway was battling the clock, not the players on the opposing sideline.
Can he really drive his team 98 yards in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter? Can his aging body really hang around long enough to get back to the Super Bowl – and this time, win it?
In a way, he never really lost. He just simply needed more time.
But now the final gun has sounded, and there will be no comeback.
And I, for one, am minus a childhood hero because of it.
Editor’s Note: The Vault category was created so that I could post some of the old articles that were published in newspapers when I used to get paid to do this (very little, which no doubt shocks you). This article in particular was requested by my brother-in-law. So there.