By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
To hear the assorted hairdos on the boob tube tell it, you would have thought getting the Broncos onto that snowbound plane to balmy Buffalo Saturday night was a social imperative akin to feeding malnourished babies or keeping nuclear terrorists out of the Pentagon lunchroom. Forget about the sleepless expectant mothers or the little boys in need of organ transplants standing in long lines out at DIA to score a lukewarm Big Mac. David Diaz-Infante and Jason Elam are late for a very important date with the Buffalo Bills, so clear the decks. Closed, hell! We got a game to play.
Anyway, fans lucky enough to be stranded this weekend in their fire-lit living rooms instead of on the Pena Boulevard tundra saw their heroes slip by the punchless Bills 23-20 in overtime. They saw Terrell Davis rush for another 200 yards--207 yards on a team-record 42 carries, to be exact. And they saw their man John Elway come within a biceps tendon of the 50,000-yard mark in total offense--a milestone only Dan Marino and Fran Tarkenton have reached. Maybe the state's favorite car dealer wanted to go those last three yards on his home field this Sunday against Seattle. In any event, the low-wattage 133 yards' passing and 14 yards' rushing Elway put together against the Bills brought the tally to 49,997 for his career.
That's more than 28 miles of scrambles and fourth-quarter comebacks and sixty-yards-in-the-air cross-field darts. When it's finally all over for Elway--most likely about the time your kindergartner takes her honeymoon on Pluto--they probably shouldn't bother installing Number Seven's game jersey in the Hall of Fame at Canton. They ought to send the complete, navy-blue-clad physical unit--the Biffster himself, in the flesh--so that scientists decades from now can study the components: head, heart, bionic arm.
Meanwhile, thank heaven for the exemplary Mr. Davis.
Just when Elway needed a career extender most, Terrell bubbled up from the anonymous bottoms of the 1995 draft (he was the 196th player taken) to become one of the league's best running backs. How good? He had 1,117 yards in his rookie year, a team-record 1,538 in 1996 and has set a 2,000-plus-yard pace this season--something accomplished only by the O.J. Simpsons of this world. As long as those migraine headaches don't return and his offensive line doesn't start hanging out with Marv Albert and Charles Barkley, Davis is destined (if he isn't already) to become the Broncos' best running back ever--better than Floyd Little (8,741 yards and 43 touchdowns in nine seasons), better than Otis Armstrong (1,812 all-purpose yards in 1974), more valuable than all the Willhites and Winders and Humphreys and Gaston Greens and Blake Ezors put together.
Take Sunday. While Elway struggled through his second straight off-game--he was out of whack in that not-very-shocking team clunker out in Oakland, and he completed just one pass in a dismal second half against the Bills for six yards--Davis galloped merrily along with the entire team on his back until kicker Elam won the thing with a field goal in overtime. This is a refreshing change, of course, and one that has been duly noted in the league's dressing rooms. Where once the Broncos had to depend on Elway to pull games out of the fire (42 game-winning fourth-quarter drives!), Davis usually puts them out of reach in the third quarter. Has he got a future? You decide: The former Georgia running back, who played in the shadows of Garrison Hearst, turned 25 on Tuesday.
Supplied with a miracle drug like Terrell Davis in his golden years, the 37-year-old Elway could play on for a while. Some are even speculating that he could roll up 60,000 career yards and still be running around out there when the great drop-back purist Marino isn't passing anything but Cadillacs on the Florida Turnpike.
This blizzard weekend was also a good time for another sort of contemplation. While longtime Denver fans cozied up to their hot toddies Sunday afternoon, they probably couldn't help noticing a couple of things about the Buffalo Bills, a team whose fortunes (particularly at the Super Bowl) have run so parallel to those of the Broncos that it's spooky. For one thing, Bills running back Thurman Thomas, now 31, is well past his prime and is giving way to a youngster named Antuwain Smith; for another, quarterback Jim Kelly, four months older than Elway and the third honors graduate in the great quarterback class of 1983, is nowhere to be found. Without winning a Super Bowl, Machine Gun Kelly has retired, and without him, the Buffalo offense suddenly looks rudderless and indifferent. When distracted Andre Reed, one of the great Buffalo receivers of all time, dropped two passes in the open field Sunday, you could feel the energy of a once-great team seeping out into the ozone.
Could that happen to the 50,000-yard Man and the Broncos? If there's another Jacksonville Jaguars-style ambush in the works come this post-season, it could. If Terrell Davis gets hit by a bus or decides to join the priesthood, it could. If owner Pat Bowlen's push to extort public funding for a new stadium--the cost is now up to a cool $300 million--becomes a major distraction, it could. If the sky falls, it could.