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Elway's Long Bomb

In their own division, the Broncos will see double duty against Seattle, a 1998 disappointment that now comes under the firm hand of ex-Packers coach Mike Holmgren. The Chiefs can only improve now that Elway doesn't have snakebit Marty Schottenheimer to punch around anymore. And if, in this millennial year, you're predicting an infestation of locusts or an assault by flaming serpents, consider this: As always, the Broncos will twice have to contend with the Antichrist himself--Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders.

Oh, and how about Famine? In '99 Denver will also visit Jacksonville. Any orange-blooded Broncos fan with his looting skills intact will always remember Jacksonville. In January, 1997, the Jaguars were the Last Judgment.

So while John Elway rests his weary body parts this winter and contemplates a last fling at football in the 21st century, we might all do well to set aside the Broncos playbook for a moment and take up another volume that is valuable to the present moment. Written in 1841 by one Charles Mackay, this cautionary tale chronicles the terror that seized all Christendom at the end of the tenth century--when professional sport consisted of heaving your opponent into a vat of boiling oil or bopping him on the head with a mace. So convinced were people back then that the destruction of the world and the final reckoning would come at the close of their millennium that thousands trembled speechlessly in the dark, expired of sheer fright, swallowed poison or dashed their heads against rocks.

Come November or December, the title of Mackay's book might even begin to ring strangely true with Broncos fans who were earlier counting on their beloved quarterback to loft them to glory once more in the new millennium. It is called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Osterreich Uber Alles: If you've been to Vienna, you know about the local pastries--sumptuous delicacies that not even the hautiest French chef could hope to match with an icing gun in each fist.

But there are no cream puffs on the Austrian ski team. Not in the teacherous speed events at the World Alpine Championships, anyway.

On Saturday the fearless Hermann Maier--beloved in his homeland (and at Arnold Schwarzenegger's house) as the "Hermanator"-- destroyed Beaver Creek's daunting Birds of Prey downhill course, shouldering gates out of his path left and right and finishing more than three-tenths of a second ahead of Norway's Lasse Kjus. In ski racing, three-tenths of a second is akin to a lazy afternoon on the sundeck sipping Mosel.

It was Maier's second gold at the Worlds. Earlier in the week he won the men's super-G.

But he's got nothing on the Austrian women. Leaving top contenders like Italy's Isolde Kostner and Germany's Hilde Gerg in their snowy wakes (and injured American Picabo Street in the lodge), the Hermanator's schnell female teammates swept the super-G and downhill on Vail's tricky International course. Among them, Renate Goetschl, Michaela Dorfmeister, Alexandra Meissnitzer and Stefanie Schuster won all six podium spots in the two women's speed events and will not soon forget their visit to Vail.

"We have some good racers on this team," downhill winner Goetschl allowed. Yes, and you can get a pretty fair slice of cake in Vienna.

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