Certain Christian theologians tell us that the worst thing that can happen to a person is to catch a momentary vision of heaven, then watch the big gate swing shut without getting to go inside.

Even if that's not true, it could explain what's wrong with those thugs and vigilantes in the South Stands who were throwing stuff at Wade Phillips after the Raiders blowout. It might be the key to the hundreds of bellowing No-Lifers who waited around for another hour to heap abuse on the players as they came wobbling out to their cars. Hey, the poor bastards were just trying to get home for dinner.

If the lunatics could have gotten to the Buffalo fiasco, they probably would have planted a bomb on the Broncos' plane. Or lynched Phillips from a light fixture at the airport. Or ripped John Elway's heart out of his chest.

All because they've had a maddening glimpse of heaven. Four glimpses, actually.

In cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego or Tampa, the "Super Bowl" is a place where the Tuesday night mixed leagues meet to hook 'em in from the Brooklyn side and drink a little beer. For Denverites, as for--whaddya call 'em, anyway? Buffaloids?--the Super Bowl is paradise with the door slammed. And that unrequited vision has gotten so far under the skins of local football fans this year that they've gone ballistic. The fools. Phillips (that son-of-a-Bum!) has been reinvented as the U-boat captain who sank the Lusitania. Ray Crockett is suddenly Benedict Arnold. Steve Atwater is Steve Ratwater. And Elway, alas, is now Smellway.

The Broncos can't do anything right, and the fans can't seem to get over it. Because this club isn't going to get a fifth shot at heaven.

What they did get Sunday was a deserved day of rest. That means they didn't lose, and we have it on good authority that the entire team and coaching staff spent the time wisely.

To wit:
Gary Zimmerman and Butler By'Not'e were spotted out at the dump burning those awful "throwback" unis the league made everyone wear in its misguided attempt to make football fans feel warm and nostalgic about the game. Of course, warm and nostalgic is not the NFL fan's customary state of mind. When the home team loses (and sometimes, even when it wins), any male worthy of the name goes home and beats his wife with a tire iron. The true-blue female enthusiast retaliates by making chicken pot pies again. Nostalgia, hell. The Donkeys' "throwback" duds (worn in 48-16 and 27-20 losses) came from 1965--the year Lyndon Johnson widened the war in Vietnam. Let's hope Zimmerman and By'Not'e threw a little napalm onto the flames.

Members of the defensive backfield reportedly spent all of Sunday morning with Richard Butt-Kiss, M.D., certified psychoanalyst. The good doctor's method, as we understand it, was to encourage the boys to set free their pent-up aggressions. "This is the thing they failed to do against New York and Los Angeles," Butt-Kiss explained. "Let it go, I told them. Let it all go. And they did." A fierce, hour-long pillow fight ensued right there in the doctor's office, after which several members of the team, having experienced catharsis, pronounced themselves ready and able for the Boise State game. "Gonna kill 'em," one player reportedly said. "Just make sure these pillows get packed with the other equipment."

Smellw--er, Elway (see how easy it is to slip into that angry-mob mentality?) began writing his memoirs Sunday. According to his editors, Joseph Montana and William Parcells, the book will recount the strong-armed quarterback's glory days at Stanford University, his lifelong friendship with coach and trusted mentor Dan Reeves and his innermost thoughts at the start of the legendary "Drive" against Cleveland ("Holy shit! Maybe I should've signed with Baltimore!"), as well as the uncanny prophecy he made amid Washington's 35-point surge against Denver in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII ("Jesus, these guys will probably beat us XLII to X!"). Elway is said to be paying particular care to the chapter on test-driving Hondas. The Broncos star is writing his book, to be titled Thirty-two Crises, in longhand, on lined legal pads. The only early problem was getting a grip on his ballpoint pen--it keeps slipping out of his hand at crucial junctures.

Defensive coordinator Charlie Waters, who's certainly taken his share of heat during the Broncos' 0-4 start, was thanking his lucky stars Sunday that discarded veterans Karl Mecklenburg and Dennis Smith have returned to the team. "We may have given up 137 points so far," Waters said, "but just you wait. So what if Smitty is getting $9.75 an hour--he's worth every nickel of it! And Meck! You can put him at middle linebacker. He'll play free safety. Hey, running back. Meck'll carry the ball for us if we ask him to--and with our injuries, he might have to. What a gamer! Who cares if the guy's so old that he can't remember his kids' names half the time? Or that we have to feed him with a spoon? He's got a heart as big as, let's see--uh, as big as Northglenn--and that's what counts."

But Waters wasn't only lavishing praise on his charges during the bye week. He was also talking contract with Howard Johnson, the veteran outfielder released last week by the Colorado Rockies. "You ever seen this guy?" Waters enthused. "He hits a lot harder than our cornerbacks."

Several of the more contemplative Broncos found themselves in attitudes of prayer on Sunday. Back-up quarterback Hugh Millen, for one, reportedly grasped his clipboard to his chest and thanked God that no one--absolutely no one in the stands, on the talk shows or in the local papers--has had occasion to utter his name this season. If something happens to Elway--if, say, Lee Harvey Oswald shoots him from a high window, or Dan Saleaumua tears off one of his arms--then Millen might have to go into a game someday and take a couple of snaps. But Biff will still play the second half. Because he's The Franchise.

Meanwhile, occasional running back Rod Bernstine, who's got more old bangs and bruises on him than the fourth turn at the Indy 500, is probably glad that it's all over again in '94. Forget about opposing defenses. Running that gauntlet to the Denver locker room in a hail of bottles and rocks is certainly more hazardous than anything the Chiefs or Giants can dish out. Bernstine's just happy to be home on the couch with his constant companion--a torn anterior cruciate ligament. That's what old GIs used to call a million-dollar wound. The only difference is that Rod literally gets the million.

Various players who hated the man when he was here spent the day writing a long, contrite letter to ex-coach Reeves, begging him to come home--and to bring his cat-o'-nine-tails with him. "We love that throbbing vein in your neck," one 300-pound supplicant wrote, "and we miss the way you scream at us like children. Please come back. They say that, deep down, Hitler wasn't a bad guy, either. Besides, if we've learned anything this year, it's the value of good, old-fashioned discipline. To build up our hand-eye coordination, Wade has us play with plastic ducks in the whirlpool. And we just don't think it's working!"

And finally on Sunday, the Broncos' entire bruised and battered defensive line, still dingy from the Bills game, went to get measured for their Super Bowl rings. Then they drove out to DIA to watch the planes land. Saw 'em, too. Looked just like heaven.


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