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THROWN FOR A LOSS

Remember the Six Blocks of Granite? How about the Purple People Eaters? And the No-Name Defense. Care to go against the Fearsome Foursome?

Hey, you ain't seen nothin' yet. This season the Denver Broncos have (take your pick):

A. The Eleven Slices of Toast
B. The Chenille Curtain
C. The Orange Mush
D. Wade's Maids

As the shell-shocked multitudes out at Mile High Stadium (and Jets fans) can tell you, that big orange "D" on the side of the local football helmet stands for Defenseless. So let's not get too far down on John Elway, despite two games' worth of killing interceptions and the strangest play (or nonplay) of his storied career. Biff's Whiff, which came as time was running out in that numbing collapse to the San Diego Chargers, was perfectly understandable. What more can you expect of a guy once he fires his club out to a 17-zip start in the first quarter, amasses 470 yards of total offense and puts 34 points on the board?

That should do the job, don't you think?
Who wouldn't suffer brain lock when the defense blows a pair of 17-point leads and gives up three long TD passes to untested receivers who would get all they could handle playing Oregon State? Under the circumstances, anyone might let the ball squirt out of his hand like a wet bar of soap.

So lay off the Biffster. For the Chargers debacle, you can blame the Eleven Slices of Toast. They could be the worst defense in the NFL.

More appropriately, though, blame the owners and coaches who put the original half a loaf of bread on the field in the first place. By week two of the new season, head coach Phillips had lost--count 'em--three consecutive games in Mile High Stadium and was switching his defensive players around like the deck chairs on the Titanic. Before last Sunday, Steve Atwater had played strong safety about as often as Hank Aaron, and retread Karl Mecklenburg probably needed a map to find his new middle-linebacker spot.

Speaking of the Meck, when the Great Hope of your defensive unit is a brave, tattered veteran cast off earlier in the year and begged back for peanuts only when everyone else has been injured or proven incompetent, you are in deep water, pal. Justifiably, Mecklenburg is an icon in these parts, but he's no Secret Weapon.

Meanwhile, Deion Sanders continues to hawk his wares. But the Donks say they're not interested in the swift, talented loudmouth, even though they're a million and a half bucks under the league salary cap. Go figure.

As for Sunday's debacle against Boomer Esiason and the thoroughly mediocre New York Jets, that vaunted Denver offense--Fassell's Flops?--has to share the blame with that pathetic "D." On at least two occasions, Elway's crew stood around--without much guidance--staring at the lovely New Jersey sky while the clock ran down on touchdown drives. With two minutes left in the game, trailing 19-22, they were at the Jets' 12, ready to pounce. They ran the ball up the middle. Hey. Why not settle for a field goal and delay everyone's dinner?

Why, indeed? A field goal is all the Jets needed to shoot the Donks down in overtime 25-22 and hand them their first 0-2 start since the year Nixon was elected. Of course, Boomer and veteran wideout Art Monk beat DB Ben Smith to set up Nick Lowery's winning boot, but that was the predictable chapter of the tale. The Broncos' poor game-in-crisis coaching and atrocious clock management were the surprising parts.

Things are not about to get any easier. On Sunday a significantly pissed-off bunch of Los Angeles Raiders come to town with an 0-2 mark of their own, and unless you've got brain lock yourself, you know that the Donks have not beaten the despised Silver and Black since just after World War I. The blue-chip firm of Ismail, Brown & Jett will probably lay down the law but quick in Mile High--despite the complete absence of a running game. Hey, paint an "80" on owner Al Davis's scrawny back and he could probably scorch Denver's secondary on the fly pattern. Can you say oh-and-three?

Oh, well. Misery and low-octane "D" love company.
The Dolphins, Patriots (77 points yielded in two games), Chargers, Eagles, Giants and Browns, among others, are also likely to give up a ton of touchdowns this season while lighting up the scoreboard pretty well themselves. This development comes just one year after fans found themselves snoozing through a endless series of 7-3 drag-a-thons in which the winning field goal went onto the board only when someone could drag the placekicker away from his Hungarian goulash.

Pro football's new rules have clearly pumped up the scoring this year. But that's not necessarily a good thing for teams with lots of pop and not much stop. For every eighty-yard strike Elway throws to Anthony Miller, there's likely to be a costly downfield chuck by one of Wade's Maids. For each third-and-eleven conversion to swift, sure-handed Mike Pritchard, an opponent working with great field position after a kickoff from the new thirty-yard-line mark will probably slam-donk a pair of colliding Bronco safeties.

For every Rod Bernstine blast up the middle, we may see a blown Denver field goal returned to its exact spot of origin. They don't call it the "Wade Phillips Rule" for nothing. But the Orange Mush may not be up to stopping teams with a lot of field behind them.

Time will tell whether Elway and these one-trick ponies can outshoot most of the teams remaining on the schedule. In the meantime, keep the abacus and the calculator close at hand. Because the Eleven Slices of Toast look like they'll get burned all season long.

This just in: Fassell's Flops may not be any better.

Say, did you catch Saint Bud at the Packers-Dolphins game in Milwaukee?
There he was, newly martyred Bud Selig, Dumbo-eared owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and so-called "acting commissioner" of major-league baseball, lolling around the football stadium on a Sunday afternoon like nothing has happened.

Remember that story about Nero fiddling while Rome burned? Well, when some inane NBC hairdo interviewed the estimable Mr. Selig (in the Brewers dugout, no less) about the state of the baseball strike, the pseudo-commish struck his customary agonized baseball-lover's pose, saying once again that no matter how "painful" things are now, they will get more painful if the game doesn't face up to its problems. Naturally, he also called the TV reporter by name eight or nine times. Shameless stroker.

What Saint Bud didn't do was show anyone the tangle of fish hooks in his wallet pocket.

What the reporter didn't do is ask why Selig wasn't chained to a conference table in New York, working like a dog to clear up this mess.

On the other hand, thank heaven for small favors: At least real baseball fans won't be subjected to a bogus World Series enacted by out-of-shape pitchers who can't break glass with their heaters and assorted shortstops who've spent the last month smoking ganja in the Dominican Republic.

When New York Giants manager and legendary curmudgeon John McGraw refused to face the upstart American League in the 1904 World Series, it was canceled. When Bud Selig has the nerve to show up at a football game in the same park where baseball could be under way this September, he should be canceled.

Hope someone head-slapped him with a Pabst keg at halftime.


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