Is John Elway next?
In the wake of Michael Jordan's announcement that he is retiring, there's a lot of speculation that Elway will be playing his last game at Mile High Stadium today when the Broncos play the New York Jets in the AFC title game.
"This whole thing is going to be incredibly emotional," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "It could be the last time I watch No. 7."
Even though Elway said at the start of the season that he was "99 percent certain" this would be his last year, he is not joining in the speculation.
"I'm not even thinking about that," he said last week. "I don't want to take the focus off what we're doing, and that's to win this football game. I'm not going to ever let it enter my mind what I'm doing next year. I'm just going to try to enjoy this."
Elway spent much of last off-season debating whether to return after winning his first Super Bowl last January.
"This is what I came back for, these situations," he said. "I'm going to try to enjoy this now and cross that bridge after the season is over. I'm got plenty of time to make that decision in the off-season."
If the Broncos make the Super Bowl, the speculation will continue that he'll quit on top.
But don't be surprised if he comes back. If he wins the Super Bowl, he'll want to try to become the first quarterback to win three in a row. If he doesn't, he'll want another chance to go out on top again.
Elway is just playing too well to walk away from it. He likes playing too much to quit when he's still effective.
Denver running back Terrell Davis said, "He could have retired last year. But I think it's the hunger of winning championships and probably the reason why most come back. Michael won six. If he was satisfied with one, he easily could have retired back then. But I think it's just a great feeling to win championships."
Coaches aren't much better than players when it comes to retiring. Jimmy Johnson of the Miami Dolphins was ready to quit for one night before he was talked into returning, with former sidekick Dave Wannstedt as assistant head coach.
Johnson sounded sincere when he said the death of his mother and the fact he was late for her wake to coach a football game made him realize there are other things in life than football. In effect, he decided it was time to get a life.
This is the same man who dumped his wife after he left the University of Miami for the Dallas Cowboys, saying he didn't need a wife in the pros because there were no functions where he needed a spouse to accompany him. He was content to live alone with his fish.
Now Johnson says he'll marry his longtime girlfriend and spend more time with his grown sons and father, who is suffering from cancer.
What may be frustrating Johnson more than the lack of family life is the losing. He didn't realize how difficult it would be to rebuild in Miami.
He's kidding himself that the Dolphins are only a couple of playmakers away from being a contender. That may be true, but finding them is not easy. Just ask the Ravens.
Meanwhile, Marty Schottenheimer "retired" in Kansas City, but nobody doubts he'll be back next year. The only problem will be that his next team will have to give the Chiefs compensation because he has three years left on his contract.
Schottenheimer had a frustrating year but he may have wanted to leave Kansas City because of the rumors about problems in his personal life.
Without being asked about them, he said in a statement, "These rumors are absolutely false and untrue."
It had probably gotten to the point that it didn't matter whether the rumors were true. They were so prevalent in Kansas City that it was probably uncomfortable for Schottenheimer and his wife to live there.
Mariucci staying put
It's kind of like the story of the dog that didn't bark.
With all the change and rumors of change, three coaches who had been subject of much speculation kept their jobs.
Steve Mariucci finally got his extension in San Francisco, which means he won't be going to Cleveland. And Pete Carroll is staying on for another year in New England despite all the unflattering comparisons with Bill Parcells. But he's now on the hot seat to win next year.
Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin finally signed his contract extension in Jacksonville.
When he hired Robert Fraley -- who also represents Parcells -- as his agent, some speculated that he might try to pull a Parcells and seek greener pastures.
Since he already had all the power in Jacksonville, that didn't make much sense.
But this is an era when successful coaches always seem to looking for something else, and he finally realized he's better off not leaving.
His return isn't good news for the Ravens, since Coughlin is 8-0 against them, including their last year in Cleveland.
Assuming the two home teams win today, the hype will begin about 7: 30 tonight. The matchup of the 17-1 Minnesota Vikings against the 16-2 Denver Broncos would be hailed as one of the best Super Bowl matchups ever.
It'll be easy to hype the battle of the highest-scoring offense ever vs. Elway. Don't be surprised, though, if it doesn't live up to expectations.
This has all the makings of one of those Super Bowl blowouts that Elway experienced three times early in his career.
This time, though, he would likely be on the winning side.
It would pit a dome team that has trouble stopping the run on grass against a grass team that has the best runner in the league.
Minnesota's only loss came on grass in Florida to a team, Tampa Bay, that ran the ball for 246 yards.
Denver's Davis would be likely to run for close to 200 yards against the Vikings on grass in Miami.
Grandmom forces apology
Shannon Sharpe of the Broncos was forced to apologize by his grandmother for calling Dan Marino a loser after the Broncos beat the Dolphins.
"She didn't say hello, she didn't say I'm glad you won, she said, 'Why'd you talk about him like that?' and she doesn't even know Dan Marino from anybody. But she wanted to know why I talked about him like that," he said.
Sharpe said he didn't mean it the way it sounded, but he still apologized.
Vinny Testaverde of the New York Jets got a $400,000 bonus for getting to the AFC title game and gets another $200,000 bonus if he makes the Super Bowl.
Now that Schottenheimer has "retired" and Mike Holmgren has switched teams, Bill Cowher of the Steelers and Dennis Green of the Vikings top the league for seniority, each with seven years with their current team.
Elway has a career record of 102-25 at home and 58-64-1 on the road. Two of his four AFC title game victories (in Cleveland and Pittsburgh) have come on the road.
"We need some more players, let's face it."
-- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin after being eliminated by the New York Jets and failing for the second straight year to return to the AFC title game.
Pub Date: 1/17/99