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Elway does a lap around Mile High, but won't say it's his last; QB prefers to focus on job at hand, not retirement; AFC notebook


DENVER -- His victory lap around Mile High Stadium notwithstanding, John Elway wasn't ready to divulge any retirement plans in the wake of the Denver Broncos' 23-10 win over the New York Jets in yesterday's AFC championship game.

"My main focus is to finish this year before I think about what I'm going to do next year," Elway said.

Many here believe that this was Elway's last stand in Denver, and that Super Bowl XXXIII will conclude his illustrious career. Among them, apparently, is Mike Shanahan, his coach.

"It was an emotional time for John," Shanahan said. "He took that lap around the stadium, and I encouraged him to do it."

Elway admitted his reluctance.

"I guess I didn't feel comfortable [doing it]," he said. "But once I did, I was glad I did. These fans have been great for 16 years and I said I loved them.

"I got a chance to see the fans and look into their eyes, and I had a chance to really concentrate on them. Usually I'm so involved in the football game, it's hard to concentrate on them. So it was nice to be able to do that."

Next come the Falcons and Dan Reeves, who was the Broncos coach for Elway's first 12 seasons. It is a topic -- student against teacher -- that will be played over and over in the Super Bowl hype.

"He's got them playing great and Dan is a great football coach," Elway said. "When you look at what he's done in the last two years with them, it's just unbelievable."

'Cheap shot' irks Gordon

Denver cornerback Darrien Gordon delivered one of the biggest games of his career -- including two interceptions and a 36-yard punt return -- but his day ended with an ugly incident with Jets guard Matt O'Dwyer.

Gordon had returned his second interception 30 yards when he was tackled by O'Dwyer, who then appeared to twist Gordon's right knee. There was the typical shoving, and the Jets' other guard, Todd Burger, came away with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Gordon was particularly unhappy with O'Dwyer.

"It was the cheapest of cheap shots," he said. "If I had my gun, I'd have blown his brains out. I have a family to feed. Fortunately, it wasn't that serious."

Gordon said he had suffered a slight knee sprain.

Hebron kick-starts rally

Vaughn Hebron returned only one kickoff yesterday, but it was instrumental in getting the sluggish Broncos started. Three minutes into the second half, after the Jets had taken a 10-0 lead, Hebron returned a kickoff 28 yards to the Denver 36. It was the best starting field position Denver had since its first series of the second quarter.

"The momentum had clearly shifted to the Jets," said Hebron, a high school standout at Cardinal Gibbons. "They had just made some big plays. Everybody was looking for a spark. I said, 'Why not me?' "

Beautiful mess

Elway's longest pass play of the day -- a 47-yard completion to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey -- started with confusion out of the huddle. The play called was for Rod Smith to run a post pattern and McCaffrey to run a deep crossing route.

But somehow, out of the huddle, McCaffrey and Smith lined up incorrectly.

"They came out on the wrong side," Elway said. "I looked at Rod and he shook his head like he knew what he was supposed to do. Eddie came down and I said, 'Ed, you've got to run the post.' "

When New York safety Victor Green covered Smith on the crossing route, Elway threw to a wide-open McCaffrey.

Martin's miserable day

Curtis Martin looked like anything but a man who has rushed for more than 1,150 yards in each of his four pro seasons.

The Jet was held to a measly 14 yards on 13 rushes, and fumbled once. This allowed the Broncos' defense to direct its focus almost entirely to Vinny Testaverde's passing game.

"There was a man matched up on me wherever I went," said Martin, a Pro Bowl alternate. "I have to give them credit. They wrapped me up and made the tackles."


The championship game loss was the first for Jets coach Bill Parcells after three wins. The Broncos have a six-game winning streak in the postseason in which they have outscored the opposition 172-85. In those six games, they've also out-rushed the opponent, 1,176-411, an average of 196-69. Elway will start a record fifth Super Bowl in Miami, passing Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Jim Kelly, all of whom have started four. Defensive tackle Mike Lodish will become the first player to play in six Super Bowls -- four with Buffalo and two with the Broncos.

High in the saddle

The Denver Broncos yesterday became the first AFC team to qualify for their sixth Super Bowl. Most appearances:

No. Team Last time W-L

8 Cowboys '96 5-3

6 Broncos x-'98 1-4

5 Dolphins '83 2-3

5 Redskins '92 3-2

5 49ers '95 5-0

5 Steelers '96 4-1

x-before this season

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