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If this was Elway's farewell, hail the master at top of his game; SUPER BOWL XXXIII


MIAMI -- Witnessing John Elway dissecting a falling bird, in this case the Atlanta Falcons, was comparable to watching a blue-ribbon chef carve up a Christmas turkey. He came close to picking them clean.

If this was Elway's farewell to football after 16 years as the leader of the Denver Broncos, then let it be said he left in memorable fashion. He was at the top of his game, throwing bullet passes from all positions -- after dropping back and setting up, from deep out of the shotgun, on the run and even pitching half the distance of the field off a bootleg.

Elway responded in the Super Bowl as no other 38-year-old quarterback ever has. He has been to this excessive extravaganza five times, but this was, by far, his best of all performances in the postseason classic.

Elway completed 18 tosses out of 29 tries, amounting to 336 yards. He threw a bomb for one score, ran in another touchdown and had only one interception that should have been a completion, when tight end Shannon Sharpe dropped the ball for an obvious error.

The most valuable player award went to the Stanford product, which was a given. He dominated the action, helping Denver to its second straight Super Bowl victory and reduced the Falcons to the look of challenger that just didn't belong, so authoritative was the Elway-Broncos show.

The Broncos entered the grand finale somewhat off their earlier form, having lost two of their previous five games. The Falcons finished in a romp by winning their last 11, giving reason to believe they could continue to sustain perfection. Not so.

Such thinking became nothing more than a pipe dream. The Falcons made an honest effort but weren't equipped to handle the overall competence of a team that moved with all the alacrity of a smooth-functioning symphony orchestra. When Elway raised his arm, minus baton, he was indeed the peerless conductor.

All components fit into place. In Terrell Davis, a strong but not an especially swift runner, he was able to mix his much-respected cut-back ability with all the other things the Broncos were doing. Davis is one of those valuable backs who gets every inch out of what's there, as the Falcons found out to their deep regret.

The Falcons even keyed their defense to thwarting Davis, but stopping him brought only a temporary measure of encouragement. He was much too good to be controlled and completed the hard-working effort with 102 rushing yards.

Chris Chandler, Elway's counterpart with the Falcons, showed little more than minimal agility and less ability, which was no surprise. He's a journeyman and looked it, making the season-long coaching job by Dan Reeves all the more extraordinary.

Seemingly, every time the Falcons flurried, they ran into trouble, including three interceptions thrown by Chandler. The losers didn't score a scrimmage touchdown until only 2: 04 remained on the clock. A devastating defeat.

The Denver posse was sharp in most all elements, blitzing Chandler early, mainly with the speedy pressure exerted by linebacker Bill Romanowski. Elway and Davis moved the ball for large chunks of yardage, giving their team an opportunity to score twice in the third period -- which would have opened the floodgates of opportunity to a much easier victory.

But two long drives availed the Broncos nothing, after kicker Jason Elam missed two field goals. This kept Atlanta within temporary hailing distance until a deflected Chandler pass, wobbling like a wounded falcon, was intercepted by Darrien Gordon and returned more than half the length of the field late in the third quarter.

Denver had nothing to show for its considerable third-period movement of the ball, and it wasn't until four seconds into the fourth period that it pushed across a touchdown, taking the lead to 24-6. And Atlanta, a 7 1/2-point underdog, still hadn't broken the quarantine of the end zone.

The Falcons had no excuses and could hardly make one. Eugene Robinson, a safetyman of 14 years, brought embarrassment to himself and his team by being arrested on Super Bowl eve for soliciting an undercover police officer for prostitution. Reeves told his team before the kickoff that it had worked "too hard to get here not to win" and expressed the feeling that the team "was family."

Robinson was to be victimized by a touchdown strike over his head when Elway reached Rod Smith for an 80-yard express connection that took the earlier count in the second period to 17-3. It reaffirmed the importance of a quarterback to success on the field.

Elway even scored on a keeper from the 3 and left the field holding the ball and pumping his arms in ceremonial jubilation. He had experienced his greatest Super Bowl showing because even though he had played in four earlier renewals, including last year, John had never produced anything remotely approaching what he contributed in Super Bowl XXXIII.

There was even a full moon over Miami, glowing in all its glory, part of a glorious evening for the visitors from the Rockies.

They could do little wrong while going about asserting themselves in a professional manner that almost approached perfection. Atlanta was overmatched in every way resulting in a game that was more a runaway than the lights of 34-19 on the scoreboard conveyed.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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