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Elway, on a run, shouldn't think of walking


MIAMI -- Think it's going to be easy for John Elway to retire now, after what happened last night at Pro Player Stadium? Better think again.

Oh, sure, the Broncos' 34-19 victory over the Falcons would make a perfect ending to Elway's career. It gave the Broncos a second straight Super Bowl title, with Elway in the starring role this time as the game's MVP. He passed for 336 yards and a touchdown and gave his best Super Bowl performance ever.

It was the football version of Michael Jordan's title-winning jump shot at Utah last spring, a finish almost too perfect to be true. Now Elway, 38, can go out on top, too, just as Jordan did.

But why should he? With all due respect to one of the game's great quarterbacks, why retire now?

His situation is different from Jordan's. Elway waited years for a supporting cast equal to his talents to appear in Denver, and now, finally, after years of frustration, it has. So what if it took until late in his career? At last, the Broncos have the running game and defense they lacked when Elway was taking them to Super Bowls almost by himself. They have balance, depth and maybe the best coach of all.

It's a situation so perfect that you'd almost think Elway drew up the blueprint himself. His offense doesn't rely on him now, as it did for so long.

Terrell Davis carries the load. The pressure is off Elway. And his line protects him as if he were made of fine china.

He's going to walk away from all that?

Just turn his back and become a stay-at-home dad with the Broncos clearly established as the NFL's best team and a favorite to register a first-ever Super Bowl three-peat next season?

We'll believe it when we see it.

"This definitely throws a kink in [any retirement plans]," Elway said last night.

He wasn't saying he'd decided to go against his original plan to retire after one more season. But it was easy to see his mind working during the victory celebration. This was fun. Why not keep going?

Hey, he should. In fact, not only should he keep going, he should put the whole issue to bed for the foreseeable future and keep playing until his game really falls off.

Look at Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde. Old quarterbacks had great seasons all over the NFL this season, and Elway was better than most. The moral? Keep going. Don't stop too soon.

Oh, we know we advised Elway to quit after the Broncos' Super Bowl victory over the Packers last year, when the high of him finally getting a championship ring after so many years of frustration created an emotional spectacle.

But that was before he came back this year and pitched the Broncos to 17 wins in 19 games while registering the AFC's second-best quarterback rating. He passed for 2,806 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only 10 interceptions.

He's not the daredevil playmaker he was for so long, but he's sound and smart and passing as well as ever.

His strong season culminated last night. Elway hadn't played well in any of his four prior trips to the big game, including last year's win.

But he was on last night. His passing was crisp and he made a passel of big plays, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith that broke open the game in the second quarter.

"The old man still has the gift," Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe said.

The Falcons were obliging, using their first trip to the Super Bowl to work on an imitation of the Buffalo Bills.

Atlanta blew numerous scoring chances, gave up big plays and experienced all sorts of bad luck. You know what they looked like? They looked like the Atlanta Falcons playing in the Super Bowl. And it wasn't pretty.

Of course, their worst stroke of luck was self-inflicted, occurring when safety Eugene Robinson, a team leader regarded as one of the NFL's class acts, was arrested 21 hours before kickoff on a charge of soliciting oral sex from an undercover officer disguised as a prostitute.

Nicknamed "Prophet" by teammates, Robinson was hours removed from winning a Christian humanitarian award and had recently published an inspirational book. His wife, two children and parents were in South Florida to see him play.

Other Falcons said last night they weren't distracted by the stunning allegations, although it's hard to see how they weren't.

In any case, given how Elway, Davis and the rest of the Broncos' offense played, it didn't matter, anyway.

Davis rushed for 102 yards on 25 carries, providing the glue that kept drives together. And Elway spread his completions among six receivers, keeping the Falcons off balance.

The Broncos were just too good. Way too good.

Last night wasn't the time for Elway to make his big decision, of course. The roars of the crowd were still ringing in his ears. The joy of winning another Super Bowl was just minutes old. He was on a football high.

But it's a high that could continue next season, given how Elway played last night and all season, and given how much distance exists between the Broncos and the rest of the NFL.

We know Denver coach Mike Shanahan has said he expects Elway to retire in the end, and we know Elway had previously left open only the tiniest crack in the door. But suddenly, it's hard to see him walking away, isn't it? Hard to see him giving up on a three-peat.

Would you?

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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