Elway sheds rookie image; Steeler provides home; 49er in a rush

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Rookie quarterback John Elway of the Denver Broncos, trying to learn a game that is different from the one he played in college, has not always called the correct offensive formation this season for plays sent in from the bench. That has been the chief reason for most of the sideline turbulence lately between Elway and Head Coach Dan Reeves, who says that sometimes Elway doesn't listen to his instructions carefully enough.

But John may have gotten the training wheels off his career permanently Sunday with three touchdown passes in a 21-19 win over Baltimore. That victory improved the Broncos' won-lost record to 9-6 and, with Buffalo's loss to San Francisco, put Denver in the playoffs (as a wild card) for the first time since 1979.

Steeler with a heart of gold

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Cornerback Mel Blount, the Pittsburgh Steelers' all-time leader in interceptions with 56, has turned his Georgia farm into a home for teen-age boys who have been in trouble with the law. Blount currently has four kids, ranging in age from 12 through 17, living on his 2,700-acre spread, where they help with the work along with attending public school.

''I think one of life's biggest blessings is growing up on a farm,'' Mel explained. ''Too many kids today don't have any responsibilities or any regular chores spelled out for them. But my daddy always kept us busy. At the time I thought he was just working our socks off for nothing, but now I know better. We were busy and we didn't have time to get into trouble.I never heard of drugs when I was growing up on the farm.''

Blount's mother and brothers also live year-round on his farm. Good man in a rush

One of the best things the division-leading San Francisco 49ers have going for them is non-regular Fred Dean, an aggressive defensive end who is at the leading edge of most of his team's pass rushes. The 49er coaching staff picks spots for Dean's special talents, much the way a baseball manager would select a pinch hitter.

Said defensive line coach Bill McPherson about Dean: ''Fred is so good at putting pressure on the quarterback that he often takes opponents out of their game plan. Two things seem to happen whenever we insert Fred into a game: opponents either hold their tight end in to help with the blocking or use one of their running backs to help protect the passer. In either case, it's one less receiver our secondary has to cover.''

Dean, a nine-year veteran, leads the NFC West in quarterback sacks this year with 161/2. Redskins on a roll

The Washington Redskins, particularly after the way they handled the Dallas Cowboys in a 31-10 rout last Sunday, will probably be favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

Since going 0-5 at the start of his first season as head coach in 1981, Joe Gibbs has built himself a powerful machine. Washington has now won 13 of its last 14 games and 27 of its last 30. The only teams to beat the Redskins in the last two years have been Dallas (twice), plus the Green Bay Packers, who won a 48-47 thriller back on Oct. 17.

Although there are fancier runners in the league than John Riggins (Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, etc.), Riggins is easily the best short yardage back in the NFL. John's ability to break through a wall of opponents in third down situations has enabled the Redskins to hold onto the ball for long periods in almost every game they have played this season. While Riggins isn't considered fast, in two quick strides he generates enough leg power so that he hits like a fighter with a thunderbolt in either hand. Playoff picture

With one game left in the NFL's regular season, Washington, Dallas, Miami, Denver, Pittsburgh, and the L.A. Raiders have already clinched playoff berths. Still hoping to secure spots are Buffalo, Cleveland, New England, and Seattle in the AFC, and Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, and the L.A. Rams in the NFC.

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