Broncos' Elway riding high after Super Bowl

Veteran led Broncos to second straight win, adding to hisrsum as one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks.

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian ScienceMonitor

It's not the considerable magnitude of Denver's smashing 34-19 Super Bowl win over Atlanta - remember, it was 31-6 with 11:20 left in the game - that is being evaluated around office water coolers today. Rather, it's the considerable magnitude of John Elway's stupendous performance that has mouths of sports fans in overdrive.

Understand that Elway has 149 wins, the most ever for an NFL quarterback. His ability to construct comebacks is the best in sport. His achievements pepper record books and will for eons.

His numbers dwarf all the other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, and Sammy Baugh; that's why Elway will be an automatic inductee when his time comes.

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He's likely the best QB of all time.

Against this statistical backdrop of wonderment, Elway came into Super Bowl XXXIII Sunday needing to do just one thing: prove himself.

Very odd but very true. That's why he approached the contest with a steely-eyed determination and ended up passing for a whopping 336 yards against a Falcon defense that began having all the appearances of pleading for mercy.

Riding herd on the Falcons

He passed for one score and ran for another. His best play of the night came in the second quarter, when he hit his wide receiver, Rod Smith, with a terrific throw down the middle of the field that smoked hapless defender Eugene Robinson; the play went for 80 yards and a touchdown.

All night, Elway read the Falcon defenses with all the ease of a veteran pickpocket zeroing in on an unsuspecting tourist.

"I'm just glad I was able to hold up my end," said the typically understated Elway amid a swarm of photographers and a crushing mob of yapping reporters. "All I can do is the best that I can."

Sharing the glory

What made it necessary for Elway to prove himself anew is that over the 1998 season, talk was rampant about the enormously talented running back, Terrell Davis. The almost unanimous opinion was it was Davis's ability to run that was making the Broncos special.

Then there was talk that the three main Denver receivers - Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, and Smith - were amazingly extraordinary. Then there were all the laudatory things being said about the offensive line

Then there was the heaping praise on the genius of head coach Mike Shanahan. Gadzooks, even the assistant coaches were getting public adulation.

Sort of left out was any reference to one John Elway.

There was nothing malicious, and Elway, the ultimate team player, wasn't whining. It was simply that he is so good that folks starting searching for other reasons to explain Denver's success.

Sunday night in Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Elway brought everything back into focus. He is, hands down, why the Broncos are good. No need to search any further. Without him, well, nobody wants to even contemplate that.

Davis was great, rushing for 102 yards; the receivers were great; the defense was great, notably cornerback Darrien Gordon, who snagged two interceptions; Shanahan was great.

But by far the greatest of all was Elway. He was MVP. "That speaks for itself," says Shanahan.

Of course, he has been full-time MVP for 16 years. Some just forgot.

Going for three in a row?

Elway almost retired prior to this season. Now the same conversation will start over. No NFL team has ever won three straight Super Bowls. There is some thinking that carrot might entice Elway to return for one more year.

He refused to discuss it much after the game, saying reasonably that the reason he came back this year was to try to win a second Super and then to enjoy it.

Working out his immediate future will not come ahead of enjoying his immediate past.

Truth is, Elway was so dominant that the Falcons seemed to be flapping ineffectively from the start. Atlanta did win the coin toss, and when Denver tried to kick off, the ball twice blew off the tee. That was about the end of any significant Falcon success.

Statistically, while the Broncos didn't stampede Atlanta, it's also true that the Falcons never really had a chance. Running back Jamal Anderson had 96 yards. QB Chris Chandler threw for an acceptable 219 yards, but three interceptions more than nullified any of his good works.

"We didn't play very well," conceded losing coach Dan Reeves.

Meanwhile, John Elway reaffirmed grandly that there's no new sheriff in town because the old one never left.

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