Broncos at least equal of Giants at quarterback, if nowhere else
Well, it's down to the last shoot-out now. The 16-game National National Football League season and three weeks of playoffs have finally narrowed the original field of 28 teams to two. Now all that's left is for the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos to prove who is No.1 in Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena, Calif., a week from Sunday. I'm not even going to try to impress on all you nonbelievers the significance of this game, except to say that 30-second commercials are selling for $600,000 apiece!
It was inevitable that the mighty New York Giants would make it, but I guess everybody already knew that. When you have a defensive line that does almost everything but eat the quarterback, it's hard for the opposition to get anything started.
On Sunday the Washington Redskins lined up against the Giants in 14 third-down situations and couldn't get the job done once during a 17-0 defeat. For quarterback Jay Schroeder, who usually records only the sunny hours, it was like a day under the beach.
Offensively the Giants aren't too shabby, either. In their playoff victories over San Francisco and Washington, they outscored the opposition 66-3. Credit a lot of that success to the steadiness of quarterback Phil Simms, the determination of his receivers, and the clever running of 5 ft. 9 in. Joe Morris.
Right now I don't think you can say enough about the joint contributions that Simms (21 touchdowns passes) and Morris (eight 100-yard games) have made.
Aided by a huge offensive line, Simms has learned to stand back and pick up his receivers as if he were sighting through the hood ornament of a Rolls-Royce. Seldom does he throw the ball where his people can't catch it.
While Simms doesn't have the flash and dash of someone like Denver's John Elway, he doesn't really need it on this team, which has a running game capable of keeping any defense honest. The point man of this ground attack, of course, is Morris, a rubber-ball type who just bounces right back up whenever he gets slammed to the turf.
Probably the least impressed member of the Giants after their shutout of the Redskins was center Bart Oates, who said afterward: ``We only did what we were supposed to do, so what's the big deal?''
Arrogance or confidence? Don't ask me. I'm still working on which came first, the chicken or the egg; Liberace or Steinway; Benedict or Arnold.
Like almost all of their opponents, I don't think anyone can beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXI, either. They are too deep. Their game plan so far has left nothing to chance. And unlike some superlative teams that fall victim to overconfidence, these Giants aren't likely to make the mistake of thinking they can turn things on or off whenever they feel like it.
This is a franchise, after all, that hasn't won an NFL championship since the pre-Super Bowl days of 1956, and whose players are hungry to bring the game's ultimate prize to their city.
But then, nobody thought that the 1980 US Olympic ice hockey team could upset the Russians; that Villanova had any chance against Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA basketball final; or that Truman could beat Dewey.
Also, Denver is a team with little to lose. Not that much was expected of the Broncos after they dropped four of their last seven regular-season games and for a while seemed to be operating without a running attack. Now in the role of big underdogs they can afford to gamble in the Super Bowl and not be criticized.
Despite a marked preference for the Giants overall, most NFL scouts still feel that the Broncos are at least even in the quarterback department with John Elway, and perhaps even a little ahead.
In addition to his excellent mechanics when it comes to handing off or hiding the ball, Elway has the ultimate confidence of his receivers. He is also an excellent scrambler, with the ability to elude tacklers until somebody gets open or to run for good yardage when necessary.
There are no broken plays with John around, only the kind of delayed opportunities that can drive a defense crazy.
If Denver's offensive line can give this kid even a minimum amount of time to throw, he's going to get some balls out to his receivers that they can turn into first downs or maybe even a touchdown or two.
Elway was textbook Johnny Unitas last Sunday when, with Denver trailing Cleveland 20-13 in the AFC championship game, he engineered a 98-yard touchdown drive in the game's last minutes.
The key plays on this excursion included a 20-yard completion in a third-and-18 situation, a 9-yard scramble, and a bullet 5-yard TD pass with 37 seconds left.
Later, in overtime, placekicker Rich Karlis made the three-pointer from 33 yards out that gave Denver its 23-20 victory.
Perhaps the most important thing Elway has learned in his four years with Denver is that it's not enough just to find your primary receiver early. You also have to make sure, before you throw, that the safety or cornerback doesn't have time to close the gap, either to break up the play or, worse yet, to intercept the pass.
That's an important thing to remember against the Giants, who not only were second in overall defense in the NFL this season, but came up with what seemed like enough intercepted passes to weave a cable for the George Washington Bridge.