Broncos can't match Giants' rich history; unique award to Bird

In some regards, Sunday's Super Bowl teams are as different as the cities they represent. The New York Giants are an old-line National Football League team, the Denver Broncos a charter member of the American Football League. Since the leagues merged, they've remained in separate conferences and seldom met on the field. When Giant fans think back to the team's earlier glory years, they often hark back to the latter half of the 1950s and early '60s. The club won its last NFL title in 1956 and reached the championship game in '58 and '59. The '58 contest, a 23-17 sudden-death overtime loss to the Baltimore Colts, was one of the most dramatic in NFL history and a clear turning point in the popularization of pro football on national television.

In '59 the same two teams met again, Baltimore winning more decisively this time, 31-16. The Giants would go on to play in three more championship games in the early '60s (in '61, '62, and '63), losing twice to Green Bay and once to Chicago.

Thereafter the team went into a long period of decline and stagnation, frustrated in its attempts to replace such retired greats as Frank Gifford, Charlie Conerly, Sam Huff, and Roosevelt Grier, who had made the Giants a perennial power.

In 1960 the Broncos won the first game in AFL history, beating the Boston Patriots, 13-10, but for nearly a decade and a half they experienced no more success than the lackluster Giants. They tried all sorts of things to get untracked. In 1962 the team's notorious, vertically striped socks were burned to no avail. A nine-player trade in 1964 didn't prove to be the answer, either. It wasn't until 1974 that Denver enjoyed its first winning season. Three years later the Broncos had assembled a group, led by the ``Orange Crush'' defense, that would advance to Super Bowl XII against Dallas.

The Cowboys' offensive coordinator that season was Dan Reeves, Denver's current head coach. He helped devise the plan that beat the Broncos, 27-10. His boss on the Dallas sideline, in an interesting coincidence, was Tom Landry, who, as an assistant with the Giants in the late '50s, had built that team's outstanding defense. A special Bird

Winning awards is old hat to forward Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. Last season he joined Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as only the third player to win the National Basketball Association's MVP award three consecutive seasons. More recently, however, he achieved a distinction shared by neither Russell, Chamberlain, nor any other basketball player, pro or college, before him. He was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.

Considering the prominent status of Bird's sport in the United States, and the superior athletes who have played it, one is baffled that the AP has taken so long to bestow the honor on a basketball player. The award, after all, has been presented every year since 1931, when Pepper Martin won it for his baseball exploits. How now Al for hall?

Maybe the most intriguing finalist in this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame elections is Al Davis, who has been a thorn in the National Football League's side for quite some time. The irascible managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders would never be mistaken for a ``house'' man, and has had several acrimonious battles with the league, including one over the team's move from Oakland to L.A. Davis, whose playing career ended in college, is up for election as a ``contributor.'' How the panel of 30 voters defines this category may determine whether Davis is elected to the hall Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl.

Maybe some will remember him primarily as the AFL commissioner at the time of the AFL-NFL merger in 1966, or as the AFL Coach of the Year in 1963. Others may see him as a man of many hats, from scout to owner, who has been instrumental in making the Raiders a winning organization. Still others, however, may see him primarily as a maverick, a disruptive force, and not vote for him. Measure of a champion

Tennis magazine has gone to great lengths to compile a statistical report card demonstrating Martina Navratilova's dominance, with all the numbers on Grand Slam titles, winning streaks and percentages, prize money, and rankings. Maybe the most striking nugget is her head-to-head record against major rivals, past and present.

Many tennis watchers knew the AP's Female Athlete of 1986 had overtaken Chris Evert Lloyd in match victories (37 to 33), but few probably realized she held a career edge in match-ups against three superstars of the 1960s and '70s. Her record against Billie Jean King is 9-6; against Evonne Goolagong, 14-12; and against Margaret Court, 4-2. Touching other bases

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in the midst of a major youth movement, are starting three rookies, which is a rarity even for a young NBA team. This obviously is a rather special trio, however, since Ron Harper, John Williams, and Brad Daugherty are Cleveland's leading scorers. Harper is averaging 22.2 points a game, Williams 14.9, and Daugherty 13.8.

Jim (Catfish) Hunter, who played for the Yankees and A's, was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with outfielder Billy Williams, who spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs. Hunter was a ``money pitcher'' with the Oakland A's when they won the World Series in 1972, '73, '74. He also was a mainstay of New York's staff when in '77 and '78 the Yankees became the last team to win back-to-back world championships. Quotable quotes

Jim Valvano, North Carolina State's basketball coach, talking about criticism of the way he ``cashed in'' after the Wolfpack's 1983 national championship: ``Why shouldn't I milk it? We're an agricultural institution.''

University of Washington football coach Don James: ``It's really important for me to see all my players graduate. But there's something that's always bothered me about this subject. A youngster with 140 hours of college degree work is five hours short of getting his diploma, and he's a failure. But the other guy who has gotten five more hours and his degree is a success. I don't agree with that at all.''

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