The underdog Washington Redskins were a little late for their 42-10 Super Bowl rout of the favored Denver Broncos. Maybe it was the traffic, a broken alarm clock, or poor directions, because the real Washington team didn't show up until the start of the second period. By that time, Denver led 10-0, and Bronco quarterback John Elway, who threw a 56-yard scoring pass to Ricky Nattiel on his team's first play, was being measured for the MVP award. It was all Broncos, and there was every indication that it would stay that way. In fact, during most of the first period, Washington looked like a Hollywood version of Laurel and Hardy at the Super Bowl. If you closed your eyes and listened, you could almost hear Ollie telling Stan: ``Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten me into!''
But just about the time the crowd was convinced that Washington didn't have a second act, Redskin quarterback Doug Williams closed down Valley Forge and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders. Elapsed time of play: 10 seconds!
Overall, Williams completed 18 of 29 passes for a record 340 yards and four touchdowns in a performance that earned him the game's Most Valuable Player award. Mostly because of Doug, plus a bulldozing offensive line, Washington was able to score 35 points in 15 minutes. By comparison, Elway completed only 14 passes, threw three interceptions, had several passes batted down at the line, and was sacked five times.
When the issue of Williams being the first black quarterback to both start and win a Super Bowl surfaced again in postgame interviews, the one-time Grambling ace said: ``I didn't come here as a black quarterback. I came here as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.''
Maybe this had nothing to do with Washington's comeback, but late in the first period the Redskins changed the cleats on their shoes from mid-length to long for better traction.
Anyway, once Williams discovered that Denver's secondary couldn't cover a chaise lounge, the game belonged to him and the Redskin defense, which presented many of the same problems that come with trying to get bubble gum out of your hair.
The next time Washington got the football, Williams threw over the middle to Don Warren for nine yards. Then it was over the middle again, this time to rookie running back Timmy Smith, for 19 yards. To break the monotony, Doug mixed in two running plays, then threw 27 yards to Gary Clark for his second TD. Drive time: 2:44.
Denver was now down 14-10 and overdrawn at the bank. Washington's defenders were also bouncing Elway around like a rubber check every time he tried to find a receiver.
In Washington's third possession of the period, Williams threw 16 yards to Clark, then sent Smith (who wound up with a Super Bowl record 204 rushing yards) scampering around right end for 58 yards and a touchdown. This took all of 51 seconds.
The fourth time the Redskins got the ball, Doug took no chances. He warmed up Sanders with a routine pass play that gained 10 yards. Then he threw 50 yards to the same receiver for a touchdown. At the risk of seeming redundant, Williams's maneuvering during this drive took only 52 seconds off the game clock.
At first it didn't seem possible that Washington could score again before halftime, but when the Redskins got the ball back with 2:14 remaining, they obviously had a chance - and Williams made the most of it. Mixing his ground game with several pass plays, Doug got Washington all the way down to the 8-yard line with 1:23 left.
Having already thrown two scoring passes to Sanders and one to Clark, Doug suddenly discovered he had a part for tight end Clint Didier, who caught a pass for the touchdown. It almost seemed as though Williams was flipping the cards on a Roladex and getting the end zone zip code every time. The score at halftime was Washington 35, Denver 10.
Basically, a combination of four things beat Denver, which had scored 72 points in its last two playoff games but which has now given up a total of 81 in its back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Here were the problems:
The Broncos again put all their footballs in one basket, Elway's. The ``franchise,'' however, had a mediocre day by his standards. Yes, it happens sometimes.
The Bronco defensive line was unable to mount a consistent pass rush or stop the Redskins' running game.
Denver's defensive secondary allowed too many Washington receivers to get behind it.
The Broncos probably underestimated Williams, the ``Cinderella Man,'' who threw the football like a pumpkin in the first period, and then like a guided missile the rest of the game.
Washington defensive end Charles Mann may have summed up the Redskins best when he told me: ``All season long we've been a team that has had trouble getting started, like today, when we wasted the whole first period.
``I wish I could explain this, but I can't. Yet I guess we all believe in each other so much that we never panic; we never think that we won't come back and win.
``In practice last week, [coach] Joe Gibbs kept hammering at us that we had to be more physical than Denver if we expected to win, and that we had to pressure Elway. I think we did both. Yeah, I think we did both pretty well!''