American Football: Broncos seek place in history

A PLACE in history continues to beckon for the Denver Broncos. The reigning Super Bowl champions extended their 1998 record to 11 wins in a row with a 40-14 crushing of the Oakland Raiders, and they remain on course to emulate the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team in league history to enjoy an unbeaten season.

The victory over the Raiders, not quite the stroll that the final scoreline suggests, will be remembered for John Elway's five-yard pass to Willie Green in the first quarter. Not the most spectacular play of Elway's distinguished campaign, but it meant that he had thrown 50,000 yards in his 15-season career, a feat only previously achieved by Dan Marino of the Dolphins.

It has been a frustrating season for the Broncos' emotional leader. Having announced that this would be his last year as a player, he has been out of action with a variety of hamstring, back and rib injuries, as the passage of time finally begins to exact a toll on his health. The achievement, however, confirms his status as one of the game's legends.

"It's pretty neat that Marino is the only other guy to get there," he said. "Growing up, it seemed so far away, but to get to 50,000 is great. The last 30 yards seemed like it took a year. This is awfully humbling."

"He's still got it," said his team-mate, Neil Smith. "A lot of people say he's washed up, and can't take the licks, but he's our quarterback and we love him to death. He makes things happen for us."

Elway threw three more touchdowns in the rout of the Raiders, taking his career total to 290, equalling the third highest haul of all time. Almost overshadowed by the veteran passer, the running back Terrell Davis rushed for a further 162 yards, and with 1,492 for the season, remains on course to smash the all-time record of 2,105, set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. With five games left in the regular season, further causes for celebration in Colorado seem only a matter of time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers may feel like celebrating as well, their 30-15 triumph over the Jacksonville Jaguars keeping their hopes of reaching the play-offs alive. There was little to choose between the two teams, but the difference proved to be the Pittsburgh defensive back Dewayne Washington, who opened the scoring with a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown, and closed it in the last minute with a 78-yard return for a score.

The irony is that Washington has been criticised this season for his failure to make big plays. The Steelers' coaches reckon he has missed nine clear interception chances, but he more than atoned against the Jaguars. "I was just trying too hard before," he said. "I was worrying about running with the ball before catching it."

The Minnesota Vikings fought off a brave challenge from the Green Bay Packers, with the quarterback, Randall Cunningham, throwing two touchdowns in a 28-14 win. In another contest crucial to the fortunes of both sides, the New York Jets defeated the Tennessee Oilers 24-3, thanks to a brave performance from their quarterback, Vinny Testaverde.

The veteran passer awoke on Sunday morning complaining of headaches and nausea, and needed intravenous fluids before taking the field. After he threw scoring passes to Keyshawn Johnson and Keith Byars, however, the Oilers were the ones left feeling sick.

The Atlanta Falcons duly dispatched the Chicago Bears 20-13, but lost their quarterback, Chris Chandler, with knee and ankle injuries. Victory at a price, too, for the Dallas Cowboys, who defeated the Seattle Seahawks 30-22, but lost Deion Sanders,Everett McIver and Ernie Mills with a variety of ailments.

Standings, Digest, page 29