American Football: Elway and the Broncos find redemption thanks to Davis

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The Independent Online
John Elway's 15-year pursuit of the Super Bowl came to an end on Sunday when Denver Broncos and the legendary quarterback triumphed in one of the greatest finales of all time. Nick Halling watched in San Diego as a nice guy finally ended up a winner.

Since his first appearance in the Super Bowl 11 years ago, the Denver Broncos quarterback, John Elway, has been forced to endure the reputation of being a talented player unable to win the big game. Now, after three previous humiliating losses, that assessment has been consigned to history following the Broncos thrilling 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers in San Diego on Sunday night.

Most Super Bowls of recent years have been massively anti-climatic but here was a genuine exception. Super Bowl XXXII had a little of everything; big plays, costly mistakes, controversial decisions, and high drama as fortunes flowed first one way, then the other. In the end, the Broncos overcame the weight of expert opinion when the running back, Terrell Davis, scored on a one-yard run with less than two minutes remaining.

In all, Davis gained 157 yards on 30 carries, setting a Super Bowl record with three touchdowns, a performance which rightly earned him the accolade of the game's Most Valuable Player. However, when this contest is recalled Davis may be remembered as a bit player, because the leading actor in the drama was John Elway.

Over the last 15 years, he has been the inspiration behind the Colorado- based franchise. No quarterback has won as many games, nor generated as many comeback victories. Finally, at the age of 37, and doubtless haunted by memories of three previous disasters, here was a final chance at redemption.

His personal statistics - 12 completions from 22 attempts for 123 yards and an interception - were mediocre at best but there is little doubt that he was the driving force behind the biggest upset since Joe Namath's New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 29 years ago.

"I just want to say four words: This One's For John," said the Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen, after being handed the winner's trophy. "I want this to go down in history as John's Super Bowl. He's had to endure a lot of tough times because of our previous losses, but now that's all gone."

The pre-game omens were not good for Denver. Not only had they lost all four of their previous assaults on the title, but their rivals, the Packers, had won their previous three attempts, and were also the reigning champions. Feelings of unease would doubtless have been exacerbated as the Packers, led by their gifted quarterback Brett Favre, opened their account on their first possession, Favre finding the receiver Antonio Freeman from 22 yards out.

Undaunted, the Broncos responded, Davis and Elway both scoring, and the kicker Jason Elam converting a 51-yard field goal to give them a 17-7 lead. Favre, meanwhile, was having problems, intercepted first by Tyrone Braxton, then fumbling after a vicious hit from Steve Atwater. However, he showed his quality by engineering an impressive 95-yard drive which culminated in a touchdown pass to Mark Chmura with just 12 seconds left in the half.

Davis, who had earlier suffered a migraine, fumbled the opening possession of the third quarter, enabling Green Bay's kicker Ryan Longwell to level the scores with a 28-yard field goal, but Elway's response was immediate, driving Denver down field to set up Davis for another short touchdown run, giving Denver a 24-17 lead.

The pressure now began to affect both teams. On the ensuing kick-off, Green Bay's Freeman fumbled, giving Elway a chance to make it safe. Instead, he was intercepted in the end zone by Eugene Robinson on the next play, a mistake that proved costly when Favre and Freeman combined on another scoring play early in the fourth quarter to tie the scores again.

Both teams then had chances, but it was the Broncos who seized the moment, Davis with his third touchdown of the night, earning the franchise its first NFL championship and ending Elway's long and frustrating wait.

"This is what we all play for," Elway said afterwards. "There have been a lot of things that go with losing three Super Bowls and being labelled as a guy who can't win one, but to finally come out and show them, it's unbelievable."

As Elway was carried shoulder high from the field, thoughts were already turning to the future and the possibility of retirement, a subject he has often alluded to during the build-up to Sunday's game. He insists there will be no snap decision.

"I'll take some time to talk about it with my family and friends, and we'll decide what's best," he said. "Right now, it's impossible to say what the outcome will be."