American Football: Veteran Elway basks in glory

Super Bowl XXXIII: Broncos make it two in a row as Falcons have wings clipped by inspirational quarterback
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AS SWANSONGS go, this was a compelling finale. Playing what may be the last game of a glittering 16-year career, John Elway gave one of his most accomplished performances to lead the Denver Broncos to a 34-19 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. The win, far more impressive than the final scoreline suggests, means that the Broncos have successfully defended their title, and that Elway has completed the challenge he set himself last June, when he announced his return for one final season.

Now speculation has already begun that he may be tempted to come back next year to further enhance his reputation as one of the most inspirational quarterbacks to have ever played the game. "This definitely throws a kink into what I decide to do next year," he said. "But I am not even going to cross that bridge for a while. I'm going to enjoy this win because this is what I have been working nine months for. This is why I came back."

If this is finally the end, Elway signed off with a flourish. He completed 18 of his 29 passing attempts for 336 yards and a touchdown, but more significant than the numbers was the manner in which he dismantled Atlanta's imposing defence: the Falcons simply could not find a way to stop him. To nobody's surprise, Elway was a unanimous choice of the game's Most Valuable Player.

Atlanta came into the contest as underdogs, but full of confidence in their ability to spring an upset. Those hopes appeared justified when they took the opening kick-off and drove impressively down the field. The running back Jamal Anderson made a bright start, gaining 24 yards on five carries as the Falcons penetrated deep into Denver territory. They were unable to score a touchdown, however, settling instead for a 32-yard field goal from Morten Andersen.

Elway's response was swift. A pair of completions to Shannon Sharpe and another to Rod Smith saw Denver pro-gress to Atlanta's goal-line, from where Howard Griffith plunged in for the game's first touchdown. The Broncos had the lead and never looked in danger of losing it.

Their rivals had chances but failed to capitalise on them. Elway was intercepted by Ronnie Bradford when Sharpe failed to hold on to a simple catch, but nothing came of it. Surprisingly, the normally reliable Andersen then missed a routine 26-yard field goal, and the self belief that had propelled Atlanta through a fairytale season began to ebb away.

It must have been particularly galling for their head coach, Dan Reeves. Earlier in his career, Reeves had guided the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances, only to be on the receiving end every time. Now, he was suffering again, seemingly powerless as his former team pounded his current one. "I really love every one of these players, they have been a very special group and I am proud of the way they handled the thing," he said. "We just didn't play well and I knew if we didn't play well we would get beat. We just didn't get the job done."

Reeves, who underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery six weeks ago, was named coach of the year for the manner in which he transformed perennial strugglers into championship contenders, but after four heavy Super Bowl reverses he must be wondering if he is destined never to win his sport's ultimate prize. The Broncos, and Elway, in particular, compounded his misery on a balmy Sunday night in Miami. Ironically, on the very next play after Andersen's missed field goal, Elway threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith to give Denver a 14-3 advantage.

The play was made against Atlanta's veteran defensive back, Eugene Robinson. A Super Bowl winner with Green Bay two years ago, Robinson was arrested for soliciting the night before the game and, although he was released on bail, the incident further confirmed the belief that Atlanta were doomed to failure.

"The ramifications are far reaching, and you have no idea of the gravity of the situation," he said. "That long pass is really going to haunt me. I tried to make an interception, but to John Elway's credit he threw the ball long enough so that I had no shot."

After that, it was all Denver. The running back Terrell Davis gained 102 yards on 25 attempts but other, lesser names enjoyed their moment of glory. Griffith claimed his second touchdown of the night with another short yardage run. The cornerback Darrien Gordon intercepted Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler twice at key moments in the third quarter, while the former Scottish Claymore, George Coghill, caused a fumble to extinguish another Atlanta drive.

The Falcons' only bright spots came on Tim Dwight's electrifying 94-yard kick-off return for a touchdown, and Chandler's three- yard pass to Terance Mathis. Fittingly, Elway scored his team's last touchdown, a three-yard run with 11 minutes remaining.

Now attention is turning to the future, and there is little doubt that the Broncos want their leader to consider all his options. "I would love John to come back," said the team owner, Pat Bowlen. "What he has meant to this organisation and this city is unbelievable. I want him back."

"He is by far the best quarterback in the game, and probably of all time," said the receiver Ed McCaffrey. "I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for him and win two Super Bowls with him."

Just like this time last year, Elway is revealing little. He will discuss things with his wife Janet and their four children, and has promised an imminent announcement.

The feeling is that Elway would like to leave the game as a winner and there can be no greater personal accomplishment than his brilliance on Sunday. Then again, no team in the game's history has ever won three Super Bowls in succession. The challenge may tempt him to delay retirement once again.