Super Bowl XXXIII: Falcons `guarantee' victory

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The Independent Online
NOT SINCE the New York Jets 30 years ago has there been such a surprise Super Bowl participant as the Atlanta Falcons, writes Nick Halling.

Back in 1969, in the build-up to the game, the Jets' flamboyant quarterback "Broadway" Joe Namath famously guaranteed an upset victory over the favoured Baltimore Colts. Perhaps that is what Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan had in mind when he made the same prediction earlier this week, guaranteeing an upset in tomorrow's game.

"It's for fun," he said, "but having a guarantee is more of a confidence thing. It's not like a slap in Denver's face. This is reality. This football team has an opportunity to shock the world."

To do that, they must first stop the Broncos' top-ranked running game, led by Terrell Davis. One of only four players ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, Davis is in compelling form, as he showed with game- winning performances in the play-offs against the Miami Dolphins and the Jets. If the Falcons cannot stop him, it is unlikely that Buchanan's guarantee will stand up.

"If you shut down Terrell Davis, your chance of winning goes up," said Atlanta linebacker Jessie Tuggle. "They depend so much on running the ball, so that's what we have to do."

The Falcons boast a solid ground attack of their own, with Jamal Anderson producing a string of impressive performances this season. However, the Denver defensive unit has been imposing in the play-offs, and in Bill Romanowski they have a formidable run-stopper. With both teams committed to containing the run, Davis and Anderson could be in for a painful night's work.

If it becomes a passing game, Atlanta and Denver appear well matched. The Falcons' veteran quarterback Chris Chandler is playing the best football of his 11-year career and is working effectively with his receivers, Tony Martin and Terence Mathis. Both have the ability to take advantage of Denvers' perceived weakness against a well-thrown ball.

Similarly, the Broncos will simply turn to John Elway should Davis falter. The team's inspirational leader for 16 years, Elway has retained the ability to make the big play at the crucial time. His 6ft 5in receiver Ed McCaffrey is likely to cause damage against the effective but small Atlanta defensive backs.

The coaching duel will be fascinating because both head coaches have been here many times before. Atlanta's Dan Reeves will be participating in his ninth Super Bowl as player and coach while his counterpart, Mike Shanahan, has won championship titles with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver.

"His ability to relate to his players is great," said the Denver tight- end Shannon Sharpe. "He's as hard as he needs to be but he can be easy too. Mike doesn't have a hard time getting guys to play for him because we enjoy him."

The Broncos also enjoy another significant advantage in that, as winners last year, most of them know what to expect from an occasion that has overawed many teams in the past.

In contrast, the Falcons only boast three players with Super Bowl experience and only one of them, former Green Bay Packers safety Eugene Robinson, has tasted success. However, the Falcons believe that, as with Denver against Green Bay a year ago, their status as underdogs can work to their advantage. After 33 seasons of mediocrity, they have confounded expectation to arrive in Miami, and just like Namath's Jets three decades ago they are full of confidence.

"We came in this year with the intention of changing the whole image of the Atlanta Falcons, and that's what we've done," said Tuggle. "This is the ultimate goal, but being part of it is not enough. I came here for one reason, and that's to win."