Super Bowl

Classy showing by John Elway leaves us with great memories

John Elway celebates a fourth quarter touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 33 in Miami as he was named MVP.
John Elway celebates a fourth quarter touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 33 in Miami as he was named MVP. AP

Iconic Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope, who died January 19, covered the first 47 Super Bowls. This column from Super Bowl XXXIII, in which John Elway went out in style at Pro Player Stadium, originally ran on Feb. 1, 1999.

Like the rest of Denver's victorious Broncos, John Elway was drenched in silver confetti fired from a sideline cannon at the end of Super Bowl 33. But Elway wasn't anything like the rest of them. He is one alone, and if we have seen the last of him, if he indeed retires now at age 38, he left us with precious memories.

A minute and 23 seconds still remained when Elway was announced as Most Valuable Player in the Broncos' 34-19 rout of Atlanta's Falcons.

Elway had his team in position to score again. He was too classy to even try. He took a knee for one play and then trotted to the sidelines. He was content to let Bubby Brister finish out the game, and also to let Joe Montana's all-time Super Bowl passing record be.

Twenty-two more passing yards, and Elway, with 336 yards, would have surpassed Montana's record, set in the first Super Bowl played in Pro Player Stadium, in 1989.

“What would have been the point of that?” Elway would ask later.

What indeed, for Elway?

In the Broncos' riotous dressing room, safety Steve Atwater embraced Elway. Two of Atwater's secondary teammates should have hugged Falcons QB Chris Chandler, whose passing did almost as much as Elway's to hurt Atlanta.

Chandler threw three interceptions, all to people whose first names started with “Darr.”

Cornerback Darrien Gordon stole two of Chandler's passes. Another corner, Darrius Johnson, made the third interception.

Then, as it happened at the end, the huge shower of silver confetti came down looking like a snowfall in Denver. What would they have shot up there if the Falcons have won — red Georgia clay?

No problem. Atlanta's self-proclaimed "Dirty Birds" got shot down all the way.

Then Elway would brush aside questions about his retirement. “I don't even want to talk about that,” he said in the post-game crush. “I'm just thrilled to death to have won consecutive Super Bowls.”

He felt at home, for sure. He is the spokesman for Wayne Huizenga's “John Elway AutoNation Inc.” Huizenga's stadium floor offered the perfect stage for Elway's heroics. Special grass, the greenest of the green, was brought in from golfer Greg Norman's turf farm in Avon Park and specially transplanted in PPS.

Elway was held to 123 yards passing in last year's 35-21 triumph over Green Bay for the Broncos' first Super Bowl championship. He threw only one touchdown pass Sunday, but that was one to remember, 80 yards to Rod Smith in the second quarter.

That was not without its bizarre side. The victim was Falcons safetyman Eugene Robinson, who was having the worst kind of weekend. Only the night before Robinson had been arrested in Miami for allegedly soliciting a police officer for oral sex.

Robinson's case also was bizarre in a historical context, for Robinson was arrested only a few blocks down Biscayne Boulevard from where Cincinnati Bengals fullback Stanley Williams had bombed out on cocaine the night before Super Bowl 23, when Montana and the San Francisco 49ers overhauled Cincinnati, 20-16.

Somehow, I don't think Elway was thinking about that when he picked on Robinson. “We had had a guy clear against him a few plays before and I thought we had a chance for a big play against him and it worked out,” Elway said. “That's all.”

“What about the car you won?” someone shouted at Elway.

“What car?” Elway asked.

“The car the MVP gets.”

Elway slapped his forehead with his hand. “That's all I need, another car,” he said, laughing.

In 1997 he sold nine Denver-area automobile distributorships to Huizenga. He was paid in stock, and is said to be the second heaviest shareholder in Republic Industries, behind only Huizenga.

Heavy was the word for Sunday's game, which was conducted in the middle of probably more credit cards with the highest line of credit in any such space in the world. You had to be wealthy just to get in, with tickets at face value of $325 and $400.

The air was redolent with millionaires. Even those from Atlanta seemed to groove on this spectacle, from Kiss' wild antics to Cher belting out the national anthem to battalions of dancers parading across the field.

The crowd for Miami's eighth Super Bowl — only New Orleans has hosted as many — ate it up. The joint was jumping, eardrums collapsing all over the place. Then came the game, and became no game at all.

I had only one quarrel with any aspect of this extravaganza, and that was with TV and radio announcers dispatching comments in 26 languages. They were all saying the one interception Elway threw wasn't his fault because it bounced off tight end Shannon Sharpe's fingers.

I would enter a mild demurrer. Elway should have thrown the ball into Sharpe's mouth — the one that has been running all during the postseason, first about Dan Marino, then about everything.

If Elway had aimed for that crater, he couldn't have missed.

Anyway, the pass was intercepted by Ronnie Bradford, and right after that, in the second quarter, the Falcons did something that typified their futility.

They gambled twice on one play. On fourth and one at Denver's 26, Atlanta went for it instead of attempting a field goal. Then they compounded the risk. Instead of running Jamal Anderson up the middle, they tried a pitchout to him. A pitchout is another gamble right there because, while there may be a higher chance of a big gain, there is also more risk of a loss.

Anderson lost three yards, the ball went over and Elway and friends started cranking out touchdowns. And TV audiences of upwards of 130 millions must have reveled in it.

If you were part of that audience in South Florida, there is one statistic you might not have seen and need not necessarily feel obliged to follow. But that's up to you.

The stat is, the day after Super Bowls, 6 percent of American workers call in sick.