The big question is, which quarterback will start the new year on the right foot, Ken Stabler or Craig Morton?
Stabler, of the Oakland Raiders has a chronic left knee injury. Morton of the Denver Broncos has a chronic left hip injury, plus what the coaches call "dings" of both shoulders.
The Raiders are favored by three points to win the American Football Conference championship on Sunday at Mile High Stadium in the third game between the teams this season. The 2 p.m. (EST) game will be telecast on WRC-TV-4 in the Washington, D.C., area.
The temperature is forecast to be about 20 degrees and that does not figure to loosen up the quarterbacks' aching injuries.
Coach Red Miller of the Broncos said today that blood and other fluid were drained from Morton's hip this week, but that he has worked out "some" every day this week and has played some of his best games since first suffering the injury five weeks ago.
"If things go well for us, I don't just hope to win. I expect to win," Miller said. "That may turn into a bad quote, but that's how I feel.
Miller had to reckon with an early season quotation, to the effect that he wanted the Broncos to become "the Pittsburgh of the West."
Denver defeated Pittsburgh is a regular-season game and eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs last week. There was a bitter aftermath because defensive tackle Joe Greene of the Steelers knocked out guard Paul Howard with an uppercut to the solar plexus and reserve linebacker Larry Evans was knocked out and taken to the hospital with a concussion from a blow to the head after a collision with linebacker Dennis Winston of Pittsburgh.
Security has been increased substantially for Sunday's game as a result of the fans' reaction to those incidents and because of constantly escalated emotions called "Broncomania" here.
Raider coach John Madden was asked to comment on the fact that when Oakland's victory over the Colts was announced at Mile High Stadium, the Raiders were booed more than the Broncos' opponent on the field, the Steelers.
"You mean are we bothered by the fans being hostile?" Madden asked. "We don't mind as long as they (security personnel) keep them in the stands. We've led the league in boos."
"I won't retract that quote about Pittsburgh," Miller said. "I had always admired the Steelers as a good solid, hard-hitting team, though I didn't like some things that happened in our game last week."
Defensive end Lyle Alzado of the Broncos said on Friday that although they would never try to main or hurt a player, if we can beat up Ken Stabler, (legally). If we can frustrate him, we will." He recalled that the Broncos intercepted seven of Stabler's passes in Denver's 30-17 victory at Oakland by pressing him.
Miller said that if Morton were injured, he would insert the better runner, Norris Weese, if the situation called for a mobile quarterback, or Craig Penrose if a drop-back quarterback were appropriate.
Miller noted that in the Broncos' 24-14 loss to the Raiders in Denver, "The big difference was the Raider's ability to run the ball (200 combined yards by fullback Mark van Eeghen, who gained 1,273 during the regular season, and Clarence Davis, who gained 787)."
It seemed significant that he did not mention the threat that Stabler presents and he was aked how he planned to stop the quarterback's quick-release and mostly accurate passes to tight end Dave Casper and wide receivers Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff.
"It isn't punter against punter," Miller said, turning off a comparison of Stabler and Morton." If you have three downs and punt, for instance, and Oakland has three downs and punts, you are in trouble against a kicker like Ray Guy of the Raiders.
"You can negate Stabler and the field position he would get under those circumstances with your offense, by driving (scoring or penetrating deep into Oakland territory before Guy has a chance to punt; and by keeping the ball away from Stabler as long as possible.)"
Miller was asked if the mile-high altitude here would bother the Raiders.
"No, I don't think it will bother either team, but maybe the fourth quarter will."
He was alluding to the Broncos outscoring the opposition in the regular season in the last period, 74-17, and 13-7 against the Steelers in last week's playoff game.
The Raiders outscored their opposition, 58-57, during the regular season. They were outscored in the fourth quarter, 14-10, by the Baltimore Colts in their playoff game last week, but won by six points in the seocond overtime period.
Miller said, "I expect everyone to play," but when he was asked pointedly about kick returner Rick Upchurch, who has had a bruised thigh, the coach said of his big-play performer, "I hope so. If not, John Schultz (of the University of Maryland) will replace him."
As if to give his criticized offense a boost, Miller said, "We will introduce our offense and Rob Lytle and Lonnie Perrin (of Washington, D.C.) will be named as the running backs. Perrin has had a pulled groin muscle for two weeks and if is not ready Jon Keyworth will play. Otis Armstrong is ready to go. Randy Gradishar is more ready than he was last week."
Miller was reminded of another preseason quotation, that he wanted the Broncos to earn the respect of other teams; did he hope to achieve that on Sunday?
"I thought we did last week. Whatever happens, we have established this as a franchise that is going one way - up.
"I can truthfully, say we are loose and ready to play. We do not have emotional peaks and valleys, we've always put out. We scramble and swarm.