Fans, amateur and professional, have been giving themselves a good kick in the mind lately for not sensing Broncomania long before it took shape this season. The reason the Denver Broncoss would be wildly successful -- emotion -- was lying there in front of us, like a fumble almost anxious to be recovered for a touchdown, and nearly everyone missed it.
Every team talks about emotion before the season, about the need to pull together and prove its worth to the world, but the Broncos were one of the very few with an honest reason to gobble the stuff in huge doses. After all, this was the bunch that had produced the best record in the history of the franchise, 9-5, and then mutinied against the coach, John Ralston. And won.
So there were dozens of self-starters in Denver, providing the sort of practice and game day mood in which new coach Red Miller surely would echo Joe Paterno, who said of a similar atmosphere at Penn State last season: "This team made me feel 10 years younger."
Emotion is highly volatile, though, capable of escaping quickly in the conditions the Broncos now are experiencing in New Orleans for Super Hype 12. The Broncos resemble the '72 Redskins in so many ways -- and a Redskin on hand before, during and after the loss to the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII recalls:
"If we'd played the game Wednesday we'd have won, I'm sure of that. We were so sharp that day. The next day we were like a different team -- flat --and we never came close to getting that special feeling back again."
Assuming the Broncos in fact retain their fervor until kickoff Sunday, the game can be narrowed to two numbers. One of them, 34, suggests Denver can win; the larger one, 50, insists Dallas will dominate the game, though possibly win by a touchdown or less.
The 34 refers to the Denver defense, its three rushmen and four swift and strong linebackers. There are whispers Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach sees this defense so infrequently that he has trouble attacking it.
Some NFL minds believe the 34 defense is the most important reason the AFC is superior to the NFC; nearly all NFL minds believe the way to attack it is with what the Cowboys have least --power up the middle.
"That's Denver's hope," said an AFC assistant coach familiar with both teams. "Those four line-backers are the keys to the defense. There is more underneath coverage, because those linebackers get such great depth, Roger might not be able to throw down the middle as much as he likes. And (Tom) Jackson simply makes things happen."
But Harvey Martin and his pals make even more things happen -- and one number from the Bronco offense must seem especially delightful.Denver quarterbacks were thrown for losses 50 times during the regular season.
That is an astonishing number, bad enough for an ordinary team but highly alarming for a team in the Super Bowl. In fact, only two teams in all the NFL had worse numbers in the times-sacked category -- Washington (52) and Detroit (54). Even the Cowboy total of 33 was slightly higher than the league average.
In all the league, only New England had more quarterback traps than the Cowboys' 53 -- and Martin alone had 23 solo sacks. And the hip-troubled Craig Morton offers an even more vulnerable target than usual.
Morton has endured so much for so long during his NFL life that it will surprise many to learn that he in fact is exactly one year younger than Staubach, his former adversary with the Cowboys.
Though less than a month shy of 36, Staubach remains nimble because the Navy kept him from the NFL wars until 1969 -- and he did not beat out Morton as Cowboy quarterback for certain until 1973.
But he has established himself as one of life's winners while Morton clearly has not. One game involving both players, a 1972 playoff against the San Francisco 49ers, best illustrates this.
Morton started the game and threw well occasionally, only to have usually sure-handed receivers drop passes at several critical times. Staubach entered the affair, passed for two touchdowns in 90 seconds and Dallas escaped with a 30-28 victory.
Also, Staubach directs the most imaginative offense in the NFL, although any offense with himself at quarterback, Drew Pearson at wide receiver, Tony Dorsett at running back and blockers such as center John Fitzgerald could make the most basic call seem inspired.
The Dallas offensive playbook must be just slightly less thick than the Manhattan phone directory -- and Tom Landry seems finally to have overcome the conservative inclinations that strike all coaches in important games.
Ironically, the experts within the NFL believe the Cowboys must establish success with the basics ----
Without detracting from Jackson and the Bronco defense, it seems likely Dallas will score at least two touchdowns. Without some sort of fluke or long return by injury-troubled Rick Upchurch, it does not seem likely Denver will score more than one.