DENVER, JAN. 9 -- In one of his many fits of emotion after last week's wild-card playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Coach Jerry Glanville of the Houston Oilers announced for all the world to hear that his team would go to San Diego. For the Super Bowl. To play.
He did this, apparently, with full knowledge that the road to the playoffs in the AFC runs smack through Denver and right up against the AFC West champion Broncos. His confidence aside, the Broncos will be heavily favored Sunday (4 p.m. EST, WRC-TV-4) when they play the Oilers in the cold and the snow of Mile High Stadium.
The winner will face the Cleveland Browns, who beat the Indianapolis Colts, 38-21, today.
Forget Houston's 40-7 victory at Denver earlier this season because that game was played during the NFL players' strike by replacement players. The real Broncos were 6-0 at home this season and have an AFC-best home record of 27-5 (excluding replacement games) over the last four years.
The Broncos won six of their last seven regular-season games to finish with the best record in the AFC at 10-4-1 and could become the first AFC champion to repeat since Pittsburgh eight years ago.
All that doesn't mean a whole lot to Glanville, who feels mighty high, having taken a 5-11 team from last season to 9-6 and the playoffs this season. "We're two games away," he said after the 23-20 overtime victory over Seattle. "We're going to the Super Bowl."
"The fact that you have the home-field advantage means nothing if a team does not have the right attitude," Denver Coach Dan Reeves told reporters in the past week. " . . . But I'll take my chances here at home."
More importantly, Reeves will be taking his chances with a Denver team (10-4-1) that has probably the most valuable player in the league in quarterback John Elway. The most amazing thing about Denver's season is that the Broncos have almost no rushing -- even though running back Steve Sewell should be back today -- and have relied heavily on one player.
Elway completed 224 of 410 passes for 3,198 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. He rushed for 304 yards to lead AFC quarterbacks for the fourth straight year.
He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark passing for the third straight season. Since he has become the permanent starting quarterback, the Broncos are 44-17-1. Elway is the Broncos.
That's a precarious spot to be in and Reeves knows it. The Oilers are a rough, aggressive team -- some, including Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll have said overly so -- who probably will be looking to knock Elway around.
"I was scared to death going into the playoffs last year and I'm scared to death this year," Reeves said.
But the Broncos have been to the playoffs four of the last five years, while Houston is in the playoffs for the first time since 1980. And the Broncos liked being in the Super Bowl well enough last year -- despite losing Super Bowl XXI to the Giants -- to go back.
"Back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl won't mean a whole lot unless we win it," Reeves said. "Anything short of winning the Super Bowl would be a disappointment.
"We all know we missed a chance to put the Super Bowl away in the first half," he said. "I don't think this team is satisfied and won't be until we win the whole thing."
That could prove to be difficult against the Oilers.
"Some teams get excited about getting into the playoffs, then they're not in very long," said Glanville. "We were excited, too, but we have a lot more to accomplish. Our goal is to win four straight games."
The worse the weather is, the better Houston's chances would seem to be. Warren Moon, who completed 21 of 32 passes for 273 yards with one touchdown and one interception against Seattle, finally has the linemen and receivers he needs to move the team quickly. But as the Broncos and San Diego Chargers found out two weeks ago during a blizzard in the Rockies, passing accurately could be almost impossible. Elway had his worst passing performance of the season that day (seven for 20 for 98 yards, one interception).
Denver's Sunday forecast calls for a near-balmy 41-42 degrees at game time with mostly sunny skies and winds gusting to 25 mph. But, should the elements take over Mile High Stadium again, the Broncos will be at a distinct disadvantage. Mike Rozier and Alonzo Highsmith, Houston's young, versatile backfield mates, shredded the Seahawks last week. And although allowing opponents only 3.9 yards per carry this season, the Broncos rarely faced any AFC teams with a running game as strong as Houston's.