SAN DIEGO, JAN. 26 -- The first Amigo is Vance Johnson. Calls himself "The Vance." Sports a reddish, Lucille Ball hairdo, drives a Porsche 911. Doesn't like it if the cashier at the mall doesn't recognize him. Says he can run a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds, which would only make him faster than Ben Johnson, the world's fastest human. Also an artist, he likes to paint women's faces.
The second Amigo is Mark Jackson. A Chicagoan, Jackson was near tears over the Bears and Walter Payton losing to the Redskins. Says the Amigos motto is "We sip wine and chase women." Definitely The Brain, according to Johnson. "Heck, Mark is so smart it scares me," he said today.
The third Amigo is Ricky Nattiel. A rookie from Florida, Nattiel is the Reluctant Amigo. The Vance is style and elan. Jackson is the statesman, the Purdue Boilerbrain. Nattiel is all football player. Says he never thought this "Three Amigos thing" would make it past the local papers in Denver. Grinned sheepishly and didn't want to do the "Ole' Shuffle" for photographers gathered at today's Super Bowl opening media day.
Individually, Johnson, Jackson and Nattiel are as different as any three teammates might be. Together, they are the Denver Broncos receiving corps. And if the Washington Redskins can't figure out a way to keep them from getting open to catch John Elway's passes Sunday in Super Bowl XXII, Denver probably will win.
But The Three Amigos are more than football, that will come later in the week. Right now they are hot and they're at the Super Bowl, which means they are this year's Jim McMahon, William Perry or Phil McConkey.
Everybody wants The Three Amigos. Before they got to San Diego, they taped a video, "The Touchdown Banditos." After working out a deal with Orion Pictures to use the name of their 1986 comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short, the Amigos recently hired Celebrity Services to handle the inevitable marketing requests.
They've already sold more than 50,000 Three Amigo T-shirts, and could replace McMahon on Taco Bell commercials should the Broncos win the Super Bowl. If Johnson and Jackson had their way, they'd have worked their way down to Tijuana for some promotions, "but the Broncos put a nix on that idea," Johnson said.
On a team loaded with "aw shucks" good guys, The Three Amigos are Denver's orange. It's difficult to figure out exactly where the " The Three Amigos" moniker came from, since the movie was less than a raging success. Jackson said he didn't even see it until the nickname was all the rage and then he felt compelled.
Johnson was quick to give Elway credit for starting it. Elway plays along, but more likely it was Johnson who thought it up and whispered it in Elway's ear.
Johnson, 24, is a man who knows the true significance of self-promotion. He's an accomplished artist, who has had seven showings of his work at Denver's Gallery One during offseasons. He specializes in acrylic fine arts with, as he says, "a particular interest in women's faces . . . ."
The Vance is the showman of the group, as his poster (titled, of course, "The Vance") will attest. It was Johnson who choreographed the "Ole' Shuffle."
"Vance enjoys the limelight the most," Jackson said. "If people don't recognize him in the mall, he'll get upset . . . 'You don't know me!' "
Johnson says there is a difference between The Vance and Vance Johnson, just as Brian Bosworth says he and The Boz are different characters. "Vance Johnson fishes a lot during the offseason," he said. "The Vance is exciting, crazy, daring. Ask the people who see me in my 911.
"Did I tell you where 'The Vance' came from? Joan Rivers called me that on her show. I wanted to give her a big hug. That was the day her husband had had a heart attack and she went on with the show anyway. She's the most special woman I ever met."
While 100 or so reporters from around the globe scribbled away, including a Japanese reporter who apparently was confusing Joan Rivers with Joan Collins, Jackson got real quiet then said, "There's one thing you guys should be aware of. Half the things he says are simply not true."
Johnson answers this by saying that Jackson "is the best guy in the world, the greatest." Well, except for the DJ in Denver who plays the song "Vance Pants" on the air every morning. He and Jackson take turns being the greatest.
If The Vance is the extrovert of the group and Nattiel the introvert, Jackson is right down the middle. Good 'ol midwestern guy. "He keeps the Amigos together," The Vance said. "Mark's so intelligent it scares me. He can spell everything. That's pretty impressive. He can tell you a phone number he heard one time last year."
Nattiel, who turned 22 Monday, is the hardest one to get a handle on. Jackson says he's tired of the quiet, southern gentleman image Nattiel has cultivated. "He's getting more like Vance every day," Jackson said. "Won't be reluctant at all before long."
Jackson sits back in the stands of Jack Murphy Stadium and surveys the scene. "I love this, the publicity, the notoriety," he said. "I think what makes this so much fun is that all three of us have different tastes. We're all out of the ordinary I guess."
But they have something else in common. All are good receivers.
Johnson, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and fast, is the deep threat. Jackson, 5-9, 175, is shifty. Good fakes and cut backs. His production is down from last year because he was moved from wide-out, where his primary responsibility was to get downfield, to the wing, where he has tougher routes to run.
Nattiel, 5-9, 180, is probably the strongest. He is expected to blossom into a star. Nattiel reported late to camp and shouldn't have been on the field during an early scrimmage because the coaches felt he didn't know the plays. But on his first play, he caught a touchdown pass.
Johnson is in his third year, Jackson his second and Nattiel a rookie. As far as Redskins veteran cornerback Darrell Green is concerned, they all play like they've been around for years.
"I know Vance from the fastest-man-in-the-NFL competition," Green said. "Speed is his strength. The wideout is becoming the speed position and Johnson's got that. Jackson wasn't expected to do much because he was, I think, a sixth-round draft pick. But he's very slippery. Lot like Anthony Carter. Nattiel, the thing with him is toughness."
Johnson caught 42 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Broncos. Nattiel grabbed 31 for 630 yards (a team-leading 20.3 average) and two touchdowns. And Jackson, in his unwanted reduced role, had 28 catches for 436 yards and two touchdowns.
When each caught a touchdown pass against the Bears on Monday Night Football in mid-November, the "The Three Amigos" concept really took off. Now, they're one victory away from Taco Bell, a vacation package that would have all three as tour guides, and a whole lot more if The Vance is left in charge of promotions.