Unlikely Heroes Give the Broncos Big Plays
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 1999; Page D9
MIAMI, Jan. 31 The Denver Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champions this evening because they got big-time performances from their big-time stars quarterback John Elway and running back Terrell Davis but also because they got major contributions from other, less prominent players.
Cornerback Darrien Gordon provided a pair of interceptions, the first of which was a game-turning play with the Atlanta Falcons in position to pull within four points late in the third quarter. And wide receiver Rod Smith combined with Elway to carry Denver's offense early on, with tight end Shannon Sharpe sidelined by a knee injury and the Falcons concentrating on stopping Davis and blanketing wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.
"That's the kind of team we have," said Gordon, who totaled 108 yards in returns of his two interceptions. "We have a lot of people who can beat you. ... Our defense has gotten a lot of criticism, but we played well when it counted."
The Falcons were undone by quarterback Chris Chandler's mistakes, and Gordon was the primary beneficiary. Perhaps the game's biggest play came with the Broncos leading 17-6 with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons were moving the ball, with a 15-yard run by Jamal Anderson giving them a first down at the Broncos 21-yard line. On the next play, Chandler had wide receiver Terance Mathis open along the sideline, and threw for him.
But defensive tackle Keith Traylor deflected the ball at the line of scrimmage and it caromed to Gordon, who intercepted and weaved his way upfield for a 58-yard return before being tackled by Chandler. That set up a touchdown that extended Denver's lead to 24-6.
"My legs kind of gave out on me," Gordon said. "I'm sure my family is not going to let me live that one down, being tackled by the quarterback. ... I always seem to play my best in big games. Our defensive front did a good job getting pressure on Chandler, and I was in the right place at the right time."
On Atlanta's next possession, the Falcons drove to the Denver 26. Chandler tried to hit wide receiver Tony Martin in the middle of the field. But the Kansas City Chiefs' Andre Rison had run a similar route for a touchdown against the Broncos during the regular season, and Gordon saw the play coming this time. He stepped in front of Martin and made his second interception, and his 50-yard return set the stage for a touchdown that made it a 31-6 game.
It was the glorious capper to a night that began ingloriously for Gordon, who said he was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by one of Anderson's knees on a tackle.
"It seemed like hours, but I'm sure I was out only about two seconds," Gordon said.
Elway had 199 passing yards in the first half, and 144 of them came on throws to Smith. The Falcons put their best cornerback, Ray Buchanan, on McCaffrey, but Smith made them pay. The Broncos had expected Buchanan to cover Smith more often, Smith said.
It was a particularly rough day for Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson, who let Smith get behind him for an 80-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Robinson had deep coverage on Smith, but let Smith slip past him. Smith caught Elway's perfectly thrown pass and sprinted the final 40 yards into the end zone for what matched the second-longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
"I knew I was going to beat him," Smith said. "It was just a matter of whether the ball was going to be there, and John gave me a chance to make a play."
The play wasn't even in the Broncos' game plan, Smith said, but was drawn up on the sideline immediately before it was executed on the field.
Smith finished the night with five catches for 152 yards. It was a dramatic turnaround from his Super Bowl performance a year ago, when he was held without a catch in the Broncos' victory over the Green Bay Packers. Smith said he'd spent last week studying the numbers of the best pass-receiving performances in Super Bowl history.
"I knew I was going to have at least one catch," Smith said.
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