Mr. Robinson Was Caught in Wrong Neighborhood
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, February 1, 1999; Page D1
MIAMI So much for Ray Buchanan's guarantees. Joe Namath, he ain't.
John Elway, the quarterback who was supposedly used up, threw for 336 yards and one touchdown, stuck it in the end zone himself on a quarterback draw, and won his second straight Super Bowl after hearing for 14 years that he couldn't win The Big One.
Whaddya know -- now he's won it again.
Elway gets the last laugh. Him, and the horse he rode in on.
If someone can talk him out of this retirement thing, we might even see the word "dynasty" in the same sentence with "Denver Broncos." Even Elway conceded this dominating win and the enticement of an unprecedented three-peat "throws a kink in my thinking."
But it's hard to look at Elway now, at 38, and not see him walking away, a la Michael Jordan. If Jordan walked after dramatically hitting his final shot to give his team a championship, why wouldn't Elway -- who felt the sublime joy of being able to kneel down in victory on the final snap, then prance ecstatically to the sideline as confetti filled the air -- do the same? These days retiring as champion seems to be what becomes a legend most.
This ought to silence the geniuses who declared Chris Chandler was a better quarterback than Elway right now. Chandler threw for 117 fewer yards than Elway, and he had three passes picked off in the second half -- two when the game was still too close to call.
It was a bad day for a number of Atlanta Falcons, but none worse than free safety Eugene Robinson. Robinson suffered stinging embarrassment in the second quarter when Rod Smith accelerated past him -- how many times will Robinson have to endure that in excruciating replay? -- and went 80 yards for a touchdown that made the score 17-3, and gave Denver what amounted to an insurmountable lead. Off the field, though, Robinson suffered far greater embarrassment, as the whole world knows by now.
The truth is this had actually been a rather boring Super Bowl Week, unless you consider it a big deal that Buchanan said Shannon Sharpe "looks like Mr. Ed." The big story -- the animus between Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan, Dan Reeves and John Elway (Dan Reeves and everybody who ever set foot in Colorado, including Lewis & Clark) -- was played out last week. The rancor was so profound some of us were expecting Shanahan to sneak up behind Reeves at some point, shout "Boo!" and try to startle Reeves to death.
But the week droned on without much excitement -- until Saturday night, when Robinson, the highly respected and outspokenly religious veteran, was arrested and charged with offering an undercover Miami cop $40 for sex.
This is the same Eugene Robinson who had preached all week that while in Miami his teammates should be all business, so to speak -- and if they intended to mess around they were going to have to answer to him.
Where? In the anteroom of Joey's Bail Bonds?
Coo-coo-ca-choo Mr. Robinson.
I was stunned. Forty dollars seems such a pittance.
"He hadn't gotten his playoff share yet," somebody explained.
Reportedly, when Robinson made the offer he was in a Taurus! You'd think he'd go cruising in something hotter than that. Although, I guess if he was driving a Lamborghini, he'd have been expected to go way higher than $40.
Ironically, earlier on Saturday, Robinson received the Bart Starr Award for community service and high moral character. Now he's up for a Ken Starr Award.
By the way, the title of Robinson's published autobiography was "It Takes Endurance." His next book will be, "Do You Take Visa?"
This story, obviously, was Topic A with the media Sunday. Many wondered how come Robinson was in Miami Saturday night; usually Super Bowl teams are locked down in out-of-the-way hotels the night before the game. Apparently, Reeves gave the Falcons freedom, because he wanted to allow them to prepare for this game like they prepare for every game -- and I'll just leave that line alone.
True story: I got into an elevator on Sunday morning with Andy Rooney, the venerable commentator on "60 Minutes." After introducing myself and expressing admiration for Rooney's work over the years, I brought up the Robinson situation. With some bemusement Rooney allowed that he, like Robinson, had attended Colgate University. "Go, Red Raiders," I cheered. We reached my floor before I could ask if this was part of the curriculum. I said goodbye, and Rooney grinned and said like a proud alum, "Just mention my name." So I have.
What happened to Robinson was so shocking, it all but sucked the air out of the Super Bowl. All the buzz was about Robinson. Would he play? (He started.) What would he say about the incident? (After the game, Robinson apologized "first to my Lord, Jesus Christ, secondly, to my wife and to my kids, thirdly, to my teammates and the entire NFL organization. . . . I was not maintaining the standards I set for myself.") Would he get a pregame phone call from Bill Clinton? And, of course, what kind of trash-talk would Shannon Sharpe aim at him? This thing dropped in Sharpe's lap like a winning lottery ticket! (Sadly, Sharpe twisted his left knee after making a 14-yard catch that brought Denver to Atlanta's 1-yard line in the first quarter. Sharpe played one more series, bobbled an easy pass, resulting in an Atlanta interception, and was done for the game before the start of the second quarter.)
So many people were talking about Robinson on Sunday hardly anybody noticed that Cher sang the national anthem wearing long, straight hair from 1968 -- and a kisser from 1998. Cher's new cheekbones are so high up on her face, she has to get on a step-stool to put on makeup. Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan provided halftime entertainment; in a brief, remarkable moment Stevie even danced with Savion Glover. Also on the field were every man, woman and child in South Florida, as the NFL sought to set a Guinness record for people wearing parrot shirts.
For the true geeks who could focus on football, the looming questions were:
1. Could Chandler, brittle as a twig, survive the Denver rush with all his bones intact?
2. Could Atlanta's defense hound, harass and hassle Terrell Davis?
Toward that end Atlanta pledged full commitment. "If the ball is not on the ground, we will knock the [stuff] out of somebody," promised Chuck Smith. "We are not prima donnas. We will get after people. You get hit hard enough, believe me, you will let go of the ball. There's nobody in this game that can't be shaken up, nobody who can't be hurt, nobody who cannot lose the ball."
But Davis lugged the ball 25 times, and never let go. Davis ended up with 102 yards -- the three millionth straight playoff game Davis has gone over 100. In fact, the only fumble all game was Jamal Anderson's, and it came too late to matter.
Chandler survived. He even ran four times, and gained 30 yards. But Chandler must have been bothered by something, as he threw interceptions on three straight possessions in the second half -- one of them immediately after he was sacked.
In the end, though, nothing Davis did, and nothing Chandler didn't do, will be remembered vividly. In the end, as the full moon hung over Miami like a spotlight, the man who won the most in Super Bowl XXXIII was John Elway -- and the man who lost the most surely was Eugene Robinson.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company