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Contrasting generals

Quarterbacks traveled very different paths to Super Bowl

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Posted: Sunday January 24, 1999 01:31 PM

  Are you experienced? Chris Chandler (left) will start in his third career playoff game. John Elway will start in his fifth Super Bowl AP

MIAMI (AP) -- John Elway still has that all-American look, although his golden hair is darkening as he approaches 40. Chris Chandler at 33 is balding and a bit stoop-shouldered.

There are no better symbols of the Denver Broncos vs. the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl next Sunday.

Elway will finish his career by starting at quarterback in a Super Bowl for a record fifth time; Chandler is a journeyman who has played for six teams, almost all bad, in 11 NFL seasons.

Even Chandler's new teammates wondered when the Falcons got him from the Oilers two years ago for almost nothing - fourth and sixth-round draft picks.

"When he arrived here, we're all like, 'We traded for him? He's going to be our quarterback?'" said Jamal Anderson, the Falcons' All-Pro running back.

Yes, Jamal, he is your quarterback and you're happy to have him now.

After all, Chandler got Atlanta to the title game by completing 27 of 43 passes for 340 yards, directing a 71-yard drive for the tying touchdown, then a 70-yarder for the winning field goal in the 30-27 overtime win at Minnesota.

The result: A team that was a 100-1 to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season - and 3-13 two years ago - is in the NFL's ultimate game for the first time after 32 seasons in which it went 184-298-5.

King's Analysis
I've been hearing a lot this week about how Denver has a decisive edge over the Falcons at quarterback, and that's really surprised me.

I think heading into last week in Minnesota, Chris Chandler was clearly the decided "Avis guy" to John Elway, the "Hertz guy," at quarterback in this game. But if you look at what's happened in the postseason so far, you see that's exactly the opposite.

Chandler has completed 64.5 percent of his passes, while Elway is at 47.3 percent. Chandler is averaging 77 more yards per game, and he has one more touchdown and one fewer interception. That's despite Elway being at home last week and Chandler on the road at Minnesota, where the Vikings hadn't lost all year. Chandler has been much the better quarterback, and Elway has looked like he's 53 years old.

I think the thing to realize about this is that Chris Chandler, for the first time in his life, is on the big stage. He's started for six teams in the NFL, and he's never been in an important January game. I think that's going to be the key element next Sunday, to see how he handles this. Looking at last week, you'd think he's going to handle it great.

On the other side, this just might be the best time and the best way for John Elway to go out on top. At halftime last week, his wife Janet was very emotional, shedding tears in her private box. She said "Geez, I don't want John to go out this way" because he had had such a horrible first half. I think it is time -- the right time -- for Elway to bow out from the game. -- Peter King

This year, Chandler was better than Elway, at least statistically. His rating was 100.9, seven points higher than Elway's, and he surprised even himself.

"It's still hard to realize that I've gotten this far," said Chandler, who never had been to a playoff game in his first 10 seasons.

The contrast between Elway and Chandler starts from the beginning of their pro careers - about all they had in common were Pac-10 backgrounds.

Elway entered the NFL in 1983 from Stanford with so much potential that he was able to dictate his own terms. He told the Baltimore Colts, who had the No. 1 pick in the draft, that he didn't want to play for them.

The Colts picked him anyway, then traded him to the Broncos. After a predictably erratic start, Elway has fulfilled every expectation, leading Denver to five Super Bowls, winning his first last season.

"I don't think there's ever been a guy in the NFL who symbolized his town like John Elway," said Shannon Sharpe, the Broncos' tight end. "If you think of Denver, you don't think of skiing. You think of John Elway. It's always been John, and even if he retires, it will still always be John."

Chandler was a "maybe" coming out of the University of Washington in 1988, a third-round draft pick by Indianapolis. His arm was strong and his head was good, but his mobility and durability were suspect.

In the ensuing decade, he went from the Colts to the Bucs, Cardinals, Rams, Oilers and finally the Falcons, playing until this season on only one winning team - the 1988 Colts, who were 9-7 - and living up to his injury-prone reputation by never playing all 16 games in a season.

But that may have had something to do with his supporting cast, particularly the offensive line. Overall, the teams he played for in his first 10 seasons had a combined record of 62-98 and he often was a victim of front-office floundering. The Bucs, who gave up a first-round pick for him in 1991, released him outright six games into the 1992 season.

"I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he couldn't stay in one piece," said George Young, the NFL's senior vice-president for football operations, who as general manager of the Giants had some interest in Chandler. "When players get a rap for being injury prone, people finally give up on them or decide they don't want to take the risk."

But ask Chandler's father-in-law, John Brodie, who played quarterback for the 49ers from 1957-73, and you get a different perspective. They talk weekly and Brodie serves as unofficial coach and cheerleader for his son-in-law.

"When you see a quarterback and all the pieces come together it never comes together right away," Brodie said. "It develops over a period of time and you never know the time.

"Early in his career, he had no support, no one was in his corner. Everyone was looking for him to fail."

No one was looking for Elway to fail and he hasn't.

He's combined athleticism, brains and a strong arm with the ability to be at his best under pressure. He's led 47 fourth-quarter drives that have tied or won games for Denver, the most famous a 98-yarder that tied the 1986 AFC title game that sent the Broncos to their first Super Bowl.

In fact, until last season, Super Bowls were the only blemish on Elway's record. He had lost three, all on Denver teams coached by Dan Reeves, who will lead Atlanta against the Broncos in next Sunday's game.

In the AFC championship against the Jets, Elway was only 13-of-34 for 173 yards, while Terrell Davis was carrying the Denver offense. The Broncos won 23-10 in what was almost surely Elway's final game at Mile High Stadium.

Afterward, he took a victory lap, acknowledging the fans who have watched him work his magic for 16 seasons.

"I didn't feel comfortable, taking that lap," Elway said. "But I'm glad I did it. I had a chance to see the fans and look into their eyes, to really concentrate on them. They were so happy."

No one in Minnesota wanted a victory lap from Chandler after he saved the game for Atlanta. But Reeves drew some comparisons.

"I told him after we went down there and tied the score, that ranks right up there with any of the big-time quarterbacks," Reeves said. "He's done it with the pressure on him, made some big-time throws, did it after being hurt from the scramble, hung in there."

Sounds like Elway.

Now it's time to see how well Chandler does under the ultimate pressure against a quarterback who in five years will be an almost automatic choice for the Hall of Fame.

Related information

Falcons finding out what it takes to play in the Big One
Reeves still scarred from Broncos firing
Davis won't skip migraine medication this time
Broncos back in the big one, ready to defend title
Falcons' DB Ray Buchanan recants his guarantee of a Super Bowl win (197 K)
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