Elam, Rouen give Broncos special edge
Posted: Wednesday January 27, 1999 06:59 PM
MIAMI (AP) -- The instant he saw wide receiver Jason Elam kick a football, Georgia prep coach Dave Hunter made a snap decision. Elam had caught his last pass.
"I told the receivers coach to leave him alone," Hunter recalled. "Then I told Jason, `Sit down on the bench. If you get up, I'll kill you.'"
It was Elam's senior season at Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga., and Hunter was in his first year as head coach.
Elam kicked only sparingly until then, but a kicking career was born. He converted nine of 11 field goals that season, including two game-winners, one of which was a 52-yarder that remains a school record.
Elam went on to Hawaii, where, in his first college game, his last-minute kick upset Iowa. He became an All-American, and his 79 field goals were just one shy of the NCAA record.
Drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round in 1993, Elam's achievements have continued to mount.
Elam boasts a franchise-best .781 field-goal percentage (157 of 201), and this season he ran his consecutive field-goal streak to a club-record 19 before having a kick blocked on Dec. 6. He has made his last 235 extra-point kicks and has made 259 of 260, the highest career percentage (.996) in NFL history.
His 51-yard field goal, the second-longest in Super Bowl history, helped the Broncos beat Green Bay 31-24 last January.
Last Oct. 25, he matched the longest field goal in league history, booting a 63-yarder to tie the 28-year-old record set by Tom Dempsey.
Next month, he will head to his second Pro Bowl.
Elam credits much of his success to working on mechanics with kicking guru Mackey Shilstone and to a thorough visualization routine he performs before every game.
"I try to go over in my mind every possible situation that might happen," he said. "You don't want to be surprised by anything. I go over different wind conditions, rain, different hash marks, going both directions.
"Then I try to focus on mechanics. The adrenaline is always cranking. You just let it fire. If it doesn't go in, then it doesn't go in. But more times than not, it's going to."
Elam, who has kicked field goals as long as 75 yards in practice, said his chances of a history-making kick in the Super Bowl next Sunday depend on several factors.
"The conditions would have to be just right, at the end of the half or a desperation thing at the end of the game," he said. "And it depends a lot, I think, on how I kick this week in practice. If I'm kicking terrible in practice and falling short from 55, then Mike [coach Mike Shanahan] won't let me have a shot at it. If I'm kicking well, he will."
Because of his season-long performance, Elam has helped raise the standard of the Broncos' special teams.
Punter Tom Rouen averaged a career-best 46.9 yards, ranking second in the NFL. He was selected an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Vaughn Hebron averaged a career-high 26.4 yards on kickoff returns to rank third in the AFC. Against Miami on Dec. 21, he returned a kick 95 yards for a touchdown -- the first kickoff return for a TD by a Denver player since 1972.
Darrien Gordon had punt returns of 44, 36 and 30 yards in a solid season, and his career punt-return average of 13.2 yards remains the best in NFL history.
"As a whole, I think we've had a really good year," Rouen said. "Jason had a phenomenal year. Vaughn did a good job of running back kicks, Darrien has been really solid, and I had one of my best years. It's been great. We've done a lot of really good things."
Elam also credits Rouen for being "a great holder for me the last four or five years. There's a lot of components that go into great special teams play. We'll try to tie them all together on Sunday."
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