Work in Sports
While the sure-fire Hall of Famer was honored during the intermission, another quarterback headed to the Canton, Ohio shrine stole the show.
Miami opened its season with a statement, snapping the Broncos' regular-season home winning streak at 24 games, four shy of the NFL record. The Dolphins also handed Denver coach Mike Shanahan his first loss in seven season openers.
"I thought our guys did an excellent job accomplishing what we set out to do," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said. "That was to protect the ball, protect Dan, give him time to throw, run the ball and be balanced offensively. Defensively, our goal is to slow down the run so we can play pass defense."
"It was very satisfying to open the season by defeating the defending champions," added Miami receiver Tony Martin. "It's an exceptional feeling. We believed in ourselves, buckled down and played the kind of football we know we are capable of playing."
The loss was the worst for Denver since a 41-6 pounding at Green Bay on December 8, 1996. It was the Broncos' worst home loss since a 48-16 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Raiders on September 18, 1994.
"Give Miami a lot of credit," Shanahan said. "They played an excellent football game in all three phases. We had a chance to take control of the game early and they didn't allow us to do it."
Abdul-Jabbar scored on a one-yard plunge with 8:54 left in the first half and Marino found fullback Rob Konrad just under five minutes later to take a 14-7 lead. A blocked punt ended the Broncos' next possession and set up a 37-yard field goal by Olindo Mare on the next-to-last play of the half.
Miami has won eight consecutive openers, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Dolphins' defense picked up where it left off last season, when it ranked second in the AFC. Miami bottled up superstar Terrell Davis, holding the 2,000-yard rusher to 61 on 19 carries. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas spearheaded the attack with 10 tackles, including a sack.
"We as a defense have a lot of confidence," Thomas said. "We didn't throw a bunch of blitzes at them, we just tried to execute."
"I thought they did a good job of forcing me to the outside and taking away the cutback lanes," Davis said. "They were aggressive up front and the linebackers ran hard."
Brian Griese played well for Denver in his first NFL start, completing 24-of-40 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns --all to emerging star Ed McCaffrey.
"I'm disappointed right now," Griese said. "I think there are some things that I could have done, but it is a long season.
Hopefully, I'll get better for next week."
Marino was 15-of-23 with four completions going to Martin, who accounted for 101 yards. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 60 yards on 16 carries.
"I just try to be patient and hang in there," Marino said. "I try to take care of one play at a time, and that's what we did tonight. When you can run the ball on the road it takes a lot of pressure off you. That's something we have struggled with in the past."
The Broncos looked like they would not miss a beat after a 14-2 season. Griese completed his first pass and led Denver on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 61-yard scoring toss to McCaffrey.
The Broncos were poised to go up 10-0 early in the second quarter but Jason Elam's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked by defensive end Lorenzo Bromell. Cornerback Terrell Buckley scooped up the loose ball and returned it 43 yards to the Denver 36.
Four plays later, Abdul-Jabbar cashed in from one yard to tie it. The Broncos went three-and-out on their next possession and Marino marched Miami 80 yards in seven plays, finding Konrad for the go-ahead score.
Things got worse for Denver as Tom Rouen's punt was blocked on the next series. Taking over at the Denver 43 with 97 seconds left, Marino directed a seven-play, 23-yard drive that Mare capped with a 37-yard field goal.
Miami extended its 17-7 halftime lead on the first possession of the second half. The drive was aided by a 25-yard pass from Marino to Martin that was followed by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on cornerback Ray Crockett. After reaching the Denver 26, Miami ran the ball six straight times, ending in a one-yard plunge by J.J. Johnson.
Griese responded for the Broncos, leading them on a 13-play, 59-yard drive. His 11-yard TD pass to McCaffrey cut the margin to 24-14 with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
The Broncos had a chance to get closer in the opening minute of the fourth quarter but Griese was sacked on 4th-and-1 at the Miami 40. Marino quickly took advantage, opening a 31-14 lead on a four-yard toss from Marino to O.J. McDuffie.
Any chance the Broncos had of rallying disappeared when Elam missed a 41-yard field goal with just under six minutes left.