The Denver Broncos didn't win the Super Bowl when they had the Orange Crush defense. They didn't win it when they had the Three Amigos. But now, stripped of nicknames, still seeking an identity, they are our pick to win Super Bowl XXVII. How come? Three reasons.
First, there's the When in Doubt theory. When in doubt, when you can't quite figure how the races are going to go, pick the team that always manages to slop in there. Washington's a When in Doubt team. So is Denver.
Then, there's the They're Not What You Think They Are theory. Picture the Broncos, and what comes to mind? Soft defense, John Elway throwing for a million yards. Uh-uh. They're not like that. Last year, with people like nosetackle Greg Kragen and linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and safety Steve Atwater and rookie linebacker Mike Croel hustling their fannies off, Denver had a tenacious, aggressive defense that was ranked first in the AFC. On offense they were one of the handful of teams that called more running than passing plays. Coach Dan Reeves is from the old Tom Landry school: You don't get anyplace if you can't run the ball. Gaston Green, the recently traded Bobby Humphrey, Sammy Winder in the old days—plug in any back, and the Broncos seem to find a way to make the ground game go.
Finally, the road to the Super Bowl runs through Buffalo, and Denver is one team that knows how to play the Bills. The Broncos swarmed all over them in the AFC Championship Game last season, making Jim Kelly's life miserable, and they would have beaten the Bills but for three missed field goals and a deflected pass that Buffalo intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Now Denver is the hungry team, possessing some of the fire that might have gone out of Buffalo.
Let's get one thing straight right away. There is no quarterback controversy on the Los Angeles Raiders. Al Davis, the top guy, says so. Art Shell, the coach, says so. Mike White, the quarterback coach, says so. " Jay Schroeder's the guy," White says. "It's all settled."
O.K., now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the quarterback controversy. Schroeder throws the high hard one, sometimes out of the strike zone. Todd Marinovich is the junkball pitcher—soft stuff, with control. When Schroeder went down with ankle injuries, Marinovich came in and dazzled Kansas City in the season finale with his assortment of loopers and bloopers, pitching three TD passes with no interceptions.
A week later, in the first round of the playoffs, the Chiefs had their timing down, and they slammed Marinovich's soft stuff into the seats—four interceptions for K.C. in its 10-6 victory. The kid was a rookie. What the hell....
The offensive unit seems to have a spark when Marinovich is in there. A lot of guys are pulling for him. It's a nagging concern for the coaches, and the party line is, We're so strong in other areas that we don't have to put the burden on the quarterback. Maybe they're right. The Raiders have always been serious about their running game.
The offensive linemen have been packing on the weight, getting ready for the big push. Center Don Mosebar and left guard Steve Wisniewski have bulked up to more than 300 pounds. The path through the Raider backfield has been a route from stardom to oblivion, with Greg Bell and Roger Craig both making the trip in the last few years. Now the Raiders have Eric Dickerson. But, remember, it's always Marcus Allen who gets the tough yards.
The Kansas City Chiefs have taken the first big step, from dogs of the division to solid playoff team. But as they have found out, the next step is harder. One dimension of their game was lacking last season: the ability to go deep.