"If he presses you," Brunell said to wideout Jimmy Smith in the huddle, "run a fade." When Smith, split left, got to the line, a star-crossed James was up on him, pressing him, and so Smith sidestepped James to the left and ran his fade toward the corner of the end zone. Not that Smith was ever open. James was on him like eczema. It's just that Brunell threw the prettiest little pass you've ever seen, one inch past James's fingernails and right into NFL history. "All I had to do was hold my arms out," said Smith. "It was perfect." Touchdown. Ten-point lead.
Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver once made $40 a week selling women's shoes, but the slipper doesn't fit Cinderella anymore. This is Godzilla. This is a team with destiny, luck and a good pass rush. This is a team with terrific wideouts and a running back who can't be stopped with a court order. This is a team playing on house money. Most of all, this is a team with a quarterback who shreds defensive game plans. "Mark Brunell," said Smith afterward, "is going to be a household name."
The future king wasn't letting himself believe it, not here, not in the home of his hero, Of all the quarterbacks he watched growing up, his favorite was Elway. In fact, he thought about getting a football and asking Elway to sign it after the game. Figuring it might not be exactly the right time, considering that he single-handedly had ruined Elway's season, he changed his mind but not his devotion. "I still think Elway is the best," Brunell said. "I didn't outdo Elway. I don't think that's possible."
These are home wreckers, these Jaguars. In fact, in its last two games Jacksonville has eliminated teams with eight Super Bowl appearances between them. "Eight Super Bowls, huh?" sneered Jurkovic. "Any wins in there?"
Cruel. And if you think the Broncos looked shocked, you should've seen Woody Paige. Within two hours after the game, the Post had taken hundreds of angry calls about his column, and somehow his E-mail address appeared on local TV and on the JumboTron at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, where 5,600 fans watched the game. "God," Paige said, "I don't even want to check it."
Jacksonville is a true wild card now. Anything can happen and probably will. In fact, Means was smiling hugely in the sorrowful light of a faint Denver moon when he said, casually, "Well, we've got nothing else to do. We might as well go win a Super Bowl."
If that happens, Brunell will be going to football for a whole lot longer.
Bad news for Caitlin. Great news for the rest of us.