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Rick Reilly
January 18, 1988
The Duke, alias John Elway, guided the Broncos to a 34-10 bust-up of the Oilers
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January 18, 1988

Gunfight At Mile High Corral

The Duke, alias John Elway, guided the Broncos to a 34-10 bust-up of the Oilers

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Nobody, not even the Italians, has ever made a more low-rent, late-night, shoot-'em-up, leave-at-intermission, B Western than Sunday's Houston-Denver playoff game at Mile High Stadium. Too bad it was a 34-10 walkout rout by the Broncos, because the casting was terrific.

You had Denver quarterback John Elway as the Duke, firing bullets and walking that walk, that swagger of a man who just rode in from Amarillo on a saddle two sizes too small.

And you had the Duke's trusty sidekick wide receivers, the Three Amigos, talking that talk, catching the Duke's bullets in their teeth, phoning their agents. Led by "the Vance" (never just Vance) Johnson, who will wear any of 30 different hair colors—the Boz starter set—the Amigos write messages to beaten cornerbacks on the soles of their shoes, such as BYE-BYE and ADIOS.

There was even a bad guy dressed in black, the Houston Oilers' own Johnny Cash, head coach Jerry Glanville, whose sartorial selections make him a real honest-to-goodness confidant of Cash himself. Cash sends Glanville black jackets and black sunglasses and letters addressed to "the Coach in Black" from "the Man in Black." Could we make this up? Cash must like the way Glanville walks the line.

Not so for the orange-skinned faithful in Denver, who figured Glanville went over the line before the game when he said, "This is just the second stop on a four-game schedule. We're going to San Diego." And then there was this: "If it snows, tell [the Broncos] to wear snow-shoes, 'cause we're going to run right around them."

So who was snowing whom? Houston, the boys in the bubble, hadn't played outside a dome since Nov. 15, and now they were heading to some of the country's most out-of-control air-conditioning. The Broncos had the best record in the AFC, had won 27 of their last regular-season 32 in their own corral and had Elway, the AP NFL MVP. O.K.? To Broncomaniacs, Glanville's were fightin' words.

Didn't bother Jerry. He figured his hand was as good as any in this game. Quarterback Warren Moon was having a heavenly year, especially the last three weeks, delivering must wins over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Seattle. And huggable as the Three Amigos are, they don't compare with Houston's two orbital wide receivers, Drew Hill and Ernest Givins, a.k.a. the Moonies. After all, the best two Amigos (Johnson and rookie Ricky Nattiel) placed ninth among the league's receiver tandems in pass-catching yardage. The Moonies were first.

And you knew you had a good setup when MTV got into it. The music vidiots wrote to the Broncos asking for help in promoting some rock videos and signed off with "good luck in the pennent [sic] race." And could you send us an autographed puck?

Unfortunately, before we could get much past the opening theme music—and long before the big gunfight scene—the Oilers went and plugged themselves full of lead.

With Houston backed up at its own four-yard line, on its second snap of the game, Glanville got this genius idea to try an end zone, overhand lateral to running back Mike Rozier on the far sideline, a play Houston calls Stagger Lee. Why throw a lateral to the man with the stoniest hands on the club, in your own end zone, so early in the biggest game that the franchise has had in eight years, on the road, in one of the most unforgiving stadiums in the country? That's one for Glanville to think about. What happened is that the ball hit Rozier in the numbers and the hands before bouncing stagger-ly into the arms of Bronco Steve Wilson at the one-yard line.

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