Brister was slightly less diplomatic. "The guys on HBO said we didn't have a chance in hell to win," he said. "That Nick Buoniconti, I'd like to tell him where to go."
Meanwhile, safety Dennis Smith approached Elway in the Bronco locker room with his own message. "You're still the man around here," Smith told him. "I don't care what anybody says. You're the man, and you always will be the man."
For Elway, who has suffered a season of controversy and booing—it was his worst statistical campaign since his rookie year—Smith's words meant more than any piece of bronze or polished silver. "To hear it from a teammate," he said, "that meant a lot."
Now he is one game away from getting back on the Super Bowl horse that has bucked and trampled him twice in two tries. "A lot of people in Denver are afraid to go and face the NFC again," said Elway. "Nobody wants us to go. But I want a chance to step up to bat. It's like going oh for 4 against Nolan Ryan—you want to step up there again."
First, though, comes Cleveland. Hide the ashtrays.