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The Los Angeles Raiders beat the cold and the Colorado snow and the avalanche of sound from 75,042 pairs of feet banging on the metal of Denver's Mile High Stadium, a crescendo of noise that sounded like thunder rolling in from the Rockies. This team that had started the season 1-2 took first place in the AFC West from Denver by beating the Broncos 17-14 in overtime Sunday, and it wasn't supposed to happen the way it did.
The Raiders, now 10-4, won with defense and Marcus Allen's running. It was a Howie Long sack on the last scrimmage play in overtime that led to a John Elway fumble on the Denver eight and a 26-yard chip-shot field goal by Chris Bahr. Then it was goodby to the snowflakes and please get us on the plane to L.A. before the world turns white.
A lost coin flip set it up. Don't laugh. It was that kind of day. The Raiders' Rod Martin called heads at the start of OT It came up tails. The Broncos' game captain, defensive end Barney Chavous, celebrating his 180th game for Denver, a team record, chose to take the ball. The Broncos had planned to take the wind, which was gusting up to 20 miles per hour, whipping snowflakes in the faces of those unfortunate enough to face it.
"I take the blame for that," said Bronco coach Dan Reeves. "There was a breakdown in communications."
Two series on both sides produced zip, but the Raiders were getting their zips near midfield while the Broncos couldn't dig out of their own end, and when the ball was knocked loose from Elway at the start of Denver series No. 3, the hunt was over. It was that kind of day.
Defense. On one play in the third quarter Long and noseguard Bill Pickel crashed into Elway, producing an interception and one of the game's nine turnovers (five by the Raiders, four by the Broncos). Elway tottered to the Denver bench. Ditto Long, who'd been knocked groggy by the impact and had gotten poked in the eye.
"You O.K.?" linebacker Matt Millen asked him.
"I can rush the passer," Long said, "with one eye tied behind my back."
The Raiders went after Elway and sacked him three times. L.A.'s Marc Wilson wasn't toppled, but he threw four interceptions. One time Elway scrambled toward the Raider sidelines and Martin nailed him as he was going out of bounds (and drew a penalty) and rolled him under the bench, scattering Raiders en route.
"They helped me up," Elway said. "Then some of our guys ran over, bodies started flying, and that was when the action started."