SI Vault
Rick Reilly
January 22, 1990
The Denver Broncos, 0 for 3 in the Super Bowl, earned the chance to try again after beating the Cleveland Browns 37-21 for the AFC crown
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January 22, 1990

Once More...with Feeling

The Denver Broncos, 0 for 3 in the Super Bowl, earned the chance to try again after beating the Cleveland Browns 37-21 for the AFC crown

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Okay, we'll soon be starting construction on the Joe Montana wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But while we're at it, maybe somebody should start dusting off a shelf back near the broom closet for Denver Bronco quarterback John Elway. What else are we going to do with Elway? He continues doing his impression of the Energizer bunny. He keeps going and going and going....

He especially keeps going to Super Bowls. In fact, Elway will be going to his third in four years, thanks to his jaw-dropping performance Sunday at Denver's Mile High Stadium, where he beat the Cleveland Browns with a contortionist's throws and a cat burglar's feet, 37-21, to win the AFC title.

All known methods of burying this guy have failed, and the Browns know it better than anyone. You can't do it with statistics. Elway was ranked ninth among AFC passers this season, but first in wins. You can't do it with pressure. Elway said he felt "suffocated" this year by the expectations of Denver's fans and media, then went out and exceeded those expectations. You can't do it with blitzes and shoots and stunting defensive ends. He will only dance away from them and then carve the defense into an armchair doily.

Maybe all that now stands between Elway and a display case in Canton is his oft-clobbered dream, his long-pined-for Super Bowl victory. Of course, what stands between him and that are the San Francisco 49ers, which is why a grinning Denver coach Dan Reeves told CBS's Brent Musburger after beating Cleveland, "All I can say is we'll show up." Meanwhile, many Denver fans are already picking out something black to wear on Super Bowl Sunday.

Two serious Super Bowl whippings in 1987 and '88 left some Bronco fans hoping that their team would lose against the Browns and save them the angst. "Why don't those people go hide in their closets?" Elway said before the game. "They're taking the easy way out. If we lose, we lose, but I'd hate to be stuck in a closet."

And that was only one of the juicy tidbits that preceded the latest renewal of what has become a wonderfully testy rivalry. Forget the game—people were talking about The Box, The Sox and, of course, The Ox.

The Ox was Cleveland coach Bud Carson's and owner Art Modell's worry that there wasn't enough oxygen at Mile High Stadium. Team doctors had advised that the less exposure the Browns had to Denver's thin air, the better it would be for them. So new NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed to let the Browns arrive one day before the game instead of the required two. The Browns also hoped to avoid the kind of Dawg-hounding the Broncos got at their Cleveland hotel from rabid fans three years ago. "They tried to take advantage of a rookie commissioner," said a ticked-off Reeves, "and he fell for it."

Modell decided to further tweak his hosts by refusing to sit in Denver's visiting owner's luxury box, calling it a "disgrace" and choosing to pay $5,000 to rent a different luxury box. Then there was the dispute about the game program. At the AFC title game at Mile High two years ago, Modell complained when Reeves appeared alone on the cover of what was supposed to be an unbiased publication. So this year the Broncos made up an unbiased cover—and put Reeves on the program cover holding the unbiased cover. Gotcha!

Then came The Sox. Denver receiver Vance Johnson painted a Frank-buster symbol on his practice hose—the jersey number 31, worn by Browns cornerback Frank Minnifield, with a slash through it. Elway isn't fond of Minnifield either. "He walks around and acts cool before the game," said Elway. "'He's like a bad rash," said Denver receiver Michael Young, who would have a career day, with two catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. "He holds more than any defensive back in the league."

Sadly, Sunday came and a game had to be played. Sadly, Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar had to play in it. Kosar wasn't ready for a game; Kosar was ready for a gurney. He had a sore throwing elbow, a rubber brace on the index finger of his throwing hand, a sore throwing shoulder and a staph infection in his throwing arm. Other than that, he was 100%.

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