Smith, Sanders and Williams all set Super Bowl records. Smith, a fifth-round draft pick out of Texas Tech, got his by rushing for 204 yards (on 22 carries). Sanders, who made nine catches starting in place of the injured Art Monk, broke the mark for receiving yardage with 193, and Williams, who finished with 18 completions in 29 attempts, threw for a record 340 yards. As a team, Washington went into the books with 602 total yards and 280 on the ground. But the game was won in that wild second quarter. What made the Skins' performance so remarkable was that there was nothing to indicate it was coming.
The first time Elway touched the ball, he launched a 56-yard rocket to rookie Ricky Nattiel, who streaked down the right side past Washington cornerback Barry Wilburn. The next time the Broncos took possession they moved smartly from their 32 to the Skins' seven. Rich Karlis then kicked a 24-yard field goal to make the score 10-0. The big play was a 32-yard pass from Elway to Mark Jackson. The Washington corners were obviously having trouble keeping up. The Three Amigos—wideouts Jackson, Nattiel and Vance Johnson—were going to have a day. During the warm-ups the threesome had tested the turf, discovered that it was loose and changed to longer, three-quarter-inch cleats. When the score reached 10-0 a press box announcement mentioned that the Washington defenders were changing to longer cleats, which prompted some snickers.
Williams hadn't changed out of his half-inch cleats, and that slippery pair may well have saved him from disaster. Late in the first quarter he set up to pass and his right leg slid out from under him. As he went down, he twisted his left knee. He tried to walk back to the huddle and collapsed.
"When I saw him go down again I thought, Uh-oh, something's wrong," said Bubba Tyer, the Washington trainer. "He has a lot of scar tissue in his left knee, and he really can't flex it. I tested the knee for stability and it was O.K. It was stretched—hyperflexed, we call it. I taped it and put a brace over it. If he'd been wearing longer cleats and they caught in the turf, well, anything could have happened."
Jay Schroeder replaced Williams. He took a sack and threw an incompletion, and the Skins were forced to punt. Nothing was going right for them. Sanders had even fumbled the kickoff following the Denver field goal, but, fortunately for Washington, after a frantic scramble for the ball, the officials ruled that Redskins linebacker Ravin Caldwell had dug it out of the mob.
Some people point to this play as a mini-turning point, but it wasn't. Washington didn't get past midfield on that possession or the next either, and the Broncos were beginning to stall. Denver had a first down on the Skins' 30, but Alvin Walton's safety blitz on Elway, which cost Denver 18 yards, killed the drive. On the Broncos' first possession of the second quarter they had third-and-five on the Washington 36, but running back Tony Boddie dropped Elway's pass. Then all hell broke loose.
From his own 20, Williams hooked up with Sanders for the 80-yard touchdown. Denver cornerback Mark Haynes was covering. "The play went on a quick count," said Sanders, who caught 101 passes for the USFL Houston Gamblers in 1984. "I don't think Haynes was ready. I ran a five-yard hitch, he came up tight, and I took off."
The Broncos' next series was three and out, as Elway threw his fifth and sixth straight incompletions. Some were misfires, and some were caused by defensive pressure. "We could tell something was in the works, something was happening," said Washington defensive tackle Dave Butz. "Some of the guys had already changed to longer cleats and were getting more traction. I'd changed before the game."
Now Washington came up with the five-play, 64-yarder, and its running game was starting to get cranked up. Smith broke through the left side for 19 yards. "The play was 50-lead," said left guard Raleigh McKenzie. "[Center] Jeff [Bostic], [left tackle] Joe [Jacoby] and I all blocked down. Jeff influenced the noseman, and Clint Didier [the motion tight end] trapped him. You don't expect to hit a play like that for that kind of yardage."
Three plays later the Skins had their second score, a 27-yard pass to wideout Gary Clark, who fed cornerback Steve Wilson an inside juke and then broke for the corner. "I sold the post move," Clark said, "and then I was alone."