DENVER — Life begins again for the Broncomaniacs, like bears awakening from hibernation or the villagers of Brigadoon rising from a long slumber.
Broncomaniacs had their hearts broken twice last year, but Sunday they watched Raider hearts crumble in the never-to-be-forgotten Shoot-out at Mile High Stadium. These teams had played three straight overtimes but this little old regulation game was better than any of them, or perhaps all three rolled into one.
Do the Raiders care? When it was over, the Broncos had won the season opener, 38-36. No one walked out of the Raider dressing room with anything resembling a smile.
"This was like a movie trailer (a preview)," said the Raiders' Todd Christensen. "It's not for anybody over 35 or without a sense of humor."
The game was awash in stars. John Elway, the Bronco quarterback, ran a track meet with Howie Long and Co. in his face, escaped with two sacks, threw for two touchdowns and caught a pass for a third. Of the Broncos' 290 yards, he accounted for 262.
His embattled opposite number, Marc Wilson, played one of his finest games: Completing 20 of 33 passes with three of them dropped, 346 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions.
But first there was Marcus Allen. A final revision of rushing statistics hours after the game put him at 102 yards. He had gone over 100 yards for the record-breaking 10th straight time. He also had 102 yards in pass receptions and scored two touchdowns. If the streak had ended, it would have been one of the better games a non-record-breaker will ever play.
Allen left Denver thinking the streak was ended, that he would share the record, nine straight 100-yard rushing games, with the Bears' Walter Payton.
"I think Walter's great company," Allen said. "I'm glad to be in that company.
"I think people made more of this than I did. I wanted to win this game and get off to a good start. This one went to the Broncos."
There were all sorts of stars but that's not how the Raiders are going to remember it.
What they'll remember are the cheap touchdowns they gave up:
--Ken Woodard's 12-yard return after tearing the ball loose from Allen, whom the Raiders thought had been stopped. That brought the Broncos back a 29-21 deficit in the third period.
--Napoleon McCallum's fumbled kickoff in the fourth quarter, setting up a 39-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.
They'll remember one or two other calls, too, starting with side judge Gil Mace's interference call against Stacey Toran in the end zone against Clarence Kay late in the first half, giving the Broncos a first down at the one.
Elway had just scaled a third-and-seven pass over Kay's head. The replay suggested that the end of the play was clean, but after the play ended, Mace threw his flag.
NBC, which was televising the game, replayed it several times. Announcers Don Criqui and Bob Trumpy questioned the call.
"They didn't seem to think the ball was catchable," NBC producer George Finkel said.
The play was also reviewed by the NFL official in the press box, who just happened to be Art McNally, the NFL's supervisor of officials, but he allowed it to stand. Field rulings are to be reversed only in the presence of "irrefutable visual evidence" and none of the replays showed Toran and Kay for the whole play.
On the next play, Gene Lang dove into the end zone. Rich Karlis' extra point cut the Raider lead at halftime to 22-21. "A gift," Christensen said.
"It's easy to say it (replays) is not an exact system. It still comes down to human judgment and these are still part-time officials. I don't understand, you have a multi-million dollar corporation and it's being run by life insurance agents. If that was interference on Clarence Kay, watch the films and see what they do to me."
With whatever exceptions by which ever participants, it was a game to remember.
How to describe it?
There was the opening Bronco burst: Elway takes Broncos 70 yards in four plays on their first possession, the fourth his 35-yard strike to Steve Watson.
Then came the Raider explosion into a 19-7 lead. The world is about to learn the answer to the burning question: How quiet can 75,695 Broncomaniacs get?
Gerald Willhite fumbles a punt and the Raiders knock off a 30-yard TD drive, with Wilson hitting Allen over the middle for the last 24. Wilson takes the Raiders 75 yards in five plays, including a 53-yarder to Dokie Williams, for a second touchdown which came on a 16-yard pass to Christensen. Long and Greg Townsend chase Elway out of the end zone for a safety. Chris Bahr kicks a 43-yard field goal on the first play of the second period.
The Broncos, clearly rattled, rally. Guard Mark Cooper, a new starter who has been beaten for one sack by Bill Pickel and has been called for a false start, is replaced. With third-and-three at his 30, Elway hits Willhite for 21 yards and the first first down since their first possession. They go 77 yards, with halfback Steve Sewell throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to . . . Elway? Yup.