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PRO FOOTBALL : Elway Has a Way of Taking Over : It's That John Wayne Type of Walk, Says Bronco Receiver Vance Johnson

November 23, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

The folks around Denver say that on some days there are no words to describe John Elway, but Vance Johnson gives it the best try.

"John is a great athlete," the Broncos' wide receiver said after catching 5 of Elway's passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 win over the Raiders at the Coliseum Sunday.

"He has all the confidence in the world," Johnson said. "As long as he believes in himself, he'll get the job done. He gets that walk . . . "

Johnson stopped, at a rare but momentary loss for words.

"What's that guy's name? Yeah, that John Wayne walk. When I see that walk, I know Elway is gonna get the job done. We're just part of his tools out there. He's carrying us along with him. And when he goes to the Pro Bowl I'll be right behind him."

Bronco Coach Dan Reeves wasn't ready to anoint Elway as the second coming of the Duke, but he came close.

"I can't say enough about number seven," Reeves said. "If he's not the most valuable player in the National Football League, I don't know who is.

"Nobody depends as much on one guy as we depend on John Elway. Game after game after game the pressure falls on his shoulders and he comes through. He's making big play after big play. He's the best I've ever seen."

What did Elway do to deserve all these raves? Walk on water?

No, but a few times he turned chicken feathers into chicken soup.

The statistics show only that he completed 16 of 29 passes for 298 yards, with 1 touchdown and no interceptions, but tell nothing of his Houdini-like escape tricks under pressure.

"They were in there a couple of times forcing me to get rid of it, but the offensive line had a good day, and the receivers got it," Elway said in a masterpiece of oversimplification.

He shrugged off a follow-up question about how he must get a kick out of watching himself on film the next day.

"I just hope they keep comin' that way," Elway smiled. "I just react out there. It's all reaction. I just hope we can keep getting big plays out of it.

"When I'm running around it just breaks down into a street game, and we've done it enough and the receivers have seen me do it enough that they do a good job of getting open.

"There's not any one thing that somebody's supposed to do when that happens. It's just a matter of them trying to lose the guy that's covering 'em, and me trying to find 'em.

"I guess it's just natural. I did it in college and I've always done it here. The important thing is to scramble at the right time, not just to get out of the pocket. If I've got time I want to stay in the pocket and throw from the pocket. That's one thing I've matured on--knowing the right time."

Does a little voice say, "Now, John?" Does a green light go on in his head?

"Yeah, there's definitely a feeling, especially (when the rush is) from the backside. I don't know whether I hear him breathing or what it is. It's just that as many times as I've dropped back, I know there's gonna be something coming from the backside. I'm not gonna say I always feel it."

Bronco center Mike Freeman said Elway makes the offensive line look good.

"You give him a little time and he makes a day out of it," Freeman said. "You just make a little block and he makes it seem like a great block. I've never had a quarterback like that behind me.

"The older guys have figured it out. You don't go chasing him around. You don't try to get in front of him. You just pick people off as they come . . . kind of wait for them to come to you."

Johnson has caught touchdown passes in five consecutive games and six of the last seven.

He likes to inspire himself by writing little messages on the heels of his shoes. Last Monday night against the Bears it was "bye bye." Sunday he had "VJ Day."

"I just wanted to put a little more pressure on myself," he said.

Johnson and fellow wide receivers Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel call themselves the "Three Amigos."

Johnson didn't have a perfect day. He dropped one pass and a punt that the Raiders turned into Bo Jackson's 35-yard touchdown run on the next play in the second quarter.

"It was the first (punt return) I'd done since two years ago," Johnson said. "It was deja vu because I fumbled the last time in the same place in the same stadium against the Raiders."

Bronco cornerback Mike Harden was not surprised to see a reporter approach him in the locker room.

"Let me guess what you want to ask me about," he said.

Easy--how it felt to have Jackson lower his head and run right over him.

"That's a 'knockout,' obviously," Harden said cheerfully in player vernacular. "That's what we call a knockout. I'll hear it (from teammates) for a few days, but that's part of the game.

"He is a unique guy with a combination of speed and power. If I had to do anything different, it would probably be not to hesitate.

"Early in the game he hesitated and tried to get me off balance. This time--and I've got to give him credit--he made up his mind that he was gonna go through me--and he did."

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