DENVER — You're Jerry Glanville and you've already predicted you're going to the Super Bowl after your playoff debut, but now it's another game and what do you do for an encore?
How about going without a huddle on your second play and then throwing a lateral 15 yards across the field, back into your own end zone?
What objections could anyone raise?
You're not serious?
Isn't it risky?
Don't they fire coaches who mess up trying things like that, often before halftime?
You don't know Jerry Glanville. The Houston Oiler coach tried it, Mike Rozier dropped the ball, the Denver Broncos recovered at the Houston one, scored two plays later and rolled to a 34-10 rout of the Oilers Sunday in the American Conference semifinals.
The Broncos will face the Cleveland Browns in a rematch of last season's AFC final. The Oilers will go home, where Glanville will face his nemeses in the Houston press in another rematch, having contributed a footnote to the lore of modern competition: worst decision since Napoleon invaded Russia, or since Gary Hart re-entered the race, depending on your view of history.
"I was a little shocked," Denver linebacker Jim Ryan said. " . . . To me, it's a call--man, so many things can go wrong.
"What happened could happen. If that pass isn't complete, it isn't an incomplete pass (since quarterback Warren Moon threw the ball backward, it was a lateral, and if dropped, a fumble.)"
Glanville has blown up after games under far less pressure, so how was he going to handle this one?
Stonily, it turned out.
"The play was designed to get us off our own goal line," he said, "move it 15-20 yards, shorten the field. We didn't think we could drive 95 yards.
"He was going to run the ball. We would have had a big play. We had four people against two. Unfortunately, we didn't catch the ball."
Didn't he consider it risky?
"Not at the time, no. Every time we've run that play before, it's worked. . . . We ran that same play at Pittsburgh when we couldn't get a first down and it got us going."
Of course, on the other side were these factors:
The Time--Do you try this on your second play from scrimmage, when you have the young team with one game's playoff experience, playing on the road against seasoned veterans, and it's your squad which may need a few minutes to settle down?
The Place--At your own goal line? The Oilers had run the play before but never from there. Also, they were in the closed end of Mile High Stadium, where the din was deafening.
The Surprise Factor--It was lessened by the fact that the Broncos knew about the formation--"Stagger Lee," the Oilers call it--and had practiced against it. Bronco defensive coordinator Joe Collier said he had been tipped by another coach. Four head coaches have accused the Oilers of being a dirty team, so Glanville has no shortage of peers who'd have been happy to pick up the phone. Maybe they had a race to see who could call first.
The Personnel--It was Glanville who had the huge, physical team, with the line that averaged 280 pounds and included three No. 1 picks, and the million-dollar backs, Rozier and Alonzo Highsmith. Their best chance in this game was to simply overpower a less-than-vintage Orange Crush defense that had allowed 4.4 yards per rush.
So why not start right there and then?
"We were concerned about that, very much so," Ryan said. "It was a team that scared you. We wanted to make sure they didn't control the ball on us, run it down our throats."
Maybe what Glanville lacked, in fact, was some faith in what he had.
At any rate, it happened this way:
The Broncos took the opening kick, marched to midfield, stalled and punted. Mike Horan knocked a 43-yarder out at the Houston five.
Highsmith tried the right side and Karl Mecklenburg hit him behind the line for a loss of one yard.
Glanville then unleashed Stagger Lee, the dagger into his own team's heart, it turned out. Without huddling, the Oilers lined up in a spread formation, with Rozier split 15 yards to the left, behind tackles Dean Steinkuhler and Bruce Davis and tight end Jamie Williams.
Two Broncos lined up opposite them.
Moon whipped the ball to Rozier. It hit him in the hands. Actually, right between the hands. It hopped off his chest. It rolled off a lineman's leg and Bronco cornerback Steve Wilson fell on it.
Two plays later, Gene Lang scored on a trap up the middle. The Broncos led, 7-0.
Behind, perhaps anxious, certainly error-prone, the Oilers never got to play to their strength and control the ball. They ran it 26 times all day, for a 2.8 average.
The game quickly turned into a controlled scrimmage, a John Elway \o7 tour de force\f7 .
Elway threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clarence Kay behind All-Pro safety Keith Bostic. He threw a pass that traveled 57 yards in the air to Vance Johnson in the second quarter. Then he threw another touchdown pass to Kay while rolling right, like a third baseman picking up a bunt and sidearming the ball to first base.