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Denver Going El-the-Way?

Pro football: Broncos brush aside Seahawks, 35-14, and appear to have plenty of weapons to complement Elway.

September 08, 1997|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — He remains the most exciting player in the game, capable in the early years of taking a team to the Super Bowl, but content now to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Chase him, hit him, sack him more than 400 times in his career, hear the biceps tendon in his throwing arm snap and retract like a rolled-up window shade, and John Elway still comes out firing bullets.

Now pit him against a rookie cornerback, like the Seahawks' Shawn Springs, and it's no contest: Denver 35, Seattle 14.

Green Bay who?

Leaving the Seattle Seahawks for dead at 0-2 with talk that George Seifert will replace Coach Dennis Erickson at season's end, the Denver Broncos are 2-0, the only undefeated team in their division, 15-3 in their last 18 regular-season games and looking good enough now that Elway will no longer have to make every play.

"I'm actually enjoying the game more because of that," said Elway, who has won more regular-season games than any other quarterback in NFL history with 128. "If I do my job now and make the right decision, we got a great chance to win, but I don't have to go out and make the third-and-20 acrobatic miracle anymore."

Tell that to a confused Springs, all wound up like a figure skater doing 360s and eventually suckered into thinking the old man's arm can't be that strong to throw the ball that far.

"One thing you have to learn if you are going to be on the field with John Elway," said Denver wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, "is that the play is never over, and no matter what, no one is ever out of his arm's reach."

Taking the snap from center, Elway appeared to back up looking for No. 24, finding Springs and throwing the ball to whomever he covered. Three times in the first half Springs found himself overmatched, and to compensate he made contact with the receiver, drawing penalties each time.

"On one of the plays I don't think he realized John could throw the ball that far and so he grabbed me," McCaffrey said.

Rookie mistake--for Springs, the third player taken in the NFL draft, son of former Dallas Cowboys' running back Ron Springs and trained at Ohio State.

"Personally, I didn't have one of my better days," Springs said.

Left alone to cover McCaffrey, Springs arrived too late to stop him from catching an Elway dart in the end zone for a 14-yard score. Fast forward to the third quarter with the Seahawks winning, 14-13, and Springs went for an Elway fake, allowing McCaffrey to circle behind him and catch a 21-yard touchdown pass.

"Hook, line and sinker," said Elway after reeling in Springs with his pump fake.

Elway, who was 18 of 26 for 197 yards, completed eight passes to McCaffrey, Springs' responsibility, for 93 yards.

"Shawn Springs will no doubt be a great player someday," said Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe, "but in this league here you don't go against Purdue one week, Michigan the next and Central Michigan the third week. Everybody in this league can make you look totally bad, and until he gets better, everyone is going to take advantage of him."

Elway, meanwhile, remains someone quite extraordinary. During a preseason game against the Dolphins in Mexico City, he felt a biceps tendon snap and curl up into a ball down his arm. Looking at his arm now there is a depression where there should be a tendon.

"I was scared," Elway acknowledged. "It entered my mind that my career might be over."

He left the field clutching his shoulder and leaving everyone in Denver pondering the unthinkable: a winter without Elway providing the thrills. But doctors told Elway that he could continue playing without the tendon, and after a few days rest, he tested the arm for a select few--just in case his career was going to come to an end in pain.

"No one had gone through this before so know one knew what to expect," Elway said. "But you know what, the ball's coming out better than ever. I used to have tendinitis in my arm and I had to take a long time to warm up, but there's no tendon so there can't be any 'itis'.

"It's just turned out great; I wish it had snapped three years ago."

More talented than maybe they were a year ago on defense, the Broncos appear poised to run away with the AFC West Division title. In addition to Elway's arm, they have the running of Terrell Davis, who rumbled for 107 yards in 21 carries against Seattle.

They have one of the best catching tight ends in the game in Sharpe, who had four catches for 62 yards, and one of the game's up-and-coming game-breakers in wide receiver Rod Smith.

"All I keep think about is what if he retires after next year," said team owner Pat Bowlen. "How do you fill that hole? I sure as hell don't want anyone else playing quarterback."

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