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Will Broncos Be Another In That Long Line?

AFC: There is no concrete reason for 13-game losing streak, but start with turnovers.


SAN DIEGO — We could bore you with a list of all that has changed in the world since an AFC team last won the Super Bowl in 1984.

Instead we'll keep it simple and say that the AFC hasn't won since there was only one X in the game with the Roman numerals.

Since the Los Angeles Raiders (OK, there's another thing that's different) beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, 13 consecutive AFC teams have gone down in defeat.

"It's something that the AFC has had to despair through," said Tom Jackson, whose 14-year career as a Denver Bronco linebacker ended with a loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI. "Any player who says that they don't is not being completely honest."

The NFL is not like baseball, which has different rules for its different leagues. Everything's equal in football, and transfers between the conferences by players, coaches and personnel men are common. So why the disparity in results?

"It's one of those significant mysteries in sports, because both the NFC and AFC pool players from the same colleges," Jackson said. "It's hard to find an answer to that question of why . . . and we have yet to be able to figure it out."

With Super Bowl XXXII upon us and the Green Bay Packers heavy favorites to continue the NFC's dominance, here are 13 facts and opinions about the beat that goes on and on:

I. TO's, Baby.

The one constant in the streak is turnovers. The AFC had more turnovers in 10 of the 13 games, with three ties. The overall turnover disparity is 44-10. The NFC has not turned the ball over in the past three Super Bowls, while the AFC has done so 10 times.

II. These are the breaks.

When the turnovers stay close, the game tends to stay close, the big plays went against the AFC. Neither team had a turnover when the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-19. It came down to Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard field-goal attempt with four seconds remaining.

The San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals had one turnover apiece in their dramatic meeting in 1989, which was decided when Joe Montana completed a 10-yard pass to John Taylor for the winning touchdown and the final 20-16 score with 34 seconds remaining. On the play before, Bengal cornerback Lewis Billups dropped a potential interception in the end zone.

III. Green with envy.

The average difference between the winner's and loser's shares in the past 13 Super Bowls has been $17,000 per player. So during this streak NFC players have made $221,000 more than their AFC counterparts.

IV. The plain truth.

Sam Wyche, losing coach with Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII, on what changes can be made to win the game: "There's nothing you can do differently with your team--you can't travel differently, can't stay in a different hotel, can't work out differently--except have a better team."

V. Been there, done that.

No doubt many AFC players can relate to Steve Atwater's recollection of Super Bowl XXIV: "I had a horrible feeling after the game. I don't ever want to have that feeling again."

VI. By the (record) book.

NFC teams and players have set or tied 47 Super Bowl records during the streak. The AFC guys have set some records too, but most of them have to do with returning kickoffs.

VII. The routine's never routine.

If one of the challenges of Super Bowl week is getting through all of the distractions and focusing on the game, why haven't the AFC teams fared better? After all, Denver went to three Super Bowls in four years and Buffalo went to four straight, so they should have been better prepared to handle the hoopla than their opponents.

"You can't get used to it," said Bills' special-teams specialist Steve Tasker, who endured all four defeats with Buffalo. "You're in a different city. It's a different opponent. Different players on your team. Different hotel. Your family situation is different--which members of your family are actually going to be there this time, which ones aren't. Is it a warm-weather city, is it a cold-weather city? East Coast or West Coast?"

VIII. The baggage.

Don't think that multiple losers like the Bills and Broncos didn't accumulate more problems as the defeats piled up.

"It starts to work against you a little bit," Tasker said. "You start trying to correct mistakes of the past Super Bowls instead of working on what you worked on the preceding year to get to the Super Bowl. You start thinking about things that had to do with last year's Super Bowl team or two years' ago Super Bowl team rather than this team that you're presently on. You start trying to correct mistakes that were with another football team. That's an easy trap to fall into."

IX. Meanwhile . . .

The streak is having the opposite effect on the NFC.

"I think certainly now there's a confidence level that the NFC will come with that the AFC does not," Jackson said. "Because I'm sure that the NFC doesn't care what the reason is, they just know that they've won 13 straight."

X. Remember when?

It might seem hard to believe now, but AFC teams won eight of nine Super Bowls from 1973 to 1981.

XI. The low point.

The Patriots had only seven rushing yards and one rushing first down in Super Bowl XX.

XII. Blowing it.

The Broncos got off to a 10-0 start when the Super Bowl was played here 10 years ago, but trailed, 35-10, at halftime and lost, 42-10, to the Washington Redskins. It's the largest lead ever blown in a Super Bowl.

XIII. The omen? The end?

When the Raiders won in 1984, the most valuable player was running back Marcus Allen, who went to Lincoln High in the San Diego area.

"Yeah, I know all about that, and it's kind of scary," said Denver running back Terrell Davis, another Lincoln graduate. "Who knows, now there's another Lincoln running back in the Super Bowl. And I like the history of that."

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