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Pro Football / Week 8

Elam Measures Up to McGwire With 63-Yard Field Goal in Denver That Ties Dempsey's 28-Year-Old Record

October 26, 1998|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — In terms of distance, it traveled about as far as a well-hit Walt Weiss fly ball, more than 200 feet shy of a routine Mark McGwire home run, but what a Ruthian wallop by Denver kicker Jason Elam.

Like the Babe calling his shot, Elam looked 63 yards down the field and told Coach Mike Shanahan he could make it, taking aim on two yellow posts separated by 18 1/2 feet--try that Big Mac--and remarking later, "Those posts look pretty skinny from that far away."

McGwire's good, but not that good, and despite 28 years of kick after kick since New Orleans' Tom Dempsey, who kicked with a club foot and special shoe, set the NFL mark on Nov. 8, 1970 with a winning kick over Detroit, no one else had been good from so far.

Elam's tape-measure blast, contributing to a 37-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) and giving Denver (7-0) a two-game lead over every team in the AFC, was only the fifth kick in NFL history to travel 60 yards or longer.

"Ordinarily we move back 7 3/4 yards from the line of scrimmage to spot the ball," said Tom Rouen, Elam's holder. "This time we went back eight yards--we knew if we set the ball down anywhere in front of the line they'd call 62 yards and we were going to be on the line.

"But it was kind of weird though being on the other side of the 50-yard line for a kick. As soon as he hit, I knew he hit it good because of the thud, but looking up I lost it in the lights."

Rouen also lost sight of Elam, who had taken off running down the field, making it to the 15-yard line as the ball crawled over the crossbar.

"I was trying to help it; I almost beat it down there," said Elam, who said he didn't have to worry about paying a fan for the ball because it landed short of the stands. "It's no McGwire thing; one of our equipment guys got the ball to me."

Elam's kick came on the final play of the half after the Broncos elected to run down the clock while positioned at the Jacksonville 40-yard line. Had the Broncos not been called for a delay of game, pushing them back five yards, Elam's attempt would have been from 58 yards--a Bronco record, but not the kick heard around the world.

"I didn't want to look to the Jacksonville sideline in case they thought about calling a timeout," Shanahan said. "I wanted them to think we were going to go for it so we took the penalty; had they called a timeout we would have punted."

Shanahan, who has Elam kick from 53 yards to close out each practice, has at times allowed him to move back to 63 yards.

"And each time he does he stands behind me yelling into my ear, 'This is for the record,' " Elam said. "I've hit kicks with the wind from 70-to-72 yards in practice."

Elam, who missed a 66-yarder from the same side of the field three years ago, had kicked a 56-yarder in high school, again in college at Hawaii, and had done so for the Broncos.

"The biggest thing with a kick that long is just getting the opportunity," said Elam, admitting the mile high thin air was to his advantage. "I'd say three-quarters of the guys in the league have the ability to hit that ball, it's just getting the opportunity. I thanked Coach Shanahan at halftime."

As explosive as the Broncos are, it seems kind of unfair when they can go to the long-range artillery after the opposition has successfully stopped John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe.

Davis became only the third back in NFL history, along with Jim Brown (1958) and O.J. Simpson (1973 and 1975) to rush for 1,000 yards in the first seven games of the season. Davis, who ran for 184 yards in a playoff win over Jacksonville here last season, went for 136 and had another 76 with five catches, while getting three rushing touchdowns.

"I wanted a game that would tell us where we stand," Davis said.

The Broncos and Vikings presently stand atop the NFL undefeated, and wouldn't that be some kind of offensive show should they meet in the Super Bowl?

Jacksonville played for the most part without Fred Taylor, their effective rookie running back who has been bothered by a sore shoulder. Taylor only ran six times, caught five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, but the game fell heavy on quarterback Mark Brunell's shoulders without an effective running game.

Brunell, still a poor man's Steve Young, threw for 353 yards, but was sacked seven times and fumbled a snap from center at his own nine-yard line setting up a Denver score.

"They are the team to beat in the NFL," said Brunell of the Broncos. "They are a good football team in every aspect, and this was very discouraging."

The Jaguars, who will undoubtedly be seen again in the playoffs, learned what everybody else has learned this season: the Broncos are unstoppable. They are averaging more than 34 points a game, and have the home-field tie-breaking playoff edge on the New England Patriots as well as the Jaguars.

Elway, looking 100% after being sidelined two games because of a hamstring injury, completed 21 of 35 passes for 295 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffrey.

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