His Magic Is Only So Strong : Broncos: Elway nearly pulls out another victory despite the ineffectiveness of his offensive line.


John Elway was walking gingerly off the Mile High Stadium field late Monday night, his sides aching and his knees weak, when he realized there was something he had forgotten to do.

Congratulate Howie Long for knocking him silly.

Elway, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, jogged back to the middle of the field and warmly grabbed Long by the shoulder pads.

“I have gotten to be friends with Howie over the years,” Elway said with a smile.


On Monday night, the nation saw why.

Elway performed his usual fourth-quarter magic, but on this night, it was ultimately buried under Raiders.

During the Broncos’ 23-20 loss, Elway once again showed how he is a Van Gogh forced to work with finger paints.

Behind a shaky offensive line, he was sacked seven times, hurried a dozen other times, and knocked around so much that his teammates could not believe he didn’t start sacking them .

“We didn’t say a word tonight . . . but who knows what he is going to do tomorrow,” guard Brian Habib said.

Elway almost pulled out his 31st fourth-quarter comeback, throwing for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.

But because everything crumbled around him, as it has often during his 12-year career here, the only late-night miracle was that he was able to pull his multicolored sweater over his head.

“I knew the Raiders’ defensive line was good . . . I didn’t know they were that good,” Elway said as his black Mercedes with tinted windows pulled up to the locker-room entrance to take him away from this mess.


He shrugged. “What are you going to do or say? It’s not like our guys aren’t doing the best they can.”

And it’s not like members of the Bronco offensive line, which was supposedly improved through free agency but has suffered a variety of injuries, didn’t feel bad for letting him down.

“Howie Long threw me around like a rag doll,” tackle Russell Freeman moaned.

“We either blocked very good,” center Dave Widell said, “or just terrible.”

Even as poorly as his line played--the Broncos had a net 27 yards passing after three quarters--Elway was in a position to win the game for them again.

With 11:47 to play, he found receiver Arthur Marshall across the middle for 27 yards and a touchdown that Marshall scored by rolling over the back of tackler Derrick Hoskins.

Less than a minute later, Elway passed to tight end Reggie Johnson on a perfectly timed two-yard touchdown, giving the Broncos a 17-13 lead.

“We all thought John was going to do his magic again,” receiver Derek Russell said. “We just looked at him, and we knew.”

After the game, Russell still thought Elway won the game for them because Elway had gone to Russell on a 20-yard pass on the side of the end zone that Marshall caught while diving on the sideline.

The side judge, David Wyant, ruled that Russell’s knee was out of bounds, and called it no catch. The official with the best view, back judge Tim Millis, made no call.

Replays showed that Russell’s feet had slid across the end zone before his knee went out of bounds.

“I was robbed,” Russell said. “I caught it and I knew I had scored and I stood up and saw the man calling it off and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe this.’ ”

Elway was asked about the same play. He shook his head.

“I am already tired of hearing about that play,” he said. “There are all kinds of what-ifs you could talk about. I don’t want to play those games.”

But what if Elway had been surrounded by the kind of teams that Joe Montana has played with all these years? Or what if Elway had been given the time to throw that Dan Marino has enjoyed?

It is understandable why Elway doesn’t like those games.

“I said before this game that it was a must-win,” he said quietly, looking much older than 33. “This really, really hurts.”

Haven’t they all.