THE FINAL SCORE READ Dallas 27, Denver 10, but this is how close
it really was: Early first quarter, scoreless game, the Superdome
going crazy, Tony Hill fumbles a Denver punt on his own one. The
ball's bouncing, and Denver's Randy Rich and Ron Egloff are diving
for it. So is Hill. And he gets there first. Dallas's ball.
I am convinced that if the Broncos had recovered that fumble and
punched it in for a score, they would have won. Their defense was
ready for mayhem -- that great Orange Crush unit had all the Denver
fans wacky. On the Cowboys' opening play they sent Butch Johnson in
motion and ran him on an end around. Check Tom Landry's record in
Super Bowls: He usually likes to start off with some sort of
flimflammery. The Broncos swarmed the play. Tommy Jackson, a
linebacker, spilled it for a nine-yard loss. With that kind of
inspiration, fortified by a 7-0 lead, I figure the Bronco defense
would have risen up and taken the Cowboys apart.
Why was I so stoked on the Denver defense? Well, I had a very
personal reason. I had been commissioned to do a book on Lyle Alzado,
Denver's All-Pro defensive right end. Mile High: The Story of Lyle
Alzado and the Amazing Denver Broncos, that was the name of it. The
only problem was that I had to have it done in eight days -- and
still cover the game for my paper.
So each evening I would take my tape recorder out to the Broncos'
hotel -- a crummy old place near the New Orleans airport -- and
record Alzado's words and those of any of the other defensive guys
who kept wandering into the room. There was a lot of action in the
French Quarter that week -- the Bronco fans with their silly orange
hats seemed anxious to make names for themselves on the police
blotters -- but the Bronco players weren't having any of it. They
stayed holed up in the hotel and, eyes blazing, talked deep into the
night about exactly what they were going to do to the Cowboys. Hey, I
figured, these guys are going to kill them.
The problem was that I hadn't thought it through. I forgot that
Craig Morton and the Denver offense had to get out there and do their
bit too. Going into the AFC Championship Game against the Raiders,
Morton had barely been able to walk. Before that game, he had
checked into a hospital for treatment of a , severely bruised hip.
The bad hip was, mysteriously, kept off the injury report. What's
even stranger is that none of the Denver beat guys reported it.
''Every morning I opened the paper with fear in my heart, waiting
to read about it,'' Morton said later. ''But I never did. The
Raiders, with all their great spy work, never knew about my hip. If
they had, they would have blitzed me right back into the hospital.''
He still wasn't right in the Super Bowl, and eight turnovers did
Denver in. I honestly believe that if the Broncos could have kept
their defense on the field all day, they might have had a chance.
My back gave out a few days after I got back to New York, just
before my book deadline. I did my final edits at Lenox Hill Hospital,
in traction. The book made the top-10 list in Denver. It was a
well-kept secret everywhere else.