NEW CARD IN THE DECK
It figures that the first game of the new Bronco era would be won by a Stanford man—although not the one you might think. Denver's best-known former Cardinal, John Elway, flawlessly executed the new short-passing offense devised by another Stanford alumnus, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. But it was all-purpose back Glyn Milburn, Stanford '93, who made the difference in the Broncos' 26-20 win over the Jets.
At least we think it was Milburn, though we can't be sure, because he was a blur. "He's the NFL's new stealth bomber," said Denver guard Dave Widell. "We can see him, and the other guys can't." Milburn touched the ball nine times and the ball moved 148 yards: 38 yards on five rushes, 75 yards on two receptions and 35 yards on two punt returns. On the first series of the third quarter, Milburn grabbed a pass, pirouetted past linebacker Kyle Clifton, faked safety Ronnie Lott out of his shoes and outran corner Eric Thomas for a 25-yard TD that gave Denver a 20-6 lead, effectively ending the game.
"I haven't seen a back like him come out in a long time," a weary Lott said later. "He won them the game."
"He said that?" a grinning Milburn said. "Wow. How am I going to come down to earth from that?"
Milburn, Denver's second-round pick in the April draft, is the latest in a recent spate of small backs whose impact has been felt most keenly in third-down and kick-return situations. Since 1989, the Giants have had 5'7", 180-pound Dave Meggett, and the Browns, 5'10", 190-pound Eric Metcalf. Now Denver has the 5'8", 177-pound Milburn, who looks like an eighth-grader and plays like a skinny Barry Sanders. On Sunday, Milburn's runs were all of the it's-never-over-till-it's-over variety.
"I've been hearing the stuff about being too small all my life," Milburn said. "But what helped me a lot was working out this off-season in northern California with players like Jerry Rice, Jamie Williams, Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott and Barry Sanders. Barry and Jerry told me things like 'Keep on playing like this and you'll go far. Don't let anybody bother you about size.' " They won't, if he keeps having 148-yard days.
Milburn's play wasn't the Broncos' only reason for cheer Sunday. Elway played the new Denver touch-passing game perfectly. Only two of his 20 completions were to wideouts. Before the game, Fassel, who was Elway's position coach at Stanford, told him, "Remember what we've said. Don't try to do everything yourself. Just go out there and play catch." If it keeps playing catch as it did Sunday, Denver should ride its new offense all the way to the playoffs.
The Eagles have a bunch of big-money players, like defensive end Tim Harris ($1.8 million a year), safety Erik McMillan ($1.63 million) and running back Herschel Walker ($1.5 million). But the MVP of their season-opening, 23-17 win over the Cardinals was Vaughn Hebron, a 5'8", 196-pound free-agent running back from Virginia Tech who is earning the minimum rookie pay of $100,000. Hebron gained only 579 yards as a Hokie senior, but he impressed the Philadelphia brass with his slashing runs in the preseason. On Sunday he rushed 10 times for 66 yards and scored the Eagles' winning touchdown on a five-yard carry early in the fourth quarter. After that TD, he was razzed by his teammates for not taking the ball to the sideline and keeping it as a souvenir. Said Hebron, "All the guys told me, 'Keep the ball! Keep the ball!' But I couldn't do that. Those balls cost money."
GAME OF THE WEEK
Raiders at Seahawks, Sunday. Seattle, which didn't allow the Chargers into the end zone in an 18-12 opening loss, will test Los Angeles's new, medium-range passing offense. Jeff Hostetler, the former Giant who is the new Raider quarterback, had the best statistical day (23 of 27 for 225 yards and a TD) of any quarterback on the NFL's first Sunday. He threw to eight different receivers, had only one completion longer than 17 yards and helped the offense to eat up almost 40 minutes in its 24-7 win over the Vikings. "Every time I looked up," said Raider tight end Ethan Horton, "the clock and the chains were moving." That's the idea.
What a disgrace for the Buccaneer franchise that there were 11,000 empty seats for Joe Montana's debut with the Chiefs at Tampa Stadium on Sunday. Are Buc fans so down on their own team that they won't fork over $18 to see the return of a legend? Pathetic....
Steeler cornerback Rod Woodson staked his claim to being the plum of the 1994 free-agent crop in a 24-13 loss to the 49ers. He had two interceptions, six tackles, two deflected passes and a blocked field goal....
Buffalo wideout Andre Reed caught three TD passes in the '92 regular season. He caught as many in a 20-minute span during Sunday's 38-14 rout of the Patriots....
Hank Bullough came off NFL unemployment to take the Lion defensive coordinator job this year, and what a debut he and his unit had. Playing some oddball formations—twice the defense played with no linemen but with five or six linebackers—Bullough's defenders sacked Falcon Chris Miller six times, knocked him down seven times and hurried his passes 16 times....
The Jets will be making a serious error if they fail to see that Boomer Esiason, who led the NFL in Week 1 with 371 passing yards, is at his best ad-libbing at the line of scrimmage. They need to run the no-huddle.
THE END ZONE
In 1990, the first time Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson scouted Notre Dame players after he left Miami, a secretary in coach Lou Holtz's office saw Johnson and said, "Oh, the devil's here!" Give the devil his due. Johnson and the Cowboys have hired Kevin Holtz, Lou's son, as a legal intern in the front office.
Milburn was a Cardinal in flight with his 148 all-purpose yards during his Bronco debut.
Steve Tasker's fumble was one of nine bumbles by the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
Last January, When the Bills opened their Super Bowl playbooks on the night before the big game, they came across a page that listed coach Marv Levy's 12 keys to victory. There was only one line on the page that was printed in boldface type, and that referred to Levy's obsession: "The most important statistic in football: Takeaway-Keepaway."
Across town, in a hotel near the Rose Bowl, Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson was drilling the Cowboys one last time on the importance of forcing turnovers against Buffalo. "Look at how often they've turned the ball over," Johnson said. "We've got to try to get four, five turnovers tomorrow. That'll be a key to the game."
As it happened, the Bills stayed true to form, coughing up the ball nine times in the Cowboys' 52-17 rout. Alarming, perhaps, but not surprising: Buffalo has led the NFL in turnovers over the last two seasons with 92. (The Cowboys have just 48 giveaways in that time.) Sure, turnovers may be inevitable for a team like the Bills, who favor a wide-open offense, but Buffalo was embarrassed in the last two Super Bowls primarily because it gave the ball away a staggering 14 times—including six interceptions thrown by Jim Kelly.
"I agree with what Jimmy said 100 percent," Levy says. "That was the most important factor in the game." And it could be again this week in Dallas, when the Cowboys and Bills have a Super Bowl XXVII rematch at Texas Stadium. Below are the league's most error-prone teams—postseason games included—over the past two years.
2. New England