Mark it down: Ball will run Broncos back into Super Bowl
The draft is past.
Free agency, for the most part, has passed.
The die is cast.
Denver’s Broncos, with the Johns at the helm, are on their way to being once again the best team in the AFC and, this time around, the best team in the entire world.
And to lead them on the field will be the legendary … Montee Ball.
You read it here first: Montee Ball.
OK, OK, you think I’m nuts — and, to a degree, you are certainly correct.
After all, there is that other fella we’ve heard about, that Peyton Manning character. And he is pretty good.
But follow along. Let’s go back to 1983 and a certain quarterback, John Elway.
We all know Elway’s career was a great one, Hall of Fame to the max. If he wasn’t the greatest quarterback of all time, he is one of very few in the discussion.
Elway’s Bronco teams won AFC titles virtually at will, earning six AFC title game berths, winning five.
But like the Broncos of last year, the Broncos of Elway’s era were repeatedly slammed to the turf in Super Bowl matchups. Elway’s teams were hammered in their first three Super Bowl matchups: 39-20 to the New York Giants, 42-10 to the Washington Redskins, and 55-10 to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Broncos could not, it seems, mess with the best.
Until … along came Terrell Davis.
Davis came into camp as an unheralded rookie running back in 1995, the 196th choice in the draft.
A month into that training camp, the Broncos’ attitude had changed.
Davis, who first drew the attention of new coach Mike Shanahan with crushing blocks and special teams tackles, advanced from sixth string to first string by the season opener in 1995 and the Broncos went from a “soft” squad that was dependent on a certain quarterback to a zone-blocking machine that overpowered everyone, so much so, in fact, that blocking rules were changed to protect the poor defenders.
Davis helped Elway win his two Super Bowl titles, a 31-24 nail-biter in 1998 over the Green Bay Packers in which he was selected MVP, then the 34-19 romp over the Atlanta Falcons in 1999 in which Elway was the MVP, at least partially because the Falcons chose to gang up on Davis and allow Elway enough time to throw for 336 yards in what would be his final game.
Our history lesson?
Think back to Manning and his passing fancy last season — records, records and more records.
And a 42-8 hammering at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Think back to Elway’s early days and the Super poundings.
Elway, now the Broncos’ general manager, and John Fox, the head coach, certainly noticed a lack of several key ingredients in that loss to Seattle: a defense that could not contain a mobile quarterback, and an offense that was too one-dimensional, allowing defenders to tee off on the immobile Manning.
The defense was mainly addressed through free agency.
The offense, thought to be the best in the history of the game, needs a bit of an attitude adjustment.
Elway and Fox will put their trust in Ball.
The second-year running back from Wisconsin rushed for more than 8,000 yards in high school. He rushed for more than 5,000 yards in college and scored an NCAA-record 77 touchdowns.
As a rookie, Ball took himself out of the starting equation early with a couple of missed blocks and two lost fumbles. Veteran Knowshon Moreno stepped in, mostly because he helped protect Manning.
Still, Ball ended the season on an up note, gaining more than half of his 559 rushing yards in the last five games. In four of the five final regular-season games, he averaged 9.0, 5.1, 8.0 and 7.2 yards per carry.
His pass blocking had improved enough to allow him to remain on the field, and his rushing, something he always had done well, was superior to what Moreno was producing.
Ball will be just fine, thank you.
Yes, Manning will still put up big numbers.
But Ball’s rushing will go a long way toward where the Broncos were in the late 1990s.
Write this down in permanent marker and put it up on your refrigerator: Peyton Manning will throw for roughly 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns this coming season. Montee Ball will run for more than 1,500 yards, score 15 TDs and resurrect memories of Terrell Davis.
And the Denver Broncos will not be on the losing end of the Super Bowl — and, yes, they will take part.
Rick Jussel is a former sports editor at The Daily Sentinel.