Garber: Older and wiser

Peyton trying to take things slowly

Focal Point: Chandler vs. Broncos secondary

  Monday, Jan. 25 1:23pm ET
Chandler vs. Elway a Super contrast
By Dave Goldberg, Associated Press

MIAMI -- John Elway still has that all-American look, although his golden hair is darkening as he approaches 40. Chris Chandler at 33 is balding and a bit stoop-shouldered.

 Chris Chandler
 Chris Chandler has played for six NFL teams in his 11 seasons.

There are no better symbols of the Denver Broncos vs. the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Elway will finish his career by starting at quarterback in a Super Bowl for a record fifth time; Chandler is a journeyman who has played for six teams, almost all bad, in 11 NFL seasons.

Even Chandler's new teammates wondered when the Falcons got him from the Oilers two years ago for almost nothing -- fourth- and sixth-round draft picks.

"When he arrives here, we're all like, 'We traded for him? He's going to be our quarterback?' " said Jamal Anderson, the Falcons' All-Pro running back.

Yes, Jamal, he is your quarterback and you're happy to have him now.

After all, Chandler got Atlanta to the Super Bowl by completing 27 of 43 passes for 340 yards, directing a 71-yard drive for the tying touchdown and then a 70-yarder for the winning field goal in the 30-27 overtime win at Minnesota in the NFC Championship.

The result: A team that was a 100-1 to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season -- and 3-13 two years ago -- is in the NFL's ultimate game for the first time after 32 seasons in which it went 184-298-5.

This year, Chandler was better than Elway, at least statistically. His rating was 100.9, seven points higher than Elway's, and he surprised even himself.

"It's still hard to realize that I've gotten this far," says Chandler, who had never even been to a playoff game in his first 10 seasons.

The contrast between Elway and Chandler starts from the beginning of their pro careers -- about all they had in common were Pac-10 backgrounds.

Elway entered the NFL in 1983 from Stanford with so much potential that he was able to dictate his own terms. He told the Baltimore Colts, who had the No. 1 pick in the draft, that he didn't want to play for them.

The Colts picked him anyway, then traded him to the Broncos. After a predictably erratic start, Elway has fulfilled every expectation, leading Denver to four Super Bowls, winning his first last season.

"I don't think there's ever been a guy in the NFL who symbolized his town like John Elway," Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "If you think of Denver, you don't think of skiing. You think of John Elway. It's always been John, and even if he retires, it will still always be John."

Chandler, on the other hand, was a "maybe" coming out of the University of Washington in 1988, a third-round draft pick by Indianapolis. His arm was strong and his head was good, but his mobility and durability were suspect.

In the ensuing decade, he went from the Colts to the Bucs, Cardinals, Rams, Oilers and finally the Falcons, playing until this season on just one winning team -- the 1988 Colts, who were 9-7 -- and living up to his injury-prone reputation by never playing all 16 games in a season.

But that might have had something to do with his supporting cast, particularly the offensive line. Overall, the teams he played for in his first 10 seasons had a combined record of 62-98 and he was often a victim of front-office floundering -- the Bucs, who gave up a first-round pick for him in 1991, released him outright six games in the 1992 season.

"I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he couldn't stay in one piece," says George Young, the NFL's senior vice-president for football operations, who as general manager of the Giants had some interest in Chandler. "When players get a rap for being injury prone, people finally give up on them or decide they don't want to take the risk."

But ask Chandler's father-in-law, John Brodie, who played quarterback for the 49ers from 1957-73, and you get a different perspective. They talk weekly, and Brodie serves as unofficial coach and cheerleader for his son-in-law.

"When you see a quarterback and all the pieces come together, it never comes together right away. It develops over a period of time and you never know the time," Brodie said.

"Early in his career, he had no support, no one was in his corner, everyone was looking for him to fail."

No one was looking for Elway to fail, and he hasn't.

He's combined athleticism, brains and a strong arm with the ability to be at his best under pressure. He's led 47 fourth-quarter drives that have tied or won games for Denver, the most famous a 98-yarder that tied the 1986 AFC title game that sent the Broncos to their second Super Bowl.

In fact, until last season, Super Bowls were the only blemish on Elway's record. He had lost his first three, all on Denver teams coached by Dan Reeves, who will lead Atlanta against the Broncos on Sunday.

In the AFC Championship Game against the Jets, Elway was just 13-for-34 for 173 yards while Terrell Davis was carrying the Denver offense. The Broncos won 23-10 in what was almost surely Elway's final game at Mile High Stadium.

Afterward, he took a victory lap, acknowledging the fans who have watched him work his magic for 16 seasons.

"I didn't feel comfortable, taking that lap," Elway said. "But I'm glad I did it. I had a chance to see the fans and look into their eyes, to really concentrate on them. They were so happy."

No one in Minnesota wanted a victory lap from Chandler after he saved the game for Atlanta. But Reeves drew some comparisons.

"I told him after we went down there and tied the score, that ranks right up there with any of the big-time quarterbacks," Reeves said. "He's done it with the pressure on him, made some big-time throws, did it after being hurt from the scramble, hung in there."

Sounds like Elway.

Now it's time to see how well Chandler does under the ultimate pressure against a quarterback who in five years will be an almost automatic choice for the Hall of Fame.

Copyright 1995-98 ESPN/Starwave Partners d/b/a ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form. Privacy Policy (Updated 01/08/98). Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service (Updated 01/12/98).