Rod Smith believes there are certain moments in a football game that determine the outcome. As a Denver Broncos wide receiver facing the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, he knew exactly when that was -- it was the instant John Elway charged from the pocket and produced the most exciting 8-yard run in that game's history.
"Our whole thing was endurance," Smith said. "We were going to wear them down because we were supposedly the weaker conference and team. And for it to come down to our guy running on that play, they realized we weren't going to be denied."
Smith doesn't remember as much about how that play started, but the result is unforgettable. The Broncos faced a third-and-6 from the Packers' 13-yard line when Elway dropped back to pass and found no options. Smith had been running a clear-out route against cornerback Tyrone Williams, a move designed to open space for tight end Shannon Sharpe underneath. But as soon as Smith saw the Packers altering their coverage, he sensed Elway would have to improvise.
Smith actually glanced back in time to see Elway pumping his right arm and then moving to his right. Smith's initial thought: I need to move toward him to create a window to throw. When that didn't seem possible, Smith looked for somebody to block, hoping he could help his quarterback gain the necessary yardage. "At that point," Smith said, "it was just backyard football."
As Elway ran toward the sideline, three Packers defenders -- linebacker Brian M. Williams and safeties LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior -- raced to stop him. The resulting collision sent Elway spinning sideways, with Smith staring at the first-down marker to see what happened. "When he got up, his eyes were so big that you could see all he could think about was getting that first down. Once he got it -- and I saw the relief in his eyes -- I knew it was over," Smith said.
Broncos running back Terrell Davis ultimately scored a 1-yard touchdown on that drive, and Denver went on to win 31-24. Elway also led his team to a second consecutive championship the next season and then retired. But Smith said Elway wouldn't have accomplished all that without first producing an iconic scramble forever known as "The Helicopter Run."
"John's whole career started with him moving out of the pocket and creating with his legs, but that wasn't [his game] when he was older," Smith said. "That's what's so fitting. He won that game with his legs, not his arm."
-- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN.com
John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith
LeRoy Butler, Eugene Robinson, Mike Prior, Brian Williams
Elway, shown diving for a crucial first down in Super Bowl XXXII,
said, "It's certainly my favorite play ever."
Photo: Sporting News/Getty Images