Eugene Robinson played 16 seasons as an NFL safety, which was long enough to face John Elway multiple times. That familiarity should have given Robinson the kind of advantage that could have helped the Packers in the third quarter of their Super Bowl XXXII loss to Denver. Instead, it only reinforced what Robinson had long known about Elway. "That man was a beast," Robinson said recently. "That's all you can say about him."
Of all the plays Robinson saw Elway make in his career, few compared to the one the quarterback delivered in the second half of that contest. With the score tied at 17 and Denver facing a third-and-6 on Green Bay's 13-yard line, Elway bolted from the pocket as a pass play broke down. Robinson wasn't surprised by that move, either. The Packers had been preparing for certain plays all week, and they suspected Elway would be looking for his Pro Bowl tight end, Shannon Sharpe, in that situation.
Green Bay was so ready for that possibility that both Robinson and safety LeRoy Butler covered Sharpe on the play. When Elway started to scramble, Robinson knew both he and Butler couldn't leave Sharpe because Elway easily would have tossed the ball to the tight end for a touchdown. So Robinson stayed on Sharpe. Butler, meanwhile, sprinted toward Elway.
The minute Elway crossed the line of scrimmage, an uneasy feeling hit Robinson. "As soon as he put his head down, I knew we were in trouble," Robinson said. "I knew he was determined." That fear was validated when Elway lunged for the first down and was spun sideways on a hit delivered by Butler, safety Mike Prior and linebacker Brian M. Williams -- and held onto the ball.
Robinson said that first down energized the Broncos because "when you see a quarterback who's been around as long as him do that, it's going to lift you up." After the Packers' 31-24 loss, it also made Robinson attempt something he never got a chance to do: shake Elway's hand for being such a vicious opponent. "I tried to find him at the end of that game. I wanted to tell him that was the greatest game I'd ever played in and it was certainly one of the greatest plays I'd ever seen anybody make," Robinson said.
-- 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