Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | This town loves gamblers, and if Mayor Oscar Goodman were not such a fixture, Coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos would have a shot.
Trailing 38-31 Sunday afternoon, with time running out, Denver scored on a bullet from quarterback Jay Cutler, who had a 36-for-50 pass completion day, to rookie Eddie Royal. That made it 38-37, and a virtually automatic point after touchdown would tie and send the game into overtime.
Instead, Shanahan gambled on a 2-point try. Not only that, but he called for the same play on which they had just scored. And both worked.
Your gamble sets you up as hero or a goat; an object of scorn and derision with a decision like that if you blow the game. It was played in Denver with 75,000 partisan fans there watching and countless hundreds of thousands looking on nationwide, ready to second guess the call. Shanahan naturally was asked how come he decided to gamble.
"Sometimes you have to go with your gut," he said. "I just felt it was a chance to put them away. I didnít want to count on the coin flip. I wanted to do it then, and obviously it worked out." If it hadnít, of course, Denver loses, not ties or wins.
It was a gutsy call, but it turned, as good calls so often do, on luck as well as skill, in this case a quick whistle. At San Diegoís 1-yard line, Cutler dropped back to pass, and the ball slipped out of his hands. Veteran referee Ed Hochuli, apparently thinking momentarily it was an incomplete pass, whistled the ball dead as it hit the ground on the 10-yard line, where it was recovered on the bounce by the Chargersí linebacker Tim Dobbins. Hochuliís whistle had ended the play, however, and Denver retained possession at the 10 and scored with 24 seconds left.
The Chargers then had more bad luck, when a spectacular catch that would have put them close to field goal range evaporated when the receiver missed getting his second foot in bounds by inches.
They will play this one over, both in Denver and San Diego, at bars and grills for the rest of the season. And when they meet again, with LaDaianian Tomlinson healthy, Iíll take the Chargers and your Denver money.
Speaking of guts, Big Brown showed his at Monmouth Park Saturday. Members of the congregation know from these sermons that I am not a fan of Michael Iavarone, Big Brownís principal owner and mouthpiece, nor of Rick Dutrow, his equally mouthy trainer. As far that goes, I donít think the colt will even start up Curlin if they ever meet. Iavarone says he wants to race him, but has been very careful to avoid him.
Saturday at Monmouth, however, Big Brown showed class. Running on the turf, supposedly because it is closer to the synthetic track he will race over in the Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita next month, he appeared to be collared at the head of the stretch. He refused to be headed, however, and displayed what trainer Dutrow called, accurately, "heart, determination, style, ability, everything youíd want in a racehorse." Dutrow said he thought his star was beaten heading for home, but Big Brown and jockey Kent Desormeaux thought otherwise. When his principal challenger, Proudinsky, hooked him, the sportís best 3-year-old surged, and repulsed his older rival by a neck.
Speaking of necks, Big Brown grabbed the New Jersey public by theirs on Saturday. A week earlier a cannon shot would not have done much damage at Monmouth.
Now for the countryís richest race, the $5 million Classic Oct. 25.
After that, rich rewards. Not carrots or apples, but the old staple, sex. He will be retired to stallion duty in the Kentucky Bluegrass, and a court of thoroughbred beauties will await him.
Finally, the Las Vegas quote of the week, delivered by MGM boss Terry Lanni to 165 newspaper editors meeting in the village. Lanni borrowed it from former Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, but it was totally appropriate for the editors, who face dramatic and drastic changes in their profession.
"If you donít like change," Shinseki and Lanni said, "youíre going to like irrelevance even less."