Sept. 12, 99 - They know the script the way all great
performers do. They
follow it line by line, just the way they rehearsed, hoping to stage the perfect
play, the perfect performance.
It's a scheme that has worked to near perfection for the
They collected top honors in 1997, and again with their sequel in '98. Now
they go for the trilogy.
The director and screenwriter, a k a head coach Mike
offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, have been as essential to the production
as the leading men - Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith et al. But
just like in Hollywood, every award-winning performance needs a good
Which brings us to football, hardly a game predictable
enough to be
confined to a script. But that doesn't stop Kubiak from being the offensive
playwright for each game. His actors practice it to perfection until the curtain
rises Sunday afternoon or Monday night.
With each script - usually 15 plays or so - they rehearse
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then visualize during the moments they are
not on the field. It allows them to witness the performance before it even
unfolds. The stage plays in San Francisco, Seattle and Green Bay as well.
But nowhere do they do it as well as Denver.
"Scripting, to me, is almost like double preparation,"
Kubiak said. "We drill
in the player's head these 15 plays over and over again. And then their
individual coach is going to drill those 15 plays in their head. And they're
going to sit at their locker the day of the game and look at those 15 plays.
They will be coached so hard on those 15 plays that it's just got to be a
reason why they run them so much better and so clean. The preparation -
the double preparation, as I like to call it - makes them that much more
Scripting is not just a matter of helping players remember
on a given set of plays. It boils down to exploiting, if not creating, your
For instance, let's say the Broncos' bread-and-butter play
runs Davis off left
tackle, and they're playing a defense that reads and defends the play well.
To create a bit a confusion a script might have the Broncos running right out
of that Terrell Left formation for a decent gain, forcing an adjustment by the
defense. The next time the defense sees that formation, it's ready to react
right. Instead, the Broncos run Davis' money play to the left.
Big gain. Just like they scripted it.
Recently, Kubiak agreed to sit down and reveal the Broncos'
the script they used to earn football's Oscar, the Vince Lombardi Trophy,
when they beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Let's see what Denver did to get the Falcons leaning right
when they were
The Broncos' Super Bowl script: down/to go/yard line
1/10/DB20: With the Falcons expecting the Broncos to
hand Davis the ball
to start the game, Denver figured it could throw it to him. So on the first play
of the game, as they rehearsed all week, the Broncos sent Davis in motion,
acting as a receiver and not as a runner. Davis ran a little slant route outside
tight end Shannon Sharpe. The Broncos knew they were throwing for Davis
well before they left Denver for Miami. Not that John Elway couldn't have
thrown to another receiver; he could have. But No. 30 clearly was option
No. 1. The problem with the play was not the formation. It was the
execution. Elway was, as Kubiak described, "geeked up and the ball came
out smoking." The play did not go off as rehearsed.
Result: Incomplete pass.
2/10/DB20: Just as Davis was the designated target
on play No. 1, Sharpe
was the designated target on play No. 2. Days before the game, Shanahan
predicted to his son Kyle that either Elway or Sharpe - not Davis - would
win Super Bowl XXXIII MVP. Shanahan figured the Falcons would be so
intent on keying on Davis that Elway and Sharpe would have the chance to
make some super history. No tight end had won a Super Bowl MVP, but
the Broncos truly believed this could be the first. Right away, the Broncos
tried to see if their instincts were correct. On their second offensive play of
the game, they put Elway in a shotgun formation and spread the field with
four wide receivers. But rather than play the zone defense Denver was
expecting, Atlanta blitzed. The Falcons nearly got Elway. But just before
they could sack him, Elway, as he had done so many times, backpedaled
away from danger. Just before he was sacked, he got rid of the ball. And
got it to the receiver who was running a hook route right in the middle of the
field. Sharpe. Just as it was scripted.
Result: 12-yard completion to Sharpe.
Every now and then, the script, like a firecracker, is a
dud. There have
been times when the Broncos have run the first three or four plays of
their script, realized nothing was working, and scrapped their week of
preparation. "We'll say, 'Hey, these guys are playing us totally different
than we thought they would play us, that's gone, let's go on to
something else,'" Kubiak said. It happened last season at San Diego,
when Denver played a Sunday night game there in late November.
Right at the game's outset, the Chargers stuffed the Broncos cold, and
Denver turned a cold shoulder to it script. "We went to a two-back
shotgun (offense) and you can ask our players, it was a school-yard
football game," Kubiak said. "We were calling stuff that was not in the
game plan but we felt like that was the way we had to beat them. It
was not only not scripted, it was not even part of the plan." Good,
smart players adjust. They ad lib. And they find a way to make it work.
1/10/DB32: Even though there was a script - as there
always is - Elway
had the option to audible out of a play if the defense he saw wasn't what he
was expecting. But when the Falcons stepped to the line of scrimmage in
their base defense on their third defensive play of the game, Elway liked
what he saw. He went right to the third play on the script. A Davis run
around left end. "We knew we were going to have to throw the ball to win,"
Kubiak said. "But we also knew T.D. was going to get his carries." This was
Result: Davis gains 1 yard.
2/9/DB33: Sticking with the script - designed to see
how Atlanta planned
to defend Denver's rushing attack - the Broncos stuck with Davis. "You're
trying to find out what a defense is all about, so you do a lot of things,"
Kubiak said. "You try to find out how they're going to play you in various
situations. So you're not only scripting plays for yourself, but your scripting
plays that make them react to what you're going to do for the rest of the
game. You might jump in a formation just to see how they would play that
formation. Or how they're going to match up on some of your people so that
when you get to quarters two, three and four you know now, early in the
game, how they would play you. In a lot of ways, you're trying to get people
to show their hand so to speak." This time the call was to run a little more
inside than the previous play. This time the play ran Davis right over left
Result: Davis gains 2 yards.
"I know the argument for scripting plays," San Diego
quarterback Jim Harbaugh said this summer after another one of his
team's practices. "Everybody has a chance to think about them. There
are less penalties. My only question is, what happens if on the first play
of the game there's a bomb and it goes down to the 2-yard line? What
if your second scripted play is another long pass? So it's obviously
going to change. So do I like scripting? I'm not a big proponent of it. I
think there are a lot of plays that can change by sequence. And it's
going to happen. You can't just run 15 straight plays scripted out.
Games just don't go that way."
3/7/DB35: If it is ever third down and 3 or more
yards to go, the Broncos
go off their main script right onto another. The one they shift to is their
third-down script. For each game, the Broncos have a list of third-down
plays they plan to use. Against the Falcons, the Broncos had one they
wanted to use more than others. During the week of preparations, Kubiak
approached Elway with a script specifically for third downs. "Mike and I
have a list of plays here," Kubiak told Elway. "Which one do you want
first?" Without hesitating, Elway responded, "Lion." Lion calls for Elway to
line up in the shotgun and for Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith to run a
deep slant route. Elway knew he was going to call it on the first third and
long he faced, and, sure enough, he did. The call worked like a dream.
Result: 41-yard completion to Smith.
1/10/AF24: Back to the script, and back to Davis.
Even though it is play
No. 6, it is only play No. 5 on the Broncos' script. A Davis run over right
guard. The idea here is to mix it up, go to the other side of the field. The
Broncos also still want to see how the Falcons are playing the run. And,
with Falcons defensive tackle Shane Dronett leading a turbo-charged unit,
this is the answer: tough.
Result: Davis gains 1 yard.
2/9/AF23: Staying on the script - making it six of
the seven plays it have
been used - the Broncos send Davis back over left guard. Seeing how the
Falcons have defensed him on his first three carries of the game, sensing
how they're going to do it the rest of the time, the Broncos are able to make
the necessary blocking adjustments and free Davis.
Result: Davis gains 9 yards.
Back when he was an offensive coach at USC, before he
San Diego Chargers head coach last January, Mike Riley tried
scripting plays in two games. "As soon as I'd get off of it, the other
coaches would start yelling, 'You're off the script! You're off the
script!'" Riley recalled. "But scripting just didn't work as well for me.
Our players know what our plays are in certain situations, so it's kind
of the same way of having a script in my mind. I find it a little
confining for a coach. Obviously Bill Walsh and Mike Shanahan have
had great success with it, but I kind of like to go more with the flow of
the game rather than the script."
1/10/AF14: Inside the opponent's 20-yard line is the
area known as the red
zone. After Davis' 9-yard run, the Broncos found themselves in the red
zone. Whenever they arrive there, Shanahan goes off the script as often as
he stays on it. "If the boss likes what's on the script, he may stay on it,"
Kubiak said. "But he also may say I don't like that play I have scripted. That
was for a field play and we're down in the red zone. I want to go to my red
zone play." But here gut instincts tell Shanahan to decide to stick with the
script. It is another handoff to Davis, this one up the middle.
Result: Davis loses 1 yard.
2/11/AF15: Undaunted, even facing second and long,
Shanahan stays on
the script for the eighth time in his team's first nine plays and goes back to
the player he is expecting to have the biggest game. He calls for Sharpe to
run a slant route down the middle of the field. Just as he expected, the play
is wide-open. Elway completes the pass to Sharpe, who is running toward
pay dirt. But just short of the end zone, Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan
slams into Sharpe. The violent collision saves a touchdown for the Falcons
and costs Sharpe the rest of the game. Sharpe limps to the sideline with a
torn ligament in his knee, and his hopes of becoming the first tight end Super
Bowl MVP equally wounded. But Sharpe can take comfort in this: The play
was not a total loss.
Result: 14-yard completion to Sharpe.
1/1/AF1: Just as the Broncos have a 15-play script
to open games, just as
they have a lengthy script of plays solely for third-down plays, they also
have a mental script for goal-line plays. "Mike was going to go to the first
play in our minds that we decided to call on the goal line," Kubiak said.
"This play was No. 1. We knew we were giving the ball to Howard Griffith
on the goal line in this game. We knew everybody thought 30 would get the
ball, that's why we went to Howard." So even the plays that are not scripted
are scripted in a lot of ways. It shows.
Result: Griffith gains 1 yard and a touchdown.
Like many things in life - from eating sushi to bungee
scripting plays is not for everyone. But it is for the Broncos. "I just
think it's a hell of a deal," Kubiak said. "As a coach, it makes you so
comfortable because you've really called the first quarter of the
football game. Now you've got to go find out if you're right or wrong.
But you're preparation is such that when the ball's being kicked off and
you're saying, "OK, what am I going to call?' We know what we're
going to call. Here's what we're running. You could almost say, 'I'll be
back in 15 plays, somebody else call this game.' Because you're going
to stay with that script unless it doesn't work."
Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.