Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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I awoke in a cold sweat Sunday night, shaking from the effects of a nightmare. I dreamt the doorbell rang on Halloween night and when I opened the door, a pint-sized Peyton Manning in an immaculate blue Colts uniform was standing there grinning at me. He thrust a big cloth sack at me and, revealing a gap-toothed grin, cried out, "Can't be beat!"
I silently picked up a large bowl from the side table and, like a zombie, dropped three footballs in his sack.
If only the Broncos Orange Blush defense could sack Peyton Manning, I might have been spared the bad dream.
Am I the only ghoul in Broncos' Nation who went to bed Monday night convinced that the Shanny-man needs an exorcist?
How else to explain the decision by the omnipotent one to kick a field goal with 1:45 left on the clock when every witch and warlock in the stadium knew the only way to stop Count Colt-ula and the Blue Bloods was to drive a stake in his heart.
If the Broncos were going to leave the field of battle victorious Sunday night, they were going to have to stick with their ground assault and hand it to Mike Bell with 10 seconds remaining and pound the last nail in his pine box.
With 3:35 left to play, Bell put his team in position for a win with a 49-yard gallop on first down.
Gasping for air, Mike went to the sideline and the wrong Hell's Bell, make that Tatum, trotted into the huddle. He tripped on first down for no gain and a second carry left the Broncs facing a ghastly third and nine.
No sweat. Mike Bell had rushed for 135 yards in the second half, and averaged more than 9 yards a carry. The odds that he would gain 9 yards on two carries were good.
I know, I know, the coach's manual says try a safe pass on third down. If it fails, then kick a field goal on fourth down so that your team will still have a ghost of a chance in overtime.
But the Broncos needed a magic spell. The only way to stop the Peyton-ator was to deny him the ball by handing off to Bell until time ran out with a touchdown. The worst thing that could happen would be for Bell to score too quickly.
Alas, Shanny-man the sorcerer stuck to the script. Jake Plummer's pass bounced harmlessly on the turf and the Broncos lined up to try a pointless field goal.
As soon as Jason Elam's 49-yarder sailed through the uprights and tied the game at 31, I knew the Broncos were dead dudes walking. It was only a matter of minutes before the Colts placekicker, Adam Vinatieri, answered Elam with the winning field goal.
With a sense of doom, I began to reflect on another gridiron nightmare, the great Halloween Massacre of 1988.
Most true blue Broncos fans are still seeing their therapists in a vain attempt to get over the Broncos' playoff losses in Indianapolis in 2004 and 2005. Just in case you're a masochist, let me remind you. The Peyton-ator torched the Doncs for five touchdowns and a 41-10 victory on Jan. 4, 2004, and passed for 457 yards in a 49-24 win on Jan. 9, 2005.
Only Bronco fans who are pillars of emotional strength dare to revisit the Halloween fiasco of 1988, when a different Colts team defeated John Elway and the Broncos 55-23 on Monday Night Football. The game was actually played in front of a national television audience on All Hallow's Eve.
Future Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson ran for four touchdowns in his first 15 carries that night. With his upright running style and the creepy goggles he wore under his facemask, he looked like a demon as he shredded the Bronco defense.
Peyton Manning was 12 years old that night in 1988. He was a little old to canvas the neighborhood for candy. If he was done with his social studies homework, father Archie probably let him watch the game. I wonder if little Peyton glimpsed his fate that night.
The thing I remember most, the image that still haunts my dreams, is that of thousands of Colts Fans wearing Dan Dierdorf masks. As a publicity stunt, ABC handed out the cardboard masks bearing the resemblance of their football analyst on the broadcast. Every fan who wasn't wearing a Dierdorf mask was in a gorilla suit, wearing a fright wig or impersonating Elvis.
Today, the Dierdorf masks look harmless when compared to the nightmare that is the Peyton-ator. Freddie Krueger wears shoulder pads.