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ELAM'S WINNING KICK WAS A GROUP EFFORT

Jason Elam must have said it at least 30 times.

"There's no way I'm going to make it."

Ordinarily, this is not the type of thing that a place-kicker in the National Football League should say too often or he won't be a place-kicker for very long.

But Elam surveyed the situation, over and over, and it kept coming up the same: Impossible.

Not the 33-yard field-goal attempt he faced with two minutes left in overtime Sunday. Even with all of the pressure and the rain and the swirling winds of Rich Stadium, that was the least of Elam's challenges over the weekend. And he demonstrated as much by banging it straight through the uprights to give the Denver Broncos their 23-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What Elam didn't think he was going to make was the Broncos' chartered flight from Denver to Buffalo Saturday. He took one look out of the window of his home in Castle Rock, Colo., and shook his head at the snow that was blowing and drifting and basically creating the sort of conditions that keep people pinned inside for days.

"The snow was up to the mirror of my Ford Bronco," Elam said of the effects of the blizzard that had begun belting Colorado the day before.

It was 8 in the morning. The Broncos' charter was supposed to take off at 10, but with Denver International Airport and the main highways leading to it closed, the flight was delayed indefinitely. Elam and his teammates had been called by club officials with this basic instruction: Get to the practice facility (from where buses would take the team to the airport) as soon as you can, any way that you can.

Under normal conditions, it would have been about a 20-minute drive, but Elam knew it was going to take much longer . . . if he could get there at all.

So he swam -- that was how he put it -- through the drift from his front door to his Bronco. He began shoveling enough of a hole so he could open the door, but this was not a one-man job.

He needed a lot of help.

First, there were Elam's neighbors who left the snowdrifts around their homes and began the chore of digging him out. Not that he expected it to do much good, because there weren't even any highway plows that could get near where he lived.

"We just kept digging and kept digging and I finally got out of the neighborhood," Elam said. "I got close to the Interstate, but I couldn't see the on ramp. It was such a whiteout.

"So I kind of sat there for about five or 10 minutes and tried to let it lighten up a little bit. By that time, I was stuck, so I got out and started digging again. I had a cell phone, so I kept calling into the facility and they kept calling me back, saying they were going to try to get the National Guard or the state patrol out there to help me."

But it wasn't any government agency that came to Elam's rescue. It was a Jeep Cherokee carrying a family that recognized him as the place-kicker for the Broncos.

"I was surprised, after last week, that they didn't just drive right by me," Elam said with a grin. He was referring to the 40- and 43-yard field-goal attempts he missed in Denver's only loss of the season, 28-25, in Oakland.

The Jeep made it onto Interstate 25 and proceeded to get stuck at least three times. Other motorists, about 25 in all, stopped along the way to help get "The Elam Car" moving.

"We shoveled it, pushed it, rocked it back and forth," Elam recalled. "The next time we got stuck, we tied a rope on to the other person's car and they dragged us out. I said, 'There's no way I'm going to make it.' I bet I said that 30 times. It was really unbelievable.

"But after probably eight, nine hours, I finally made it in."

So did the other players who battled the blizzard to reach either the practice facility or the airport. Some rode part of the way on snowmobiles. Some walked the final half-mile or so.

The plane finally departed at almost 10 o'clock Buffalo time, and arrived just after midnight.

Elam was so tired, he never changed out of his clothes. He didn't even take off his boots. He simply collapsed on top of his bed spread at 2 a.m., and fell asleep.

"I was so sore from shoveling, I didn't know if I'd be able to kick," Elam said.

Perhaps that was why he was wide right on his first try Sunday, from 38 yards. But he would later connect from 23 yards in the second quarter and 22 yards in the third to give the Broncos a 13-0 lead that would grow to 20-0.

Yet the Broncos squandered their comfortable lead, and needed to scratch and claw their way against the underdog Bills to set up Elam's game-winner.

"We were destined to win this one after all it took to get here," Elam said. "There were about 20 to 30 people who helped me. I don't know who most of them were, but I'm awfully thankful.

"If I could, I'd give each one of them a game ball."

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