DENVER (AP) _ When they first met as opponents in the Blue-Gray game, Terrell Davis and Curtis Martin never imagined they'd wind up as the showcase runners in an AFC championship game. They were just concerned about getting drafted.

The draft part didn't work out too well. Martin, who hurt his ankle after two games of his senior season at Pittsburgh, went in the third round (74th overall) to New England. Davis, underutilized at Georgia and also plagued with a groin injury as a senior, slipped to the sixth round (196th overall) before the Broncos grabbed him.

The pro part has worked out spectacularly. Both seized starting tailback jobs in their rookie training camps. Both have been well over 1,000 yards rushing in each of their four pro seasons.

Davis was selected the NFL's Most Valuable Player this year after a 2,008-yard, 21-touchdown rushing performance in Denver's 14-2 season. He also was the Offensive Player of the Year this season and in 1996.

Martin was the NFL's top rookie in 1995 when he rushed for 1,487 yards and 14 scores. After his third season, he signed as a restricted free agent with the Jets, and the Patriots took draft picks as compensation to let him go.

``We're good friends,'' said Martin, who gained 124 yards on 36 carries and scored twice in last weekend's playoff victory against Jacksonville. ``We sort of have a silent competition going. It's more than competing, but pushing one another to become the best.

``We met coming out of college at the Blue-Gray game in Alabama. We were in the same situation as seniors, not playing much. Then we both got drafted later than we thought. So I guess we were underdogs.''

Emphasis on were. Now, they are among the league's most successful backs as runners and receivers, particularly on screen and flare passes. When they meet in Mile High Stadium on Sunday, Davis and Martin could be the deciding factors for prolific offenses: Denver scored 501 points and the Jets had 416.

``Could be,'' Davis said. ``Right now, we're competing against each other on a friendly level. I root for Curtis each game, but not this game.''

Martin figures he's got a few laurels that Davis hasn't attained, but that his Broncos buddy is ahead in the most significant category.

``We've pushed each other, especially the first year when we were running for rookie of the year, and I ended up beating him out,'' Martin said. ``The second year, I went to the Super Bowl (but lost).

``So this year, the thing he said to Marcus Allen was, `I got him last year; we won the Super Bowl.' ''

For Martin to get even in that area, he'll have to help carry the Jets past Davis, the '98 Super Bowl MVP, in a building where the Broncos have won 18 straight. Martin expects to be busy again, but might need something closer to Davis' production of 199 yards against Miami last Saturday to be successful.

``It's important to keep TD and their offense off the field,'' Martin said. ``We can't allow a team with an offense like that on the field too long, or they can bury you.''

Davis will settle for simply getting past the red-hot Jets, who've won seven in a row, and back into the big game. He won't be speaking with Martin before the AFC title matchup, although they might say hello before kickoff. Davis has other things on his mind.

``Once you're on the field, you tend to forget what game you're playing in,'' Davis said. ``I'm responsible for Terrell. I have to believe I am the key to whatever happens. I hold myself accountable for whatever things have to be done.''

On Sunday, that might mean outrushing his pal.