Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 36 Mike Shanahan, originally published on Jan. 18.
Mike Shanahan’s coaching career includes historic achievements with Hall of Fame players and peers, winning regular-season and postseason records and three Super Bowl rings.
Most football men would gladly trade places with Shanahan, yet the Eastern Illinois graduate and EIU offensive coordinator (1978) is happy to merely be alive.
As a 20-year-old quarterback, Shanahan nearly died in practice one day in 1972. A vicious hit burst a kidney and stopped his heart for 30 seconds, prompting the summoning of a priest to the field to read him last rites.
The incident ended his playing days and started his coaching days, which ended in 2013 with the Washington Redskins, the third NFL team he skippered. In between, he coached in two NCAA title games — winning the Division II title with EIU in 1978 — and five Super Bowls. Shanahan was part of the Denver Broncos staff when the team lost two title games in the 1980s, then was a winner in the ’90s.
Shanahan won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator with San Francisco in 1994 in one of the game’s biggest beatdowns, and his back-to-back titles as head coach with the Denver Broncos (1997-1998) put him in the company of Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Belichick.
The Broncos’ win over Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII was bittersweet for Shanahan. His feud with his former boss Dan Reeves, who fired him in his first stint with Denver (1984 to 1987), was legendary. Reeves was the Falcons’ head coach, and though Reeves and Shanahan talked civilly about the ill will, everyone knew the men would hate losing a title to the other.
Broncos quarterback John Elway, who was in the middle of the antagonism between Reeves and Shanahan, was quoted in a pregame story in the New York Times as telling a teammate, ”I think you will see two guys in the Super Bowl who will really want to beat each other to a pulp.”
Shanahan told the Dallas News his favorite Super Bowl memory was during the Broncos’ 31-24 upset of Green Bay in 1997. The franchise’s first title was secured on the Packers’ last play.
“It was fourth-and-four and John Mobley knocked down a pass from Brett Favre,” Shanahan recalled. “We finally won a Super Bowl. I was with the Broncos in the Super Bowls we lost and people from Denver came back saying, `I’m not sure if we even want to go back there because every time we go we get embarrassed.’
“Even though we were going (in 1998), so many people didn’t want us to go. I couldn’t believe it. How can you be afraid to go back?”