Some years back in Denver (Doug or TJ could tell you how many), Dan Reeves fired a young coach who was, in fairness, trying to get around Reeves with regard to the type of plays that would be run for star QB John Elway. Reeves was also reputed to have a personal dislike for the somewhat cocky young coach, and despite the value and importance of this individual personally to John Elway, Reeves went ahead and fired Mike Shanahan. Ironically, Shanahan went to the raiders to get some head coaching experience. Oakland is where he found out why so many coaches dislike Al Davis, where Shanahan won a court case that he never bothered to collect on and then came back as a friend of Elway's, as head coach of the Broncos (a job that evolved into head coach and general manager), and won two Super Bowls for a grateful Denver and all of Broncos Country. He holds a very high place in the annals of the Broncos history and in the hearts of many of the Broncos fans who were around during the miraculous period when Denver won 2 super Bowls, one against a heavily favored Green Bay team, a 'team of destiny', as they were being called. He also took apart a pretty good Atlanta Falcons team the following year that was, ironically, coached by Dan Reeves. By a seat-of-the-pants calculation, Mike Shanahan gave well over 15,000 hours of his life to the Denver Broncos and is rightfully a legend in this town.
Which makes it all the more odd that John Elway, after retiring, victorious, holding two SB trophies (one of which, as he said, was for Pat Bowlen. The other, by all standards that I know, had to be rightfully for John himself.) rarely was involved in any way with the Denver Broncos. That 1998 Broncos team, regardless of whoever claims differently, was one of the great powerhouses in the history of football. I'm not going to waste time and energy fighting about which of them was 'best' - you cannot recreate times, rules, or momentum, and each team that will be named won their year or years within those constructs. But I will say this - there was no game that I watched during that second Super Bowl year that I didn't have a confidence that bordered on sheer conviction that in the 4th quarter, Denver would overcome any obstacle that was remaining in the way and win another game. In the brief time after the season and leading up to the second of those Super Bowls, I briefly managed an honest feeling of sympathy for what Dan Reeves was about to receive, although I admit that it passed as quickly as it came, much like a gas pain. Denver was the class of the league that year, and no one can say differently. John Elway was at the epicenter of that team and of that reality.
Was there some kind of secret discord between Elway and Shanahan? I've never heard of one, and as Ben Franklin pointed out, three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. They were seen together and in good spirits too many times for me to believe that some kind of distaste had somehow crept into their relationship. At the same time, I've tended to wonder why Elway was so obviously missing over the past 12 years. The simplest explanation is that he just wanted the team to get on with it's 'life', to move past the days during which Elway was lauded to the point of worship by so many. And in defense of that possibility, Kyle Orton is so patently the anti-Elway that perhaps, just perhaps, Elway is beginning to feel that enough time has passed that he can take over a role around the team and its marketing branch without being a distraction to the team or becoming yet again a constant comparison to the current quarterback. Until this passed year, Denver was looking expectantly for the next Elway. The truth of that is, there won't be one. Oh, there will be great quarterbacks, certainly, brilliant field generals, and make no mistake, Denver is likely to hoist the Lombardi Trophy yet again. But if they will compared at all to John Elway, it will be in passing, a brief note of their mutual accomplishments rather than the critical expectation of a recurrence of John's brilliance that minimizes the efforts and abilities of nearly any quarterback in the game and polarizes the fans that support the team. That has, for some time now, infected the organization and its fanbase. And now, just maybe, it could have passed.
For whatever reasons, Josh McDaniels and John Elway have been united by circumstance (one or more circumstances that was/were undoubtedly set up by someone or some ones along the way), they have found that they have much in common, and they've talked enough football that Elway was comfortable after their recent golf game assuring the fans that Josh McDaniels has what it takes to bring that trophy back to Denver. I recall the 4 SB victories of the Pittsburgh Steelers and I also recall how hard they had to fight, and how long it took to bring that trophy back to the city. Denver may have seen a hard road bereft of playoff victories, but in the opinion of the best QB to ever take Denver's field, the team is now firmly in the hands of someone who has what it takes to win that ultimate football game, and Elway himself is now willing and has plans to take part in the Broncos organization. This is some of the best news of the summer. The upcoming trip to London, the media circus that will surround it and other issues were mentioned as parts of the functions that Elway will now play. The Prodigal returns to the organization, and he brings with him good news. Denver, he feels, is in the hands of someone who has the skills and knowledge to return the organization to it's former luster and glory. Frankly, it's nice to hear.
I can't give Mike Shanahan enough credit for what he did when he was in Denver. Elway praised all that he learned from Mike before Dan Reeves made the choice to let him go, and all of Denver praised what Shanahan did when he brought home not just one, but two, back to back, SB Lombardi Trophies. Talk until you're blue in the face about what players the last coaches or coordinators left, or who found Terrell Davis, or how important it was that the offensive line was made truly important - and well paid - in 1993. All are true, all are fair points, and all are just sideshows to the fact that Mike Shanahan, as Head Coach, brought two Super Bowl victories to a town that had seen too many big games without that final victory. And then there is John.
Welcome back, John. We've missed you. It's good to have you finally coming home. Please stay for a long time: we're glad to have you.
And let's not forget who it is that John has recently bonded with and who he ultimately decided to return to help. Josh McDaniels may not be the choice of certain members of the fan base, but the ultimate Bronco, a man who knows football intimately, has faith in him as head coach and believes that he will bring home a Lombardi Trophy, and perhaps more than one. It may not be this year - it probably won't be - but in many ways, this is the ultimate compliment that Elway could have paid to Josh McDaniels. Not just stating that Josh knows enough to bring home another trophy - players say that about coaches all the time. But by adding his name to the ranks of those who support McDaneils, who believe that he has demonstrated enough to have a conviction in his knowledge, skill and perseverance, Elway has placed the ultimate Mile High stamp of approval on Josh McDaniels.
This might even convince a few folks who have been open about their dislike of Josh McDaniels, on the basis that he doesn't have what it takes to bring home a championship, that the best player Denver has ever fielded and a guy who really knows both football and winning is a big supporter of the head coach of the Broncos. The fanbase has been too long and too bitterly divided. Elway's presence and endorsement may bring many of those people around. John knows the game, and he's a winner in his DNA. If he feels that vibration from Josh McDaniels, it's hard to argue with The QB.
Welcome back John. And, welcome home.