Raiders week doesn’t really need any more hot sauce thrown into its notoriously combustible mix but with Jon Gruden hitting the bricks and Mike Shanahan's infamous beef with that club, entering the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame on Sunday means a particularly fiery gumbo will being served to fans.
Shanahan led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998, and along the way, his problem with the Raiders' anti-hero owner Al Davis became the stuff of NFL legend. Over the course of the Broncos' head-to-head matchups with the Raiders, Shanahan came out well on top by posting a lopsided 21-7 record against them.
How ironic that the timing of his ceremony would coincide with the Raiders coming to town as fate would have it. There's probably nothing random about Shanahan going into the RoF during Raiders week.
On Friday, the Broncos unveiled Coach Shanahan's Ring of Fame Pillar outside the stadium and ‘Shanny’ was on hand to provide some insight on the coincidence of drawing the Raiders on this week.
“I’m glad it worked out that way, for sure,” Shanahan said. “The game I always looked forward to playing.”
Shanahan's rift with the Raiders stretches beyond the division rivalry. He was hired as the Los Angeles Raiders head coach in 1988 after leading the Broncos offense to the Super Bowl but was dismissed in 1989. Owner Al Davis never paid him what was owed, purportedly.
And thus, beating up on the Raiders became an addiction for Shanahan as he rolled to a 138-86 career record overall with the Broncos. Clearly, revenge over his former employer meant a lot to Shanahan, but it also meant taking the upper hand in a contest that always set the tone for the entire season.
“First of all, when I first came, the Raiders were a really good football team,” Shanahan explained. “Any time you play someone that’s very good, you always want to beat them, and that’s what we were able to do. We won a lot of games against them when they were good and to continue that through the years, it was something that we were all proud.”
While the Raiders were a crucial stepping stone to setting the Shanahan winning standard, it was finally getting the monkey off the back of losing Super Bowls that will forever define the head coach's greatness in Denver, and it still means the world to the 69-year-old.
“I think what really kind of resonates with you is that you know how hard it is,” Shanahan said. “You can get to those Super Bowls and you can play pretty good teams to get there but you’ve still got to find a way to get it done and win it. When we finally got it done, it was pretty special.”
Calls for Shanahan to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame are only likely to get louder now that the Broncos have finally put his name and legacy up in rafters. Even standing above the World Championship titles and career wins, it’s Shanahan's coaching tree, which includes his son Kyle Shanahan (head coach of San Francisco), that Shanahan finds particularly satisfying.
“It’s really fun as you watch your assistant coaches have success,” Shanahan said. “You know how hard it is because it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a lot of detailed work.”
Also included as springs off the Shanahan tree is Gary Kubiak — the only other coach to win a Super Bowl in Denver. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is another high-profile Shanahan disciple.
Hall-of-Fame recognition doesn't happen overnight, but now that he's been elected to the Broncos Ring of Fame, his time will come. Coach Shanahan conceded he’s just happy to be in the conversation.
“That’s others’ decisions that are made, not mine,” the legendary coach mused. “Even to be talked about in that vein is a heck of a compliment for me.”
All that's left is for Vic Fangio to lead the Broncos to a victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday and bring it home for the coach he knows blazed a trail before him and helped set the standard of winning in the Mile High City.
“His contributions are immense," Fangio said on Thursday of Shanahan. "There’s plenty of guys that coach in this league—both as head coaches and assistant coaches—that somehow came through Mike. Obviously with his son, Sean McVay, [Packers Head Coach Matt] LaFleur in Green Bay and others... Mike has had a great impact on the game and was a great head coach.”
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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