'Without Mike We're In Disarray' Credit Shanahan for orchestrating Denver's rise

February 08, 1999

As they prepared to board a four-seat helicopter that would take
them the 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Miami for a post-Super
Bowl press conference on Monday, Mike Shanahan and John Elway
looked warily at the dark rain clouds. But, once they were
airborne, Elway, the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP, marveled as the
chopper zipped down the coast. "What a smooth ride!" he said.

Such things happen when you're with Shanahan, who in four years
has turned an aging, sub-.500 team with a great quarterback into
a two-time Super Bowl king. Only four other coaches--Vince
Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Jimmy Johnson--have won
back-to-back Super Bowls. "Wow," Shanahan said. "That's really
something. Only four guys?"

In his 12 years as Broncos coach, Dan Reeves guided Denver to
three Super Bowls, but the last appearance came in January 1990.
Wade Phillips, Reeves's successor, went 16-16 in two seasons,
and when Shanahan interviewed for the Broncos' job early in
1995, he wondered if he had enough talent to turn sagging Denver
back into a contender.

"But if he doesn't take the job," Elway said above the chopper's
din, "I kill him."

"No," Shanahan said. "My family kills me first."

Shanahan refurbished the Broncos with players who were unwanted,
even anonymous. Look at Denver's 53-man roster. Thirteen players
were drafted after the third round, and nine more had been
released by other teams. Terrell Davis might be the most
accomplished sixth-round pick ever. Defensive end Maa Tanuvasa,
cut by the Rams and later granted free agency by the Steelers,
tied for the team lead in sacks this season. "Keith Traylor,
Darrien Gordon, Harry Swayne," Shanahan said, citing the names
of other veterans he has picked up from other teams.

"Don't forget Romo," Elway said.

"Bill Romanowski, too," Shanahan said, referring to the Pro Bowl
linebacker. "We've got guys who've helped us win and guys who
only care about winning. Look at Rod Smith in the Super Bowl
last year. Doesn't catch a ball. But he's happy. So many of our
guys were cut, but they were quality, unselfish guys. If you
surround yourself with guys like that and treat them right,
you'll be O.K."

"Without Mike we're in disarray," Broncos tight end Shannon
Sharpe said after Sunday's game. "We're 8-8, 9-7, even with John.
Mike's the reason we're two-time Super Bowl champs."

The team spirit fostered by Shanahan was still in evidence late
on Sunday. Jeane Willis, a producer for Good Morning America,
asked Smith, who had caught five passes against the Falcons for
152 yards and a touchdown, to appear on Monday's show. Smith
turned to fellow wideout Ed McCaffrey, a Pro Bowl player who had
overshadowed him for much of this season. "Can Ed come on, too?"
Smith asked Willis.

Shanahan was glad to hear that story, but there's never much
time for warm and fuzzy in his world. One of the first things he
told his players after Sunday's game was this: "The off-season
program starts tomorrow." Last year an astounding 36 veterans
were a perfect 40 for 40 in attending off-season workouts. What
can Shanahan do for an encore? He'll think of something.

--Peter King

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