Mike Shanahan returns to Denver on Oct. 27. It will mark his first regular season appearance at the facility since he took over the reins of the Washington Redskins four seasons ago.
Shanahan once held the keys to the city; the state of Colorado for that matter. Back-to-back Super Bowl championships will earn any coach that honor.
But that was 15 years ago. The Broncos have done a lot of losing since their golden age; 1977 through 1998 when they made the playoffs 13 different seasons.
Shanahan rode into town in 1995 and took over a Broncos team that was in disarray. Four seasons later the Broncos had won two Super Bowls and were the toast of the NFL.
It seemed like Shanahan could do no wrong in those early years. He, of course, was blessed to have John Elway as his quarterback those first four seasons. It seemed as though Shanahan and Elway were perfect for each other. Elway finally had a coach that was willing to let the gunslinger display his talents. Of course, it didn't hurt that Elway was handing the ball off to a 2,000-yard rusher in Terrell Davis.
Shanahan's remarkable first four years with the Broncos came as somewhat of a surprise to a lot of folks in Denver and around the NFL. After all, he was not very successful when he was head coach of the Raiders in 1988 and 1989. In his one-plus season with the Silver and Black Shanahan was just 8-12. The late Raiders' owner Al Davis ran him out of town, causing Shanahan to go into exile, sort of like Kid Lester from the Robin Williams movie “Best of Times.”
When Shanahan resurfaced as a head coach six years later, many wondered if Pat Bowlen was light-headed and not thinking clearly. After an 8-8 season in 1995, the Broncos dominated the AFC to the tune of a 13-3 record in 1996. But, as everyone knows, the Broncos laid an egg in the divisional playoffs, losing to Jacksonville at home, 30-27.
Many wondered if Shanahan was the right guy for the job. Two years and two Super Bowl victories later nobody was wondering.
Fast forward to 2008. The Broncos went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in 10 seasons. Bowlen apparently grew tired of the Broncos' mediocrity and decided to fire Shanahan.
I'll never forget where I was when I got the news that Shanahan had been fired as Denver's coach. I was playing Donkey Kong at the Manitou Springs Arcade when I got a call from a friend that Shanahan had been given the boot.
Shanahan was a television commentator for one season. In 2010, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder lured Shanahan away from the studio be coach of his team. In his first two seasons, Shanahan was 11-21 with the Redskins. But he hit pay dirt last year with Robert Griffin, III, as his quarterback. Washington went 10-6 and advanced to the first round of the playoffs.
The Redskins are struggling this season. Injuries have left RGIII a shell of his former self. Meanwhile, the Broncos are riding high.
So what will the coming home reception be like for Shanahan when he leads his Redskins onto the field against the Broncos? My hope is that the Denver fans give him a huge ovation. I also hope the Broncos honor their former coach in some way.
Shanahan deserved a better ending than the one he got in Denver. Perhaps he will find a way to have his Redskins knock the Broncos from their perch? I am looking forward to a fun matchup.