Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Broncos aren't bereaved about facing ex-coach

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        DENVER — Forget ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, and all the rest.

        This is Jerry Springer's Super Bowl. A game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons that should be covered by one of the tabloid shows. It's A Current Affair between Broncos quarterback John Elway and Falcons coach Dan Reeves spiced with a little Hard Copy from Denver coach Mike Shanahan.

        Remember when Elway and Reeves feuded to three losing Super Bowls when Reeves coached the Broncos from 1981-92 and won 10 games a year? Remember when Elway called Reeves a bully and Reeves called Elway a big baby? Remember when Shanahan got fired by Reeves as offensive coordinator because he and Elway supposedly secretly teamed up to juice up Reeves' staid offense?

        But in the afterglow of Denver's 23-10 victory over the Jets here in Sunday's AFC championship game, the matchup sounded more like The Waltons than anything juicy.

        “I wish him the best. Without Dan Reeves I'm not so sure Shannon Sharpe is standing here answering these questions,” said Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe, the All Pro plucked by Reeves in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL draft.

        “If anybody else has to win, I want Dan to win. Just not in two weeks.”

        Sharpe is one of four players left from Reeves' last Denver team in '92 that went 8-8 and crumbled under the tension. Safety Tyrone Braxton, who got a card from Reeves after the Broncos won the last Super Bowl, looked a little sheepish when asked about the Elway-Reeves reunion.

        “Dan ain't going to play,” Braxton said, “so we'll be all right.”

        Sharpe, Elway, Braxton, safety Steve Atwater and defensive tackle Keith Traylor came to Denver with Reeves calling the shots. When he coached the Giants in 1994, Reeves cut wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.

        McCaffrey has become a 1,000-yard receiver under Shanahan.

        “He should feel the same way (I do),” said Sharpe, “because being released gave him the opportunity to go to San Francisco to get a (Super Bowl) ring, come to Denver and become the receiver he wanted to be.”

        Privately, there are signs of the split. After Denver beat the Falcons last season, 29-21, much was made that Elway and Reeves got off the field without shaking hands.

        And before they played the Jets Sunday, the Broncos were in the locker room watching Atlanta shock Minnesota in the NFC championship game with Reeves' predictable, smashmouth offense. Braxton watched Elway look up occasionally and say, “I remember that play.”

        But publicly Sunday, Elway, who made a donation to the Falcons Youth Foundation when Reeves had heart surgery last month, praised Reeves.

        “He's got (the Falcons) playing great and Dan is a great football coach,” Elway said. “When you look at what he's done in the last two years with them, it's just unbelievable.”

        Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who fired Reeves, called him after the surgery. And Shanahan, who sent Reeves a card, said, “I'll be honest with you. At times we were the best of friends.”

        In Minnesota, Reeves told the media, “It's not like we're enemies.” But at least for the next two weeks, they are.


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