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Mile High Morning: Reflecting on the greatness of Dan Reeves, as a person and as a coach


The Lead

After the passing of the great Dan Reeves, former Broncos head coach and forever Ring of Fame member, many memories spring to mind as I look back on his time in Denver.

I will never forget knowing and working with Dan. I was part of a select group that met with him the night before he was announced as the Broncos head coach, and when he left the building for the last time, he stood in my doorway, said "I'm leaving now," and cried.

In a hard, cold business, Dan is the only Broncos head coach who cried when he left.

He is in elite company professionally, one of just eight coaches who took teams to the Super Bowl four times (three with the Broncos and one with Atlanta). All the others (save for Bill Belichick, who is still an active coach) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Dan should be. That includes Bud Grant and Marv Levy, each of whom, like Dan, lost all four.

He is one of just six coaches to take at least three different franchises to the playoffs, and is one of just three coaches to win playoff games with three different franchises.

In 39 years as a player and coach, Dan went to nine Super Bowls, the third most by an individual.

Dan was also a very good player over his eight years with the Dallas Cowboys.

In my mind, and that of many others, he is remembered for one specific play, a 50-yard halfback touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Rentzel on the first play of the fourth quarter in the "Ice Bowl."

Many stories have been written about that game and its way-below-zero temperatures in Green Bay. To throw a pass for a 50-yard touchdown in those conditions is itself so remarkable that it should be a ticket to the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. That one play alone.

He was also the only AFC head coach who took three teams to the Super Bowl in the decade of the 1980s.

Of course, that run included "The Drive" in Cleveland.

Hence, Reeves had one of the game's singular great plays in a championship game as a player, and then was the head coach for one of its singular great moments in a championship game as a coach.

Remarkable and Hall-worthy, certainly.

But I remember way more about Dan than those professional accomplishments,

He was known for his stubbornness, fiery competitive spirit and absolute desire to do it his way, bordering on defiance.

But Dan was, at heart, the gentlest of men and a true family man with grace, sensitivity and a genuine sense of style.

He was one of a kind.

Dan came to us from the Dallas Cowboys, of course, where he worked under head coach Tom Landry. At that time, all the Cowboys players desired by the press for interviews had to be brought into a large interview room, and the people entrusted with that task were Reeves for the offense and defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner. All public relations people and members of the press likely realize how difficult a chore that was, particularly after a loss.

Dallas had been Dan's only experience in pro football, so one of the first questions he asked me was how we handled postgame interviews.

We were open, I said, and he was clearly thrilled to be relieved of that burden.

Also, as I said, Dan was a family man.

As most are aware, virtually every coaching staff in football stays very late — usually until 10 or 11 p.m., or even later in the night, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the season.

Not Dan. He believed in having dinner with his family and, except for coaches who stayed late on their own, Dan himself went home at five. He had dinner with his lovely wife, Pam, and their three children, and then he would retreat to his den to watch game film.

Dan also hated the fact that in Dallas he had to spend the night before home games in a hotel, so he changed that policy in Denver.

Their players and coaches did not spend the nights before games in hotels. I can say this led to the occasional violation of the honor system by some of our younger players, but Dan stuck to his guns and said he would treat them like men whose honor was as strong as his.

Dan's sense of principles was very high.

He once had a disagreement with our rooms being cleaned only every other day at our Greeley training camp. Our general manager explained that it was to cut costs, and Dan replied, "Live like pigs, play like pigs." The next day the cleaning crew was back to daily service of our rooms.

Many might remember that his sideline attire was classy and often included a jacket and tie. This was to honor Coach Landry, who always wore a jacket and tie, as well as his trademark fedora, on the sidelines. Dan decided to forego the fedora, but otherwise was most of the time in a jacket and tie — and the tie was almost always orange.

He had class, style and grace.

Those are just a few of the Dan Reeves memories I have.

Sometimes we talked by phone, even when he was coaching the Giants and Falcons. I remember one phone call just after my daughter had taken a job with Goldman Sachs in New York and moved there to live.

Dan provided his private number and said, "If your daughter needs anything at all, any problems at all, she should call me right away and the Giants will send a car, whatever it takes."

He once paid for the funeral arrangements for a former Giants custodian — after he had already left the Giants.

We talked about many topics many times, including life and death. Dan Reeves was ready for every moment, and I have been told he was ready for this one. But that does not mean we were.

We love you and miss you, Coach.

Rest in peace, Dan Reeves.

The Unclassifieds

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