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Sacco Sez: In Marty Schottenheimer, the Broncos had a great rival

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The Denver Broncos lost a great coaching rival with the passing of Marty Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer, 77, peacefully passed away with family at his side on Monday, Feb. 8 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had been battling Alzheimer's disease for the last seven years.

He is remembered by those closest to him as a great man, always pleasant and accommodating to all.

Schottenheimer was a great NFL head coach who had a special rivalry with the Broncos.

In his stellar career that included 200 regular-season wins, he reached the AFC Championship Game twice with the Browns, each time giving Denver some of their most hard-fought battles, even though they fell to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway both times.

In fact, no coach in NFL history ever faced off against the Broncos more times than Schottenheimer, who faced the Broncos 35 times in the regular season and playoffs.

He was always a classy gentleman, even if those games against Elway didn't end in his favor.

In 2004, the Broncos hosted the Chargers for a game that featured a ceremony in which Elway received his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring. Asked about it at the time, Schottenheimer made a self-deprecating witticism: "Well, I feel like I made some contribution to that, didn't I?"

Schottenheimer's playoff battles with Denver included the 1986 AFC Championship Game with Cleveland ("The Drive"), the 1987 conference title game ("The Fumble") and then in the 1997 Divisional Round game in Kansas City.

"I'd prefer to look at John in the context that I viewed him and that was singularly one of the most competitive players I've ever been around,'' Schottenheimer said in a 2004 story. "The one quality that the quarterback brings to the entire football team is hope — regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how much time is left, the point difference.

"When you've got a guy like that, there isn't a guy on your sideline that doesn't have the hope that we can still do this. That's a remarkable intangible, and John had that."

Overall, Schottenheimer was the head coach for four different franchises: Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington and San Diego.

Before his coaching career ever began, he lived in Denver and worked in real estate for a couple of years. He and his wife used to go over to the house of Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier to socialize ("a great couple," Joe fondly remembers) and Marty decided he wanted to try his hand at coaching.

He had played for Collier in Buffalo when Collier was the Bills' head coach, and Joe notes, "He was not a starter, but was a heck of a backup and special teams guy. Marty really knew the game.

"I loved the guy. When I got fired as defensive coordinator here in Denver, he called me and offered me a chance to go to Kansas City with him as a consultant.

"Marty was a great guy, wonderful wife and family, a true gentleman of the game who remained true to the finest of values," Collier added. 

"At that time Dick Coury (a former Denver assistant) was the head coach of the team in Portland (an incarnation of the World Football League) and I called Dick and was able to get 'Schottzie' an assistant's job. But the league folded."

Collier continued, "But Bill Arnsparger was head coach of the New York Giants back then, and I was able to call Bill and get Marty an interview. He got hired, and the rest is history."

History, indeed.

Schottenheimer was ever thankful to Joe Collier as he climbed the coaching ranks, and he found lots of success over more than 20 years as a head coach.

While he competed against signal callers like Elway and Dan Marino, for much of his coaching career he struggled to find consistency under center with his own teams. Though he coached the likes of Joe Montana, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, only one quarterback started at least 50 career games during Schottenheimer's coaching career.

An old-school, no-nonsense type of coach, he was sometimes criticized for his conservative style, but much of that criticism was driven by coaching against teams with better quarterbacks. Then, as now, the NFL was and is a quarterback-driven league.

He had a 5-13 postseason record, but 10 of his 13 playoff losses were to Hall of Fame quarterbacks, (Elway, Tom Brady, Jim Kelly, Marino and Warren Moon). Having that type of passer on the roster was a luxury rarely enjoyed by Schottenheimer. 

Two things that are forever traits of Marty Schottenheimer are his values system, which never left him for a second, and his ability to completely prepare a team, regardless of the talent he had.

He competed, and he never stopped competing, and the teams he faced are all the richer in the nobility of football for having played against Marty Schottenheimer.

Rest in peace, Coach.

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