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Way Back When: The intertwined history of the Broncos, Raiders and Mike Shanahan


This week, the rivers of time match up in a confluence that includes Ring of Fame weekend and the Las Vegas Raiders. Many moments of Denver Broncos history are tied in with the Raiders, formerly of Oakland, Los Angeles and Oakland again, and a series of Ring of Famers and Hall of Famers touch both teams.

This year's Ring of Fame inductee, former head coach Mike Shanahan, is the only person ever to be head coach of both the Broncos and the Raiders, but Mike actually is a much more recent addition in this rivalry's coaching history.

Back in 1960, the first starting quarterbacks in the first Broncos home game were Ring of Famer Frank Tripucka for Denver and the legendary Tom Flores for Oakland.

Flores later became head coach of the Raiders, won two Super Bowls and just this year was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From 1969-78, the Raiders' head coach was John Madden, who also went into the Hall of Fame and is probably better known to younger generations for the football video game that bears his name.

Before those two led the team, though, a lengthy run of Oakland domination began when Al Davis (yet another Hall of Famer) took over the franchise, first as coach in 1963 and then as owner. 

From 1963 through 1976, the Broncos were just 2-24-2 against the Raiders. If any readers have any question about what formed the Broncos' fans strong and nasty feelings toward the Raiders, that record should answer the question.

But the worm turned in the series in the late 1970s, with the Broncos making their first Super Bowl run in 1977 and effectively ending Raiders domination, in large part because of Broncos Ring of Fame quarterback Craig Morton.

Then, in the 1980s, the Broncos' fates changed forever, as team owner Edgar F. Kaiser Jr. traded for quarterback John Elway and head coach Dan Reeves hired a young assistant from the University of Florida named Mike Shanahan.

Elway is in the Ring of Fame and Hall of Fame, and Shanahan will join him in the former this week and is likely (in my opinion) to join him in the latter as well.

Al Davis was very unhappy to see the Broncos on equal footing with the Raiders in the 1980s and I can remember my good friend Mike Ornstein of his team asking me what was making the difference, besides Elway of course.

"A new guy on our staff," I replied. "Mike Shanahan."

We were set to play in Super Bowl XXI in Los Angeles and I was in Dan's suite the week of the game when he took a call from George Karras, who had been a personnel man for us and then was with the Raiders.

"Al would like permission to interview Mike Shanahan when the Super Bowl is over," George asked.

Dan very graciously granted permission, and then turned and said, "Great. Now I am going to lose my top assistant to the Raiders."

And that is exactly what happened. But the Raiders were an unruly bunch to handle, and Mike was still a young coach. 

He was fired by Al with a 1-3 mark in his second season with the Raiders, but Broncos owner (and future Hall of Famer — notice a trend here?) Pat Bowlen was eager to have Mike back. So he hired Mike back to Denver and history continued for the Broncos.

After a stint with the San Francisco 49ers that included Mike's first Super Bowl victory and was a period described as "finishing school" for the brilliant Shanahan, he rejoined the Broncos and truly made history in the Mile High City.

The stats are well documented in many places, but here are a couple that are not known to many.

In research done by me and in conjunction with the Elias Sports Bureau, official statistician of the National Football League, the list of coaches with 350 or more games coached with one franchise, as both assistant and head coach, Mike Shanahan is seventh, with four of the others already in the Hall of Fame. 

That list is George Halas (513), Tom Landry (454), Don Shula (423), Bill Belichick (398 and counting), Jerry Burns (longtime Vikings coach, 384), Chuck Noll (366) and Shanahan (356).

But, with Elias, I took it a step further.

In all-time NFL history, among coaches who won more than 200 games with one franchise, combining head coach and assistant, and won two Super Bowls with that franchise as head coach, Mike is fourth.

That list reads as follows: Belichick with the Patriots (280 coming into this season, regular season and postseason), Shula with the Dolphins (274), Landry with the Cowboys (270), Shanahan with the Broncos (221), Noll with the Steelers (209) and George Seifert with the 49ers (208).

Belichick has six Super Bowl trophies, Noll has four, and each of the others on that exclusive list has two. Shula, Landry and Noll are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A dear, late friend who had a long career with the Raiders, Al LoCasale, once told me, "I wish we had him now," referring to Shanahan.

Mike Shanahan is the only man to have stood on both sidelines as head coach in the Mile High City, with the Broncos and the Raiders, and this week he takes his place in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.

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