As they prepared to board a four-seat helicopter that would take them the 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Miami for a post-Super Bowl press conference on Monday, Mike Shanahan and John Elway looked warily at the dark rain clouds. But, once they were airborne, Elway, the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP, marveled as the chopper zipped down the coast. "What a smooth ride!" he said.
Such things happen when you're with Shanahan, who in four years has turned an aging, sub-.500 team with a great quarterback into a two-time Super Bowl king. Only four other coaches—Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Jimmy Johnson—have won back-to-back Super Bowls. "Wow," Shanahan said. "That's really something. Only four guys?"
In his 12 years as Broncos coach, Dan Reeves guided Denver to three Super Bowls, but the last appearance came in January 1990. Wade Phillips, Reeves's successor, went 16-16 in two seasons, and when Shanahan interviewed for the Broncos' job early in 1995, he wondered if he had enough talent to turn sagging Denver back into a contender.
"But if he doesn't take the job," Elway said above the chopper's din, "I kill him."
"No," Shanahan said. "My family kills me first."
Shanahan refurbished the Broncos with players who were unwanted, even anonymous. Look at Denver's 53-man roster. Thirteen players were drafted after the third round, and nine more had been, released by other teams. Terrell Davis might be the most accomplished sixth-round pick ever. Defensive end Maa Tanuvasa, cut by the Rams and later granted free agency by the Steelers, tied for the team lead in sacks this season. "Keith Traylor, Darrien Gordon, Harry Swayne," Shanahan said, citing the names of other veterans he has picked up from other teams.
"Don't forget Romo, " Elway said.
"Bill Romanowski, too," Shanahan said, referring to the Pro Bowl linebacker.
"We've got guys who've helped us win and guys who only care about winning. Look at Rod Smith in the Super Bowl last year. Doesn't catch a ball. But he's happy. So many of our guys were cut, but they were quality, unselfish guys. If you surround yourself with guys like that and treat them right, you'll be O.K."
"Without Mike we're in disarray," Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said after Sunday's game. "We're 8-8, 9-7, even with John. Mike's the reason we're two-time Super Bowl champs."