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Shanahan has endured


It's a familiar two-game combination: Buffalo, then Denver. Didn't the Jaguars do this once before?

Oh, yeah, they did. It was in the 1996 playoffs. The Jaguars won in Buffalo, then scored a stunning upset win in Denver the following week to earn a berth in that season's AFC title game.

Well, these aren't the playoffs, but the Jaguars' Buffalo-Denver start to the 2004 season brings back memories of those '96 Cinderella Jags. It evokes, of course, bad memories for Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

"I've had a few tough ones, but that was right up there because we were 13-3 and we had homefield advantage and an expansion team comes in our backyard and beats us when we have homefield sealed," Shanahan recalled of the Jaguars' 30-27 win at Mile High Stadium on Jan. 4, 1997.

The Broncos had cut through the AFC West and eased into the playoffs. Some suggested that winning the division and homefield advantage was too easy; that the Broncos shut it down in the final two weeks of the season and may have lost their edge.

"That was a tough loss but we got beat and that's really accredited to Jacksonville at that time. It wasn't like we just had a bad game. They came in here and dominated us. They deserved to win the game. We got a little better the next couple of years and maybe that was a motivational factor for us," Shanahan said.

That game sent the Broncos into an offseason of soul-searching. John Elway had, at best, a few good years left. Terrell Davis had taken over as the team's star. If the Broncos were going to win a Super Bowl in the Elway era, it would have to be now. That offseason, the Broncos committed to recovery, and they used the memory of that loss to the Jaguars as their motivation in winning the Super Bowl each of the next two seasons.

Thanks, Jacksonville, we needed that.

Elway retired following the Broncos' Super Bowl win in the 1998 season. First, Brian Griese emerged as Elway's replacement, but he has since been replaced by Jake Plummer.

Davis' career was cut short by a knee injury he suffered in 1999. He was replaced by Olandis Gary, then Mike Anderson, then Clinton Portis and, now, by Quentin Griffin.

Rod Smith is still catching passes, but Shannon Sharpe is in broadcasting and, frankly, almost nothing about these Broncos resembles the Broncos team the Jaguars upset in the '96 playoffs. The Broncos changed their uniform design for the '97 season, then moved out of Mile High and into a new stadium for 2001. By the way, Jaguars offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was a reserve quarterback on the '96 Broncos.

The Jaguars, of course, have undergone complete reconstruction since their "Miracle in Mile High." Jimmy Smith is the only player on the Jaguars roster who was on that '96 team.

Then there's Shanahan, who is still going strong. He remains one of the league's premier coaches; a guy who has kept his job when all about him have been losing theirs, even though Shanahan hasn't won a postseason game since the Broncos won their second Super Bowl in '98.

He's kept the Broncos competitive with three winning seasons in the last five years, but the Broncos have only been in the playoffs twice during that period and they were blown out in each game.

So, what's his secret to longevity?

"I think I have a great owner," Shanahan said of Pat Bowlen, who gave Shanahan control of personnel and all related matters in '98. "He knows what he wants and he's given me an opportunity to go out and run the football program. He lets me do my job and I think when once he thinks that I'm not doing my job, then he'll get rid of me.

"But he's been so supportive. He understands how this game works and he understands a team that's playing extremely hard on the field. I'm lucky to have a guy like that who gives me a chance to have success," Shanahan added.

He'll lead his latest edition of the Denver Broncos into Alltel Stadium this Sunday, and though there will be little to remind us of that '96 game, there will be Shanahan, a pillar of stability in an ever-changing game. He is in his 10th season as the Broncos' head coach, which leaves Shanahan behind only Bill Cowher of Pittsburgh and Jeff Fisher of Tennessee as the longest-tenured coaches in the league.

Who would've thought Shanahan would keep his job this long, after being upset by the Jaguars?

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