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Mike Shanahan focused on present, not past, in return to Denver
The pregame video tribute will be short and sweet and that is exactly how Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan wants it.
The longtime coach in Denver, Shanahan won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. Sunday, after his starting lineup is introduced before a hostile crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos will show a highlight clip of the Shanahan years, which included those back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998.
It's a nice gesture, but not one Shanahan cares to think about much as his 2-4 Redskins prepare to face the NFL's best offense and star quarterback Peyton Manning. The rowdy crowd that once cheered him will turn quickly once the ball is kicked off.
"I sure hope I don't get booed," Shanahan cracked during a press conference this week.
But as much as he wants to treat this as just another game, that's also an impossible task. Shanahan was the head coach in Denver from 1995 to 2008. He was the offensive coordinator there in two separate stints totaling seven years early in his coaching career. It is the city where his kids, including Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, were raised and where he reached the top of his profession. He maintains friendships and associations there still.
"There's enough pressure to win in this league and it's hard enough to win in this league every week," Kyle Shanahan said. "So I really don't think he does feel much right now. I don't feel anything right now and it's obviously a bigger deal for him than me. But we're people, too, and I'm sure it'll be different on Sunday when we wake up and you go into Mile High, where he's got a lot of memories."
But, Kyle Shanahan insists, the visit is not as big as it would have been in the aftermath of Shanahan's firing in 2008. At the time, the Broncos had missed the playoffs six times in the 10 years since their last Super Bowl, including the final three years of Shanahan's tenure. Owner Pat Bowlen decided it was time for a change after 14 years. He remains in place, but most of the organization has changed over since Shanahan departed. Still, after five years away, the memories remain.
"[Shanahan] basically turned the organization around because he had a plan, he stuck to his plan, and three years later we were Super Bowl champions," said Washington special teams coordinator Keith Burns, who played 10 years for Shanahan in Denver, including both Super Bowl seasons. "He's owed a lot of credit for that because he was actually there when it all started."
For his part, Kyle Shanahan, 33, first moved to Denver with his parents in 1984 when Mike Shanahan jumped from the University of Florida to become the Broncos' offensive coordinator. It was the first of three moves to Denver so Kyle, too, has his roots in the city. It is where he met his wife, Mandy. It is where he, also, maintains lifelong friendships — though he joked Thursday that no one has come to him for tickets this week because the visiting team "gets the worst seats possible offered [to] us."
Mike Shanahan left Denver after that first stint for two tumultuous years as coach of the Oakland Raiders under fiery owner Al Davis. He was eventually fired and returned to Denver in 1990 for two more years as the Broncos' offensive coordinator. Shanahan departed again, this time for San Francisco, where he ran an offense that won a Super Bowl in 1994. That was enough for Bowlen, who finally named him coach in 1995, a partnership that lasted well into the next decade — one that will be, briefly at least, celebrated this weekend.
"It's been four-and-a-half years, so it's not like it was yesterday or the year before," Mike Shanahan said of his return with the Redskins. "I think it's a little bit different than what normally happens when you're gone for six months or nine months. I've done it before when I was with the 49ers and with the Raiders. You go back to the place you're [from] — a lot of emotion. This is a little bit different than most."
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