- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

Football fans of a certain age still think of Dan Reeves as the halfback who threw a touchdown pass that nearly won the Ice Bowl. Alas, the Packers came back to beat the Cowboys that arctic day, and so Reeves’ heave to Lance Rentzel has sunk to the bottom of the historical dustbin.

His NFL career has been filled with “nearlys,” Reeves’ has. The ‘66 title game was just the first. Four years later, Dallas nearly won the Super Bowl — but was beaten by a last-minute Colts field goal. As a coach he has guided the Broncos and Falcons to the Ultimate Game four times … and settled for second prize on each occasion.

The Cowboys did make off with the Lombardi Trophy in ‘71, but by then Reeves was merely a peripheral figure — a player-coach making the transition from the first occupation to the second. The glory belonged to guys named Staubach and Lilly and Jordan.

On Sunday, though, the glory will be all Reeves’ — provided the Falcons can find a way to defeat the Redskins at Georgia Dome. His next victory will be his 200th as an NFL coach, a figure reached by only five other men, all ensconced in the Hall of Fame. Curly Lambeau (yes, he was the first), George Halas, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and, soon enough, Dan Reeves. How’s that for company?

“I don’t know if my players are even aware of it,” Reeves said yesterday. “But then, I’m not sure it should mean anything to anybody but me. What it means to me is that I’ve been around awhile, been fired a couple of times and managed to stay in the game long enough to win 200 games. Right now, I think I’d like to win [No.[ThSp]200] just so I don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

Until, of course, he starts approaching another milestone, such as 250 or 300.

Once again this year, Reeves is reminding the world how he came to win so many games. He lost his franchise quarterback, Michael Vick, to a broken leg in the second exhibition game, an injury that figures to keep him out at least half the season. So Reeves simply turned to Doug Johnson, his largely untested backup, to lead the Falcons past the Cowboys last weekend.

That’s one of the benefits of having a coach who has “been around awhile,” as he put it. Reeves has seen all and endured all. Why, one year, when John Elway got hurt, Reeves had to get by with two rookie quarterbacks, Tommy Maddox and former Virginia Cavalier Shawn Moore. He alternated them on every play in one game so he could “tell ‘em a little bit about each play before they went in,” he recalled. “We’d done before it Dallas with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation, but you do what you’ve gotta do.”

The Broncos nearly upset the Cowboys that day, by the way, losing on a touchdown by Emmitt Smith with less than three minutes left. And that was a Cowboys club, let’s not forget, that went on to win the Super Bowl.

Another “nearly” for Reeves.

So it has tended to go for him as a coach, which is why it’s kind of startling to see him moving up on the victory list, closing in on such icons as Noll and Lambeau (and even his own mentor, Landry). Reeves, after all, has never won the proverbial Big One; the five members of the 200 Club, on the other hand, all captured two or more titles.

But look at it this way: At least he’s gotten to the Super Bowl. Marty Schottenheimer (166 victories) has never made it. Neither did Chuck Knox (193). And Canton, I’ll just point out, has found plenty of room in recent years for ring-less coaches. Bud Grant (like Reeves, 0-4 in Super Bowls) went into the Hall in ‘94, and Marv Levy (also 0-4) followed him in ‘01. Will Reeves be the next of the “nearlys” to go in — or will he surprise us all and finally win a title with the Falcons?

He’s an old-fashioned coach in some ways. His team, for instance, uses the same 3-4 defense that worked so well for him in Denver. But the game has hardly passed him by as it does so many coaches, even the great ones, in their later years. Lambeau, for instance, was all washed up by the time he won his 200th; he was a single-wing dinosaur trying — and failing — to master the T formation. In his last season in Green Bay, the Packers were so awful that he went and hid in the press box on game days, leaving the decision making to his assistant coaches. He told the fans he was evaluating the club’s needs for the future, but for Curly there was no future. The following year found him coaching the Cardinals.

In Atlanta, though, Reeves has very much of a future. He has survived 22 seasons, quadruple bypass surgery, Super Bowl heartbreak, the “Dirty Bird,” and now he has Vick, the quarterback the whole league is talking about — or rather, he will once Michael’s leg heals. A player like that makes an old coach feel young. He also, Reeves said, “makes you want to stay around coaching for a while.”

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