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Head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos watch the clock as time runs down against the Buffalo Bills on September 22, 2002 at INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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The Mike Shanahan approach elevated the Broncos a Mile High

I’m not sure there’s a person on this planet that would disagree with the decision Denver Broncos made on Tuesday — a no-brainer.

Two-time Super Bowl champion head coach Mike Shanahan will be the next member of the Broncos Ring of Fame.

Along with Pat Bowlen and John Elway, Shanahan is one of the most important figures in Broncos history. He had a quality that we had not seen in Denver prior to his arrival in 1995 — and have only seen short glimpses of since his departure in 2009.

Nothing scared Shanahan. No opposing team, player or coach intimidated him. Headlines in the media did nothing to distract or change his approach.

Shanahan didn’t believe the hype.

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Dynasties be damned

Heading into Super Bowl XXXII, Denver was 14-point underdogs to Brett Favre, Reggie White and the Green Bay Packers. The NFC had won 13 straight Super Bowls, and, according to everybody, the Packers were going to make it 14.

Favre was the NFL’s MVP, and the Packers were knocking on doors of the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, looking for a space among the great NFC dynasties.

Not so fast.

The Broncos beat the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, wherein Shanahan and his staff thoroughly out-coached Green Bay.

The Packers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the Broncos tied the game on the following possession. Denver would never trail again.

Truth be told, the Broncos could have beaten the Packers by a larger margin than the 31-24 output. Denver completely dominated the game after that opening drive.

By winning that one game, Shanahan changed the perception of the AFC, the Broncos and Elway. No longer would those three be thought of as losers. No longer would those three play runner up to the NFC.

Shanahan tore up the script that the NFC was the dominant conference. The narrative ended that day.

He accomplished this because he didn’t care what anybody thought or said. Shanahan knew what he had, and, if executed correctly, the Broncos could beat anybody.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick went 10-0 in their first 10 postseason games with the New England Patriots, including three Super Bowl Championships. In 2005, Denver would beat New England in the regular season and again in the postseason, handing the Belichick-Brady duo its first playoff loss.

The Patriots were defending Super Bowl champions and already a dynasty, but Shanahan took them down. He wasn’t worried about the fact that Belichick and Brady were 10-0 heading into that game.

The 2005 Broncos were a great team, and they weren’t intimidated by the Patriots like the rest of the league.

Brett Favre and Green Bay were a dynasty in the making, and Shanahan and the Broncos brought that to an end. Favre never returned to the Super Bowl nor won another MVP.

The Patriots’ success is really split into two dynasties: the early 2000s and 2014-2018. Shanahan and Denver beat them in 2005 and brought an end to New England’s first great run.

Even after he left Denver, Shanahan left behind an attitude unlike the rest of the league: The Broncos weren’t scared to play the Patriots.

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Bold with the personnel

From moving on from speedster Anthony Miller in favor of Rod Smith to benching Bubby Brister to start second-year quarterback Brian Griese, Shanahan was always willing to be bold when it came to personnel decisions.

From 2002 to 2003, Clinton Portis turned in perhaps the most impressive highlight reel of any Broncos player ever. Instead of making him the centerpiece of the franchise, Shanahan traded Portis to Washington for future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey.

Bailey would intercept Brady, which blew the game open for the Broncos to beat the Patriots in the 2005 playoffs.

At the time, it was thought Washington got the better end of that deal. Now it’s viewed as a home run trade for Denver.

Jake Plummer took the Broncos to the playoffs from 2003 to 2005. However, after falling short each season, Shanahan traded up in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2006 to draft Jay Cutler.

Cutler made one Pro Bowl in his career, in 2008 under Shanahan. Had Denver kept Shanahan after the 2008 season, Cutler’s development under Shanahan would have continued, and the gunslinger likely would have had a more successful career.

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High elevation

Other than the 2015 and 2016 seasons under Gary Kubiak, Denver head coaches have struggled to replicate Shanahan’s approach. He coached with supreme confidence in philosophy, and his fearlessness changed the trajectory of the Broncos and NFL.

In the past five seasons, Kubiak, Sean McVay and Mike’s son, Kyle Shanahan, have all led teams to the Super Bowl using the blueprint taught the elder Shanahan taught them.

Much like Bowlen and Elway, Shanahan elevated the Broncos to new heights. Now that he’s in the Ring of Fame, Shanahan’s next stop will be joining Elway and Bowlen in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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