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Dan Reeves: One of the NFL’s Most Enduring Figures

by Yash Ranjan
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Dan Reeves, who passed away on Jan. 1, 2022, spent 38 years in the NFL as a player or coach. While scores and odds will show that Reeves was a tortured figure when it came to winning, there was no doubt he earned a lot of respect from his peers. In total, Reeves participated in nine Super Bowls. As a player, Reeves served in a reserve role for the Cowboys, compiling 1,990 rushing and 1,693 yards from 1965 to 1972.

As a coach, Reeves was never able to win as a head coach. He was the head coach of the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. He took the Broncos to three Super Bowls and the Falcons to one, but were on the losing side of all four results. Reeves was part of two Super Bowl winning teams. Reeves was on the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI 24-3 win over the Dolphins and was an assistant coach during Dallas’ 27-10 win over Denver in Super Bowl XII. As a head coach, Reeves compiled a record of 190-165-2.

Ice In his Veins

Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr took away what could have been Reeves’ claim to fame as a player. In the 1967 NFL Championship game, better known as the Ice Bowl, Starr scored on a quarterback sneak late in the fourth quarter to give the Packers a 21-17 victory.

Reeves, however, had put Dallas ahead in the fourth quarter by throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel. In a game played in sub-freezing temperatures, Reeves nearly finished with as many passing yards as Dallas quarterback Don Meredith, who started the game. Meredith had 10 completions for 59 yards, while Reeves’ only completion went for 50.

Super Bowls in Denver were a struggle

Reeves two of his three Denver teams — in Super Bowl XXI vs. the Giants and Super Bowl XXII vs. the Redskins– that made the Super Bowl lead after the first quarter. Ultimately, the Broncos would collapse between the weight of excellent quarterback performances.

Giants quarterback Phil Simms helped erase a 10-7 Broncos lead after the first quarter with pinpoint passing. Simms set a Super Bowl record by completing 22-of-25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns to lead New York to a 39-20 win. Against the Redskins, Doug Williams passed for 340 yards and four touchdowns for Washington. Denver started the second quarter ahead 10-0 before finding itself in a 35-10 hole at halftime. The Redskins would go on to win 42-10.

In Super Bowl XXIV against San Francisco, Denver never had a chance against the dynastic 49ers. The Broncos fell behind early and lost 55-10.

First Season in New York a Strong One

Reeves’ first season in New York would end up being his best one. In Simms’ and linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s final seasons, the Giants finished 11-5 and earned a Wild Card spot. Despite trailing 10-3 at halftime, New York rallied to win 17-10 on the back of two rushing touchdowns by Rodney Hampton. The Giants would bow out to a familiar foe, the 49ers, in the next round.

Reeves Helps Sad Sack Falcons reach new heights

Watching Reeves’ do the “Dirty Bird” dance of the 1998 Falcons may have been awkward. But Reeves earned the chance to have fun with his team. Coming out of nowhere, with stud running back Jamal Anderson and veteran quarterback Chris Chandler, Atlanta finished 14-2 and won the NFC West.

The Falcons were given little chance to beat the 15-1 juggernaut Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game, but rallied to win in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in their history. Unfortunately, as Reeves’ head coaching career often saw, an old tormentor would prevent him from earning the championship. Playing against his old quarterback in Denver, John Elway, the Falcons couldn’t keep pace with the Broncos’ offense. After a tight first quarter, Denver built a 17-6 lead by halftime and cruised to a 34-19 victory.

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