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Broncos' next opponent: history; 2nd Super victory puts Denver on short list, but no team has won 3 in row


MIAMI -- Tom Landry never did it, and neither did Joe Gibbs nor Bill Parcells.

But Mike Shanahan has.

Won back-to-back Super Bowl championships, that is.

Landry and Gibbs are Hall of Fame coaches, giants of their era. Parcells is bound for Canton, Ohio, as soon as he steps down as coach of the New York Jets.

Shanahan, meanwhile, has a reservation waiting.

Denver's eagle-eyed, fiercely intense coach soared with the greats after the Broncos stalked their second straight Super Bowl title Sunday night, beating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19.

The short list of back-to-back coaching winners: Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson and, now, Shanahan.

"Just to be associated with some of the names I've heard of puts me in awe," Shanahan said at yesterday's Super Bowl wrap-up session. "To be mentioned with others of that caliber is beyond belief to me.

"I know in any organization, it takes so many people doing the right things. I've been so lucky to have an owner who has given me the chance to do the things most coaches dream of. We have a supporting cast of players and coaches who believe in one another. I feel very fortunate."

In an era when free agency can ravage a team in a single off-season, Shanahan's Broncos are clearly the class of the NFL. They went 17-2 this season, 33-6 through their two titles, and 46-10 over a three-year span.

They won Super Bowl XXXII as a two-touchdown underdog against the Green Bay Packers. And they won Super Bowl XXXIII as a one-touchdown favorite against the Falcons.

Almost to a man, the Broncos said that repeating was the hardest part.

The three-peat? As history shows, it's almost impossible.

No team has won three consecutive Super Bowl titles. Only Lombardi's Packers, in an era that bridged pre-merger and post-merger with the AFL, won three straight NFL championships (1965-'67).

So Shanahan knows the terrain ahead: Talk of a dynasty, speculation about greatness, the possibility of complacency.

"The feeling we had last year was, 'Hey, this is a great feeling -- we want to get back here next year,' " he said. "I saw that all through the off-season. I'm hoping we have the same mind-set. People will be patting us on the back, talking about dynasties. As long as we don't buy that, we've got a chance to get back."

With or without John Elway, Denver's 38-year-old quarterback and MVP of Sunday night's victory, the Broncos likely will be favored going into the 1999 season. Yesterday, Elway enumerated the reasons why they should be, anyway.

"Because I think the nucleus of guys Denver has is quality guys," he said. "They play together, and the priority is to win week-in, week-out. There's quality depth. Any time you have Terrell Davis back there, you have a chance to win. Our defense gave up only one touchdown in the playoffs.

"If I don't come back, Bubby [Brister] will step in. He's very experienced, very capable. That's why it still goes through Denver."

Unlike last season, when Elway's decision to return for a 16th season dragged into midsummer, he says he needs to make a commitment by April. Shanahan said he wants to know by the draft later that month.

Is he dazzled by the chance to three-peat? Or the rare opportunity to leave the game on top, like Jim Brown and Michael Jordan? Elway made concessions to both possibilities, but isn't ready to tip his hand.

"Can we win three [in a row] without John? Yes," said linebacker Bill Romanowski. "Would we rather have John? Absolutely. He's got to make a decision on what's best for him and his family. If he doesn't come back, we've got guys who are ready to step in, and I think we'll just keep this ball rolling."

There will be changes, of course. In addition to Elway, prominent players who might not return to the Broncos next season include defensive end Neil Smith and safeties Steve Atwater and Tyrone Braxton. Guard Mark Schlereth will undergo his 23rd surgery shortly, and sooner or later, he's going to run out of body parts.

This is a team that came to dominate the 1998 season, almost from beginning to end. In the wake of Super Bowl XXXIII, the Broncos are facing a new opponent today.

With back-to-back Super Bowl wins, they have matched the Packers of the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins of the '70s, the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s, and the Dallas Cowboys of the '90s.

The next step is history.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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