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DP: Twist of fate pits meeting of minds


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Twist of fate pits meeting of minds

By Thomas George


We know things were done differently in the NFL in the early 1980s when Dan Reeves was coaching the Broncos. This, however, surprised me when revealed by current Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

The Broncos and Washington Redskins used to get together in the offseason - their entire staffs - and discuss common opponents. They would explore those teams' strengths and weaknesses. They would share information that would be used on game days and beyond.

Shanahan was an assistant on Reeves' staff and would sit in on those meetings. Shanahan would listen to and watch Joe Gibbs closely. Even then, he saw a coach in command.

"Dan and Joe were good friends, and they would have these sessions with their staffs, something you can't find in the game today," Shanahan said. "It was easy to respect Joe then. You could see his knowledge. It was something special."

Shanahan as a head coach has never faced Gibbs.

That changes today when the Redskins visit Invesco Field at Mile High.

These two coaches are more similar than different. Both are offensive-minded. Both depend on the running game but love to flaunt the passing game. Both insist on managing the makeup of their clubs.

Gibbs left the Redskins in 1993 and two years later Shanahan took control in Denver. Gibbs returned last year and now brings an unbeaten team to Denver.

Gibbs owns 149 victories, third-most among active coaches.

Shanahan owns 119, sixth-most among active coaches.

There is not a single coach in the NFL who will fail to admit that he yearns to win all 16 games on the schedule. What they will not say is that some games mean a little more, present a different edge, provide a game within the game.

This is one of them.

Gibbs was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. He is intent on building a new legacy in Washington. To do that, he has to beat the best teams and coaches of this era. That includes the Broncos. And Shanahan.

Shanahan, undoubtedly, wants his place in the Hall of Fame. He is a man of immense pride and is enthralled by competition. Facing a Joe Gibbs team provides top-flight competition. With all that Shanahan has accomplished, beating one of Gibbs' teams would be a scrumptious treat.

They engage with their defenses better than their offenses. That gives this game another plum twist. Which coach can get his offense in gear and in stride in this matchup? That is something to absorb personally. I bet both coaches do.

You can look for a trick play or two on both sides. Speed kills, yes, but creativity that clicks and makes the difference in a meeting like this drills the losing coach. And causes a sleepless night. Or two. Or three.

Gibbs has not been afraid to quicken the makeover of the Redskins. He benched quarterback Patrick Ramsey early. He has endorsed the benching of brute linebacker LaVar Arrington.

Shanahan has done the same this season, axing Maurice Clarett early, revamping his defensive line, rotating his running backs.

Both have done business together in each of the past two years, exchanging Pro Bowl players (Champ Bailey to Denver, Clinton Portis to Washington) a year ago and swapping draft spots last April in moves that have present impact for both and future considerations for the Broncos.

These are two coaches used to having the first word and the last one.

Both say they have respected each other for some time from afar but today they are up close, their imprint on their teams in full view for all. Gibbs could gain victory No. 150.

Shanahan could finish with victory No. 120.

Nice numbers.

I bet their meeting at midfield afterward will be special.

Trumped, though, by four quarters of football matching wits and displaying their axioms in a skull session that is not private but glittery public.

Pro football most often is best when it is a game about the players. Portis vs. Bailey, who tops whom, takes care of that.

Sometimes, though, it can be compelling when coaching wizards play tit for tat for keeps.

This is it.

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