Dan Reeves died on January 1 at the age of 77, which means that his long overdue addition to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, whenever it eventually comes, will be posthumous.
That Reeves wasn’t honored while he was alive is astounding. He ranks 10th on the all-time NFL coaching wins list with 190, and the only coaches with more wins who aren’t enshrined in Canton are Marty Schottenheimer and the still-active Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.
Reeves, in his best-known coaching job with the Broncos, had legendary battles with Schottenheimer’s Cleveland Browns in the 1980s. Denver went to three Super Bowls in four years, and each time lost to a team with a Hall of Fame coach on the opposite sideline: Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Walsh.
If the difference between Reeves and Marv Levy is that the Bills went to four Super Bowls, losing to Parcells, Gibbs, and Jimmy Johnson, well, Reeves also coached the Atlanta Falcons to a conference title before losing Super Bowl XXXIII to, of all teams, the Broncos and Reeves’ old quarterback John Elway.
In addition to his 12 seasons coaching the Broncos and seven with the Falcons, Reeves spent 1993-96 coaching the New York Giants, making the playoffs with a 38-year-old Phil Simms at quarterback the first year.
But Reeves wasn’t just one of the top coaches in NFL history. He also played eight seasons as a running back for the Cowboys, with his best year coming in 1966. Reeves amassed 1,314 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 touchdowns that season — his prowess as a receiving back suggests that Reeves would have been comfortable in today’s NFL.
Reeves, who played quarterback in college at South Carolina, also had what almost was one of the most memorable plays in NFL history, a halfback pass to Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead in the fourth quarter of the Ice Bowl. Had Bart Starr not gone on to make his legendary plunge for the winning score, the Cowboys would have won the historic game and gone on to Super Bowl I.
Also a college baseball player, Reeves had an offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates that he dismissed in favor of pursuing his pro football dreams. It was a good choice, one that should have had, and maybe someday still will have, a Hall of Fame ending.