Mile High Feud: John Elway and Mike Shanahan Still Have a Beef, but Why?

Reid BrooksAnalyst IJune 30, 2010

8 Dec 1996: Head coach Mike Shanahan (left) and Quarterback John Elway of the Denver Broncos stand on the sidelines during the Broncos 41-6 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

As far as recent history goes with the Denver Broncos, two personalities are held supreme atop the list of legendary Mile Highers.

Strangely enough, those two aren't really that fond of each other.

This old story has become an issue again, as rumors are circling that John Elway now wants to buy a minority stake in the Denver Broncos if Pat Bowlen will let him. The timing seems interesting, because he waited until after Mike Shanahan was out of town.

That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as Dave Krieger has pointed out before that based on his long-term relationship interviewing Elway, he had always known that the two did not get along. Elway had told him point blank many years ago that he would love to get involved in a position with the team, but not while Mike Shanahan was around.

Surprisingly, there seems to be little evidence of animosity from Shanahan's direction (at least in the public's eye). That is probably because Mike Shanahan, unlike Jay Cutler, knew that challenging Elway's persona in the media was not the best idea for anyone affiliated with the Denver Broncos.

Heck, Josh McDaniels wouldn't make public comments about his distaste for the legendary Shanahan if they had any sort of problem with each other.

There has been a lot of speculation about what exactly might have happened between John and Mike to make them refuse to be a part of the organization that made them both NFL gods simultaneously after 1998.

Some people have claimed that Elway gave short notice to Shanahan in regard to his retirement. This, while probable, doesn't seem to be enough to alienate the men from each other for 12 years.

I mean, their partnership did win two Super Bowls. Even Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb have made amends now.

But both men have conflicted histories and are certainly type-A personalities. While they were only in the locker room together for half a decade (with a break in between), that was certainly enough time to clash in private.

John Elway certainly has a history of problems with coaches and authority in general. Coming out of college, he refused to play for the Baltimore Colts and was subsequently traded. His problem relationship with former long-time Denver coach Dan Reeves also got Dan fired in the early 1990s.

Yet even they were able to patch up their relationship in 2004 at Elway's Hall of Fame induction.

At the time, Elway was quoted in the Denver Post as saying this about his invitation to Reeves:

"It never crossed my mind not to invite him. Time heals everything. Those types of things, those little problems, you just can't let them linger. They add up. Bitterness is no way to go through life. There are absolutely no ill feelings on my part toward Dan. I'm looking forward to seeing him."

Time heals everything? Bitterness is no way to go through life?

If Elway considered getting Reeves fired to be one of "those little problems," then I don't want to know what he would consider to be a big problem.

Either Mike Shanahan burned Elway's house down, is responsible for slandering Elway's name all over car dealerships, and headed some major, additional sinister plot against John, or perhaps the explanation is far more simple.

It is likely that the feud does actually exist, but at the root of preventing the two from patching things up is a character trait of Mike Shanahan's.

Mike Shanahan is a bit of a control freak.

That won't come as a surprise to people who work with Shanahan for any period of time, and even Denver fans can discover that pretty quickly with some basic analysis.

Mike lost his job in the Mile High City because he wouldn't give up his hold on defense and personnel decisions, which were two areas he struggled in. If one looks at his new powers in Washington, he negotiated a similar situation.

Same old story, same old song and dance.

Elway can't be blamed for not wanting to work in that type of environment, if he felt at the time that getting into management with Mike Shanahan would leave him powerless.

But it is undeniable that there is some other conflict separating the two. Shanahan did imply through Dave Krieger at one point that he thought Elway lacked the necessary motivation to take on a front office position.

That isn't the type of thing you say to a reporter about a friend. He essentially was calling John lazy.

They have a long history together, going all the way back to fishing trips in the early 90s after Dan Reeves fired Mike from the position of Denver Broncos offensive coordinator. Unless one of them comes right out and says what is wrong, it will be difficult to ever know anything conclusively.

Shanahan certainly had the right to feel betrayed if Elway didn't give him enough notice when he retired from Denver, especially since it left Mike's team in a downswing. Shanahan never brought the team back up to that 1998 level again, and since the two had been such close friends off the field for such a long time, that would explain the sudden animosity.

But at the core, it would seem that there is something else separating the two that is, as of yet, unidentifiable.

With Shanahan's departure, Elway might be coming back in the door, but all that would mean is further questions about why two of the Broncos' most familiar faces are never seen together anymore.

In 1994, a story ran in the Sporting News quoting Dan Reeves as saying this about his firing of Shanahan: "That was my main concern with Mike, that he was too close to John (Elway). I felt like it was causing some problems within our staff."

The problems seem to go back forever, and they still exist now, though it is certain John and Mike aren't close anymore.

But with both men being a part of the NFL simultaneously again for the first time since the fabled 1998 season, albeit in drastically different positions, perhaps that will change.

The fans sure would like to see their problems resolved, but until they are, this will remain one of the biggest mysteries in sports.

A special thanks to the great Denver Broncos fans over at BroncosCountry.com for bringing this unique story, and its revitalization, to my attention .