Continuing from yesterday’s article on former Denver Broncos General Managers, we come to the post-Super Bowl era in Bronco history. Upon reaching the pinnacle of team achievement, the franchise entered a period of decline. This is that story.
The Broncos went through three changes in their GM position. From 1999-2001, Neal Dahlen took over for John Beake, who moved up in the organization. From 2002-07, Ted Sundquist held the GM position for Denver and in 2008 – Jim Goodman replaced Ted due to the insistence of Mike Shanahan. In Part 1 of this era, we will look at Neal Dahlen.
1999-2001 – Neal Dahlen
In 1999, John Beake was promoted to the position of Vice President of Administration and he was succeeded by Dahlen. Neal had come over from the San Francisco 49ers organization, where he had already done a career’s worth of work from 1979-1996. Dahlen began working part time as a coaching assistant for the 49ers in 1979, and moved up the ladder earning more and more responsibilities. Among the assignments Neal had at various times in San Francisco were: Scout, Football Administrator, Director of Research and Development, contract negotiator and Financial liaison. Suffice it to say, Dahlen was an integral part of the 49er dynasty that won five Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX).
Things changed in Palo Alto after that last Super Bowl win. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan moved on to become the Denver Broncos head coach in 1995 and the Niner’s Front Office shuffled as well. Neal was passed by for the sake of former players and he was dealt out. Shanahan brought Neal out to Denver, rescuing him from the awkward situation and gave him the title of Director of Player Personnel. His specific job was to rebuild the Broncos’ 15th overall Defense (9th against the Pass and 23rd vs. the Run) while staying within the boundaries of the new league Salary Cap.
John Mobley and Tory James were drafted in ’96 and Free Agents Alfred Williams and Bill Romanowski were signed. Mobley had a decent rookie year, but Big Al and Romo went to the Pro Bowl as the Denver Defense finished 4th overall. They dropped one spot (10th) against the pass, but had the top ranked Defense in the league.
They won the AFC West with a 13-3 record and got upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Playoff game at Mile High Stadium. That was the season we all expected a Super Bowl victory.
Neal spent four seasons as Denver’s Director of Player Personnel before succeeding John Beake as the Broncos GM in 1999. When the dust settled in San Francisco, they wanted Dahlen to return, but Mike Shanahan wouldn’t let Neal go and signed him to a long term contract as the Broncos General Manager.
John Elway had just retired and rode into the sunset and the rebuilding job was left to Dahlen and Shanahan. During the next three years, Denver’s record was 25-23, averaging a little over 8 wins. The team went 11-5 in 2000 and made the playoffs as the Wildcard, but ended up losing to the Ravens 21-3 in Baltimore.
28 players were drafted during those three seasons. Two of them earned All-Pro status (Deltha O’Neal, Al Wilson). Three were Pro Bowlers (Al Wilson-5, Deltha O’Neal-2, Ian Gold-1) and 14 were the primary starter at their position for at least one season. 8 players were the primary starter for 5 or more seasons (28.5%) and one (P-Nick Harris) started for 10 years. 17 of the players drafted (60.7%) between 1999-2001 played at least 49 games for the Broncos and 11 played in 99 or more contests (39.2%). Nine players started 50 games (32.1%) and 7 were complete busts (25%). Two of those draft picks (Cooper Carlisle-OAK and Nick Harris-DET) are still in the league.
Among the players drafted by the Broncos during Neal’s term were: Al Wilson, Deltha O’Neal, Ian Gold, Mike Anderson, Nick Harris, Ben Hamilton, Desmond Clark and Reggie Hayward.
At the end of the 2001 season, Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen, seeking to fend off other teams wanting their college scouting director Ted Sundquist, asked Dahlen if he could give Sundquist the GM job and make Dahlen the director of football operations at the same salary. Neal got a long term deal out of it and moved up the ladder, but essentially did the same things he’d done all along. In 2002, Bowlen offered him a new job, that of scouting college prospects on the road. At 62, Dahlen didn’t imagine the road life as something he wanted to do and when Shanahan offered him an early retirement, he took it and never looked back.
Neal Dahlen has the distinction of being the only man with seven Super Bowl Rings. Five with San Francisco (Staff and Player Personnel) and two with Denver (General Manager). He truly is The Lord of the Rings.
“I have seven Super Bowl rings, and only three Quarterbacks had anything to do with that and they’re all in the Hall of Fame (Montana, Young and Elway),” he (Dahlen) said. “There is correlation with having seven rings and having those three.”
Neal Dahlen lives near Dove Valley and spends most of a quiet life playing golf. He remains a part of not only Denver Broncos history, but a huge part of NFL History. Right up there with George Halas.
– Kaptain Kirk