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Dan Reeves – Dallas Cowboys Star, Legendary Coach

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Dan Reeves played a key role in Tom Landry’s offense for the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-1960s. He then worked as a player/coach and later as an assistant coach for Coach Landry. Reeves later became head coach of the Denver Broncos, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons. Dan Reeves’ success as a coach overshadows his playing career even though Reeves performed well on the field. He tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns in 1966 and produced two seasons with over 1,000 combined rushing and receiving yards. He won a Super Bowl ring as a player/coach with the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI (Super Bowl 6).

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Above: Dan Reeves, Roger Staubach, and Tom Landry in Super Bowl VI

DAN REEVES FAMILY FARM AND HOMETOWN

Dan Reeves grew up on a 275-acre farm outside of Americus, Georgia. His family grew corn, cotton, and peanuts. Reeves also milked cows, fed hogs, plowed, and baled hay. Reeves often got up at 5 a.m. to work and sometimes worked until 11 p.m., using tractor headlights to provide light. That type of work ethic greatly helped his football career.

He was a multi-sport athlete at Americus High School. He excelled in baseball, basketball, and football. Americus’ baseball and basketball teams won state championships during Reeves’ tenure. He also played quarterback in football and suffered a broken collarbone his senior year. He missed several games.

Only South Carolina offered a football scholarship to him at the time and he accepted. He later returned to the football field and earned MVP honors in the state high-school all-star game. Multiple schools offered Reeves a scholarship after the game, but Reeves said in the football history book The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL that he felt it was important to keep his word on the original scholarship offer.

DAN REEVES SOUTH CAROLINA COLLEGE FOOTBALL CAREER

Reeves played quarterback at South Carolina and started from his sophomore year through his senior year. He was the youngest starting quarterback in the nation as a sophomore. He also played safety on defense in college.  

The Gamecocks weren’t a top-ranked program at the time. It was perhaps for this reason that Reeves didn’t obtain a lot of publicity in college despite his statistical success. A 1967 Sports Illustrated article notes that Reeves broke 10 school records at South Carolina. He also placed second in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in total yards in 1962.

Reeves also served as an outstanding right fielder for the South Carolina’s baseball team.

DAN REEVES NFL CAREER WITH THE DALLAS COWBOYS

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Above: Dan Reeves on the run in Super Bowl V

Dan Reeves went undrafted in the 1965 NFL Draft, although the Los Angeles Rams strongly considered doing so. The problem? The Rams owner was also coincidentally named Dan Reeves. Owner Reeves claimed he worried about the optics of drafting a player with the same name and later regretted it. He told Sports Illustrated that he wished he would have drafted Reeves and changed his own name.

Two pro football teams offered Reeves a tryout: the American Football League San Diego Chargers and the National Football League Dallas Cowboys. Reeves said in The Game before the Money that although the Chargers contract offered more money, the Cowboys offered to try him out at several positions. Reeves decided the Cowboys offered a better opportunity and he signed with Dallas. In doing so, he also turned down a major league baseball opportunity with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Reeves played sparingly in the Dallas backfield during the 1965 NFL season but earned a starting role in 1966. Coach Tom Landry originally moved defensive back Mel Renfro to running back for the 1966 NFL season, but Renfro suffered an injury early in Week One. Reeves stepped in and scored three touchdowns after Renfro’s injury as the Cowboys defeated the New York Giants.

The touchdowns kept coming. Reeves notched eight rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns in 1966. The total of 16 TDs in a 14-game season tied him for tops in the NFL. Teams had difficulty defending the all-purpose back who also notched over 1,300 yards from scrimmage that year.

Reeves continued his production the next season. He scored 11 touchdowns and rambled for nearly 1,100 total yards. He utilized his college quarterbacking skills and proved himself a passing weapon on the halfback option play. He threw two touchdowns in the 1967 NFL regular season. He also threw a touchdown pass in the 1967 NFL Championship Game (best known as the Ice Bowl). Dan Reeves’ Ice Bowl pass would have been the game-winning touchdown had the rival Packers not scored in the game’s final seconds.

1968 appeared to be another stellar season for Reeves after he scored 5 touchdowns during the first 4 games. A devastating knee injury in Week 4 put Reeves out for the season. He played through the 1972 season but never regained neither his full agility nor his stature in the Dallas offense.

Dallas head coach Tom Landry asked him to serve as a player/coach in his final seasons with the Cowboys. Reeves joined the Cowboys coaching staff full-time after retiring as a player.

DAN REEVES COACHING CAREER

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Above: Dan Reeves Atlanta Super Bowl celebration after the NFC Championship

Reeves served Tom Landry as an assistant coach through the 1980 season. He worked as the Cowboys offensive coordinator from 1977 – 1980. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 12 in Reeves’ first year as offensive coordinator.

The Broncos later hired Reeves as their head coach. Reeves took the reins for the 1981 season. His former Cowboys teammate Craig Morton was his starting quarterback. The team finished 10-6 although they lost a tiebreaker to the San Diego Chargers and missed out on both the AFC West title and the playoffs.

Reeves first coached the Broncos to the playoffs in 1984 with John Elway at quarterback. Reeves later guided the Broncos to three Super Bowls in four years. The Broncos never won the Super Bowl under Dan Reeves but had great success in the AFC playoffs.

His relationship with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway was at times reported as contentious and even sometimes called a Dan Reeves John Elway feud. Situations like that aren’t necessarily uncommon in the NFL history books. The Chuck Noll Terry Bradshaw situation in Pittsburgh comes to mind. Elway invited Reeves to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the matter appeared to be reconciled. 

The New York Giants hired Dan Reeves before the 1993 season. The team finished 11-5 and beat the Minnesota Vikings in the wildcard round. He never got the Giants further than that in his four-year stint with New York.

He did, however, coach the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl 33, the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Falcons faced Reeves’ former team, the Denver Broncos. The Broncos proved the better team that day and left Reeves 0-4 in Super Bowls as a head coach. He led the Falcons to the playoffs once more in 2002. A wildcard win over the Green Bay Packers marked his last playoff victory as a head coach.

DAN REEVES LEGACY

Dan Reeves proved to be a classic overachiever on the field. He didn’t have the best tools in terms of speed, agility, and strength. He did, however, own a tremendous work ethic and knowledge of the game. His teammates Walt Garrison and Bob Lilly have commented on how well Reeves knew everyone’s assignments – not just his own. That made him an excellent fit in Tom Landry’s offense and later a star coaching protégé under Landry.

He appeared in the Super Bowl as a player/coach for the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowls 5 and 6. He was an assistant coach for the Cowboys in Super Bowls 10, 12, and 13. He led teams to four Super Bowls as a head coach. His assistant Mike Shanahan also coached the Broncos into the Super Bowl, as did his reserve quarterback Gary Kubiak.

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Above: Dan Reeves Broncos Head Coach after the 1986 AFC Championship

Dan Reeves might not be the first person one thinks of when listing great careers in pro football, but he unquestionably had a tremendous ride. He was a participant in some of the NFL’s greatest games and moments (the Ice Bowl, Super Bowl 10, Super Bowl 13, “The Drive”, “The Fumble”). He won a Super Bowl ring as a player/coach and as an offensive coordinator. He played for one of the greatest coaches in NFL history and played with NFL legends like Lilly, Don Meredith, Bob Hayes, and Roger Staubach. He also coached John Elway, one of the greatest quarterbacks of the 1980s, into three Super Bowls. He coached the Atlanta Falcons to their first Super Bowl in team history and accomplished the rare feat of leading both an AFC team and an NFC team to a Super Bowl.

Dan Reeves was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

DAN REEVES NFL CAREER STATS AND BIO

  • Appeared in 9 Super Bowls as a player and/or coach
  • Named AP NFL Coach of the Year twice
  • 1966 NFL Touchdown Leader (tied with Leroy Kelly)
  • Led the Cowboys with 124 yards from scrimmage in the 1966 NFL Championship Game
  • Dan Reeves Past Teams Coached: Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons
  • Worked as a Dallas Cowboys assistant coach under Tom Landry

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