But that scenario is very much up for grabs now, just as Shanahan being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is up for grabs. Winning two Super Bowls is a sketchy line of demarcation for induction.
Of the 10 former coaches eligible for Canton who have won at least two Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Flores and George Seifert are not enshrined, though there is a belief among some voters that Johnson may eventually get in. In speaking confidentially with four veteran Hall of Fame voters last week, Shanahan is by no means a shoo-in.
Here’s hoping he makes it based on one of the great, if still unappreciated, gambles in league history. Lost in the tribute Sunday will be Shanahan’s gutsiest call ever: to keep and not release or trade a 14-year veteran quarterback in 1996.
After Jacksonville upset the No. 1-seeded Broncos at home in the AFC playoffs, Denver fans were probably 70-30 percent in favor of moving on without John Elway. The thought was he simply couldn’t win the big one. It’s hard to imagine now, but think Tony Romo multiplied exponentially.
Twenty-one months after Shanahan gambled on an aging, perennial runner-up, he walked out of Miami with a second straight Lombardi Trophy.
Then, like now, Shanahan had the fortitude, the certainty of self-confidence, to make decisions extremely unpopular in the short term in order to one day arrive at his goal.
If Shanahan returns to his Mile High glory years Sunday for the first time since the Broncos fired him, he also returns to a familiar fork in the road: He needs to win now or else his days as coach and franchise architect could very likely be numbered.
Too often in Washington, most notably last January, the need-to-win-now coach in Shanahan has undermined the long-term organization builder.
Still, if Griffin remains healthy and keeps developing, if this team can at least finish .500 and remain in the playoff hunt late, Shanahan is worth extending at least two years beyond 2014.
If not, if the wheels fall off in any way these last 10 games, it’s time to part with the gold standard Snyder believed he was getting in 2010.
After three of four losing seasons, no one would call the owner impulsive for pulling the plug on Shanahan’s final year.
Forget the players. Mike Shanahan has 10 games left to show he deserves to stay. And Elway can’t help him this time.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.