Say what you want about Shanahan, and plenty do, he's won two Super Bowls, always has his team in the thick of the playoffs and has a riverboat mentality that fuels his passion or ego. Either way Shanahan like Vermeil does things his way and usually it works.
Though the Broncos enter Sunday Night's contest against the Chiefs with major uncertainty on offense, Shanahan knows the importance of this game. This is a statement game; an NFL coaches dream season opening match-up against a hated division rival. It's clear that the AFC West is a two-team monster between the Chiefs and Broncos.
No disrespect to the San Diego Chargers who are doing their best impersonation of the team formerly known as the Cincinnati Bengals have one of the worst run franchises in the NFL. A lot of that has to do with former Chiefs Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer. But that's a topic for another day.
The Oakland Raiders are led by offensive genius Norv Turner who has been a bust at being a head coach but a marvel as an offensive coordinator. Must try to work under Al Davis and restore order like Jon Gruden did before he was traded out of the Bay area.
Both of these coaches have a lot to prove to the Titans of the division. Vermeil and Shanahan have star quality. If you ask Chiefs fans about Shanahan, they'll tell you he's defiant, arrogant. If you ask the local media in Denver about Shanahan you'll hear words like brilliant and back-stabber.
Those who have played with Vermeil will tell you that he's intensely loyal and sentimental about his players. The local media will tell you that he cries too much and he carries an emotional torch that fuels his passion; nothing wrong with either man's style because both styles work in the NFL.
On Tuesday, Vermeil threw out the first salvo on Shanahan.
"I always find myself thinking that the other guy is doing a better job. I find myself thinking, well, Mike Shanahan has won two world championships. I know how much better they're going to be, how hard they work, how they weren't satisfied with their season. What have they done better than they've done (before), so we can go to Denver and beat them in the opener? Maybe it's a little paranoid but I think you almost have to be to be in my position and be in this league," said Vermeil.
Shanahan will say all the right things about Vermeil. Make no mistake about it, Shanahan wants to beat the Chiefs but he has a respect for Shanahan that is rarely seen. But it's there and his actions this off-season prove it.
In the spring the Chiefs spent their free agent money re-signing their own players. The Broncos discarded KC killer running back Clinton Portis and added stud cornerback Champ Bailey. Shanahan thought the Broncos 2003 defensive ranking of 4th best in the NFL wasn't good enough to overtake the AFC West crown from the Chiefs in 2004. That's about the finest compliment Shanahan can give Vermeil.
But let's not be foolish Chiefs fans, in the new 4-team division alignments, winning your division is critical to getting into the playoffs. The Broncos had the second best division record and they had to start the playoffs on the road in Indianapolis. The Chiefs won the division but also succumbed to the Colts at home in Arrowhead.
So who had the advantage? The Chiefs despite their loss to Indy.
My point is simple. The Broncos showed their flaws on defense in their playoff loss and so did the Chiefs but not on defense; instead on offense.
The Broncos figured that the strength of their team was in the defense and Shanahan believes that the additions of Bailey and former Bucs Safety John Lynch can shut the door on the Chiefs and the Colts high-powered offense.
The Chiefs already knew their defense was bad but it was their offense that let them down in the playoffs and for that matter over the last seven games of the regular season. Honestly, everyone knew the defense couldn't stop anyone but the offense was supposed to be the equalizer. Instead the Chiefs offense dropped passes down the stretch and didn't make the plays they had to make to be dominant. Yes they led the NFL in scoring but they didn't have the killer instinct.
Thus each coach came to the same conclusion. Let's address our strengths and patch-up our weakness. Denver upgrade the defense and sacrificed the offense, Kansas City felt they'd change coordinators and let their best side of the football do most of the talking on the field. So the offense was tweaked and could be even more explosive in 2004.
Shanahan knows one thing. That his Broncos need to beat the Chiefs on Sunday. Their entire off-season has been geared toward beating Kansas City. Shanahan now has the task of trying to mask his problems at quarterback with the ever erratic Jake Plummer. Compound that with trying to stikle lightning in a bottle with second year running back Quentin Griffin and rookie Tatum Bell.
Neither has proved themselves in the NFL but if one of them becomes the next Clinton Portis or Terrell Davis, than Shanahan will be a hero if they succeed or a fool if they fail against the Chiefs in particular.
For Vermeil he's put his faith in Cunningham in the strangest bit of irony in the NFL. He's turning over his defense to the man he replaced as head coach. That takes tremendous (you know what) to make that leap of faith but his risk is no different than that of Shanahan.
Though I think each coach made moves to beat the other, Vermeil puts it another way. When pushed by reporters at his press conference about what each team did in the off-season and the risks each took, the Chiefs head coach was very diplomatic.
"Many times what happens in a coach's mind is he re-prioritizes the needs of that football team as he evaluates that situation."
Maybe if George W. Bush and John Kerry were this gracious to each other more people would vote. But this is not politics, it's the NFL.
On Sunday night, one thing is certain whomever wins this game, will be in the drivers seat and set the tone in the AFC West. All the maneuvering, player transactions, two-a-days and preparation for the 2004 season opening showdown featuring the Chiefs and Broncos will answer the question everyone wants answered. .
Who made the right moves in the off-season?
Did Denver make the wise choice by adding Bailey and dumping Porter or did Kansas City make a wise move bringing in Cunningham and utilizing the defensive players on the roster who played poorly the last two seasons.
For the Broncos, they need this game to show they have what it takes to beat the Chiefs. For Kansas City, it's simply another game that in the end may or may not determine anything about their season.
Vermeil has never beaten the Broncos in Denver. Shanahan has been dominating the Chiefs since Cunningham left. So something has to give and that adds to the delight of this game.
For Chiefs fans, there could not be a better season opening opponent than the Broncos. For Vermeil and Shanahan neither would want to play any other team to gauge where their team stands in round one of 16 in 2004.
But more important, the victor can lay claim that for at least one week, that their team made the wiser of choices in the off-season.