Former legendary NFL player, head coach and Americus native Dan Reeves dies at age 77
Published 9:43 pm Monday, January 3, 2022
ATLANTA – Former legendary NFL player, head coach and Americus native Dan Reeves, who coached in four Super Bowls and retired as one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, passed away on New Year’s Day at his home in Atlanta at the age of 77.
According to a statement released by his family to NFL Network, the legendary NFL player and coach passed away early Saturday morning peacefully and was surrounded by his loving family at his home in Atlanta. The statement went on to say that Reeves “passed away at age 77 due to complications from a long illness” and that “His legacy will continue through his many friends, players and fans as well as the rest of the NFL community.”
As an NFL head coach, Reeves coached the Denver Broncos (1981-1992), the New York Giants (1993-1996) and the Atlanta Falcons (1997-2003). He led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances following the 1986, 1987 and 1989 seasons and led the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII following the 1998 season. All four of those Super Bowls ended in losses. While he came up short in his four Super Bowl appearances as a head coach, according to the Associated Press, Reeves finished his coaching career with 190 total coaching wins and is the ninth most winningest coach in NFL history.
Reeves is the only person in NFL history to ever appear in multiple Super Bowls as both a player and a coach. As a player, Reeves was part of the Dallas Cowboys team that won Super Bowl VI in the 1971 season.
Reeves was born in Rome, GA on January 19, 1944, but grew up here in Americus. He was a stellar multi-sport athlete at Americus High School, where he played football, baseball and basketball. After suffering a broken collarbone during his senior season, which caused him to miss four games, the University of South Carolina was the only school to offer him a football scholarship. However, after he won the MVP trophy at the Georgia High School Football All-Star Game, other schools showed interest, but Reeves decided to stick with the Gamecocks. Reeves was also named to the All-State basketball team in 1961.
Tom Gunn, who was a football teammate of Reeves at Americus High from 1958-1960, told the Americus Times-Recorder that Reeves was a great person and had a tremendous passion for the game of football.
“He was an excellent person, friendly with everybody. He had a passion for football. He was really good at it,” Gunn said. “I remember one story about him from Coach (Jimmy) Hightower. Dan had been hurt on his arm, or some how another, and we were playing a big game. Dan had gotten hurt and he was raring to get back into the game and Coach Hightower wouldn’t let him. That was sort of a sign that he was a passionate athlete. He wasn’t going to let an injury keep him out of the game. Dan was a really, really, really passionate football player. That was what he loved to do. Dan was a very nice person, along with all of his brothers and cousins. His sisters were good athletes too. There was always a Reeves playing varsity sports when I was in high school and before and after. They were all excellent players, but Dan sort of stood out. He was a scholarship athlete. I remember Dan Really well. He was a good guy,” Gunn continued.
As a college football player, Reeves was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Gamecocks from 1962 to 1964 and ended his college career as the leading passer in Gamecock history with 2,561 yards passing and 16 touchdowns.
Though he went undrafted after graduation, Reeves signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1965. He started out at the safety position, but was later moved to halfback after a series of injuries depleted the team’s depth.
According to Wikipedia, As a running back in 1966, Reeves set a franchise record with 16 touchdowns (eight rushing and eight receiving), had over 1,300 all-purpose yards, was sixth in NFL rushing, led the NFL in touchdowns and was sixth in scoring.
In 1967, Reeves posted back-to-back seasons with more than 600 rushing yards. He was ranked second on the team with 603 rushing yards and third in receiving with 490 yards. In Week 8 of the 1967 season against the Atlanta Falcons, Reeves set a franchise record for most touchdowns in a game (4).
Reeves played a total of eight seasons with the Cowboys. During that time span, he amassed 1,990 rushing yards, 1,693 receiving yards and scored 42 touchdowns. In each of his eight years playing for the Cowboys, the team made the playoffs every year and defeated the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI following the 1971 season. Reeves also threw a touchdown pass in Dallas’s losing effort in the “Ice Bowl” against the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 NFL Title Game.
After his playing career was over, Reeves became the youngest NFL head coach in 1981 when he became the head coach and vice president of the Denver Broncos. As head coach of the Broncos from 1981-1992, Reeves guided the team to six post-season appearances, five divisional titles, three AFC championships and three Super Bowl Appearances (Super Bowl XXI, Super Bowl XXII and Super Bowl XXIV).
In 1993, Reeves was hired as the head coach of the New York Giants and guided them to an 11-5 record and a berth in the playoffs. His 1993 season record with the Giants was then and still remains today the best ever for a first-year Giants head coach. He was also named the Associated Press Coach of the Year in 1993 after helping the Giants improve from a 6-10 record the year before. However, Reeves was fired in 1996 after two losing seasons.
In 1997, Reeves was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and was tasked with turning a perennial loser into a winner, which he did in just two years. After going 7-9 in his first year as head coach of the Falcons, Reeves guided the club to a 14-2 record in 1998 and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIII. Unfortunately for Reeves and the Falcons, they came up short against his former club, the Denver Broncos, losing 34-19. However, for his success in 1998, Reeves was named NFL Coach of the Year. Reeves remained as head coach of the Falcons until 2003, but the team’s only other playoff appearance under his watch came in 2002 when he guided the Falcons to a 9-6-1 record with starting quarterback Michael Vick. Atlanta won its first-round playoff game that year on the road over the Green Bay Packers 27-7, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 20-6 in the second round. After going 3-10 in Atlanta’s first 13 games of the 2003 season, Reeves asked to be released and Wade Phillips served as the interim head coach for the final three games of the season.
Not only did Reeves help improve the fortunes of NFL teams, he also was heavily involved in the startup of Georgia State University’s football program in 2007.
On Friday, September 14, 2018, Reeves returned to his hometown of Americus to be the honorary captain during the coin toss before the Sumter County (then Americus-Sumter) Panthers took on the Shaw Raiders.
Reeves is survived by his wife, Pam Reeves, his three children and six grandchildren. Reeves and his future wife dated in high school, where Pam was a cheerleader. The couple married in 1964. Funeral arrangements have not been released.
Information in this article was obtained from news outlets such as www.thehill.com, www.giants.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Reeves, www.ajc.com and https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/atlanta/name/dan-reeves-obituary?id=32052447.