Dan Reeves epitomizes America.
Small town boy. Married his high school sweetheart. Played for America’s team. Christian.
A legend of the gridiron, Reeves will appear at King College in Bristol, Tenn., on Jan. 31. The occasion marks Super Bowl week. Reeves’ appearance will also benefit King’s annual fund for scholarships and programs, the main source for direct scholarship aid for King students.
"Coach Reeves has been involved with more Super Bowls as a coach or a player than anyone else with nine Super Bowls," said John King, King College’s chief development officer, who was responsible for booking Reeves. "We thought it would be a big deal."
Signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1965, the hard-nosed Reeves immediately became the Cowboys’ leading running back.
"Talking about 1965, boy, talk about a dream come true," Reeves said on Tuesday morning by phone from his home in Atlanta. "I barely got a college scholarship (to University of South Carolina). Then to have a career in the NFL for 39 years, boy."
Reeves played for eight years, all under legendary head coach Tom Landry. During that time he played in Super Bowls V and VI. The Cowboys lost the former and won the latter.
But perhaps Reeves’ most memorable and famous game came on New Year’s Eve 1967. The site, Lambeau Field’s frozen tundra in Green Bay, Wis. Their opponents, the Green Bay Packers and iconic head coach Vince Lombardi. History marks the game as the Ice Bowl.
"(I recall) how cold it was," Reeves said. "The day before, it was 15 degrees. The sun was shining. It dropped 32 degrees overnight. You could feel every degree of it."
Early in the game, Cowboys quarterback "Dandy" Don Meredith handed the ball off to Reeves. Hit hard in the face, Reeves’ face mask broke and two teeth embedded in his upper lip. So cold, he couldn’t feel it.
But there was no quit in Reeves. He actually threw a 50-yard touchdown pass in the game.
"Coach Landry always said if you quit once, pretty soon you’ll quit again," Reeves said.
Five years into his playing career and upon a knee injury, Landry did Reeves a favor that helped make the bulk of his NFL career possible.
"He saw something in me and asked me to be a player-coach," Reeves said. "I never thought about coaching. Then I tried to learn everything I could from him."
Reeves grew up on a farm in Americus, Ga. Hard work, discipline and the Christian way were among the values learned as a child that later served him well in the NFL.
"You worked hard," Reeves said. "We didn’t have an alarm clock. We’d hear dad’s footsteps coming down the hall, and it was time to get up. We worked hard."
Church like work was not elective.
"Somebody said I had a drug problem," Reeves said. "Mom and dad ‘drug’ us to church every Sunday."
Perhaps that’s what Landry saw in Reeves. He was a values-driven, hard working, all-American fella as wrapped in discipline and morals as in his own skin.
"Coach Landry gave me two great pieces of advice," Reeves said. "One, be yourself. Two, tell the truth."
Reeves coached with the Cowboys through the 1980 season in various capacities. Then in 1981, he became the head coach of the Denver Broncos. He appeared in and lost three Super Bowls with Denver and then once more as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Losing a Super Bowl?
"It’s so devastating," Reeves said, who lost eight of nine Super Bowls in which he was involved. "It’s worse as a coach."
Yet Reeves, whose most recent head coaching job ended in 2003 with Atlanta, had his Christian faith. When the plays failed and games were lost, his faith never wavered.
"No question," Reeves said. "The Lord knows what he’s doing. He likes to see people handle it with class. Give the other team credit, and then try to get back and win it."
Get back. Though he just turned 68, Reeves said that he absolutely would consider a return to the sidelines as a head coach in the NFL even with the Oakland Raiders, arch rivals of Reeves’ Broncos during the 1980s and ’90s.
"I’d definitely talk to them," Reeves said. "Once you’ve coached in the NFL, you talk. I feel like I can do it."
Still, even after 39 years in the NFL and more Super Bowl appearances than anyone else, Reeves remains essentially the same person who first signed with the Cowboys as a 21-year-old in 1965. He went huge, but his head didn’t go with it.
"Down to Earth," Reeves said by way of self-description. "I hope they look at me as being humble. I feel fortunate to do the things I’ve done. I never really dreamed it. The good Lord has been good to me."
Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
» What: An Evening with Super Bowl Champion Dan Reeves to benefit the King College Annual Fund for Scholarships & Programs
» When: Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m.
» Where: King College Maclellan Hall dining room, 1350 King College Road, Bristol, Tenn.
» Admission: $35 per person, $60 per couple, $250 per table of eight. Dinner is included with the cost of admission.
» Info: (423) 652-4864
» Web: www.danreeves.co
» And: www.king.edu