Just before kickoff of the home opener Sept. 26, the Broncos should ask for a moment of silence to honor two of the most impactful influencers in the franchise’s Super Bowl history.
Alex Gibbs and Greg Knapp died 10 days apart in July.
Greg should be coaching in the game for the Jets. Alex should be the constant gardener tending to his tomatoes in Arizona and watching the game on TV.
Gibbs, who spent 14 seasons with the Broncos as the Godfather of Offensive Lines, won two championships with the John Elway-led team in 1997-98, and Knapp was Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach for the Super Bowl 50 title.
Greg was my neighbor and friend. In his four stints with the Broncos in four decades, Alex said hello to me twice. Greg enjoyed talking with the media. Alex refused to talk with the media. Both were brilliant, longtime assistants, coordinators, specialists, consultants and assistant head coaches, and in Alex’s career, once a 25-year-old head coach at Mount Airy (North Carolina) College.
Each was an NFL wayfarer. Knapp coached for eight teams, Gibbs nine.
Their journeys intersected in 1988 when Gibbs was the special assistant to Los Angeles Raiders’ coach Mike Shanahan, and Knapp was a practice squad quarterback. They barely missed coaching together in Seattle and Houston.
On Jan. 13, 2013, Knapp was hired by John Fox as offensive coordinator of the Broncos. Exactly four months later, on May 13, Gibbs returned to the Broncos as offensive line consultant. Together, Knapp and Gibbs were members of the staff for Super Bowl 48, the loss to the Seahawks. Gibbs retired permanently shortly after. Knapp received his first ring following Super Bowl 50, but was fired a year later when Gary Kubiak resigned and Vance Joseph was hired.
Gibbs has served at various times as an unofficial offensive consultant to the Saints, and Knapp was hired Jan. 21 to be the Jets’ passing game coordinator.
Alex died of complications from a stroke in Arizona on July 12, and Greg died July 22 in California in a coma as a result of severe injuries suffered when he was struck on his bicycle by the driver of an automobile.
They were two of the best to coach in Denver and be in charge of running and passing offenses.
Greg loved to bike regularly, even to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. Alex loved to run daily, even to the top of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.
Knapp worked with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and Manning, who acknowledged Gregg in his speech in Canton, and five other Pro Bowl quarterbacks in his quarter of a century in the NFL. Gibbs coached in college football (under Woody Hayes, Bobby Bowden and Vince Dooley) and the pros for 45 seasons and mentored a multitude of Pro Bowl players and Hall of Famers, including the Broncos’ Gary Zimmerman.
Alex didn’t invent the zone-blocking scheme, but he perfected it, especially after coming to the NFL and the Broncos in 1984, the same year Dan Reeves hired Shanahan. The pair were special teachers for John Elway.
Gibbs had no time for linemen who couldn’t adapt to his zone- and cut-blocking system. “Be good, or be gone,’’ he told them in meetings, and he screamed more colorful phrases on the practice field and during games.
With Alex in control, the Broncos developed plug-and-run backs. During most of the 14 seasons he spent in Denver the Broncos were one of the most proficient rushing teams with thousand-plus-yards running backs Clinton Portis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns and Terrell Davis, a rare 2,000-yard rusher and MVP of the league and the Super Bowl and an eventual Hall of Famer.
Oddly enough, the Raiders rehired Knapp as offensive coordinator in 2012, and he installed Gibbs’ zone-blocking system. It didn’t work in Oakland, probably because Gibbs wasn’t by Knapp’s side. Knapp was fired at season’s end and immediately hired by the Broncos.
In 2013, with Knapp and Gibbs, Manning set single-season NFL passing records of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards.
The Broncos certainly could utilize the coaching wisdom and experience of Alex and Greg now.
So, on an upcoming September Sunday, both teams and 75,000 fans must pause to remember the contributions to professional football and, specifically, to the Broncos by Alex Gibbs and Greg Knapp. May they rest in peace and coach in heaven.