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Thom Loverro: John Elway, Broncos make big strides while Mike Shanahan, Redskins tread water

Amy Sancetta/AP Mike Shanahan and John Elway won two Super Bowls together in Denver, but neither one has broken through and won a championship without the help of the other.

Washington Redskins coach and executive vice president Mike Shanahan and Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway are tied at the hip of history.

Critics of Shanahan will often point out that the coach has not won anything of note since the two Super Bowls he won with Elway at quarterback. And Elway went to three Super Bowls and lost, not winning any until Shanahan was his coach.

Elway's legacy as a Hall of Fame quarterback is far more solid than Shanahan's potential Hall of Fame resume as a coach, but the record will always show the best that either ever achieved was with the other.

Now they are creating separate legacies as competitors, not colleagues.

Shanahan took steps toward putting his own stamp of success on the Redskins last season with his rookie quarterback, SuperBob -- Robert Griffin III -- leading them to the NFC East title. There is no denying that in his third season in Washington, Shanahan managed to change the direction of perhaps the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL.

But now that future is uncertain because of Shanahan's poor judgement. Playing Griffin on a damaged knee made him a one-legged target in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, resulting in torn ligaments and the quarterback's second reconstructive knee surgery.

Elway, meanwhile, took over a mess in Denver from the 4-12 Josh McDaniels 2010 team and, with Tim Tebow at quarterback, put together a team in 2011 that managed to win the AFC West with an 8-8 record and upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game.

He then managed to get out of the Tebow business -- an unpopular decision at the time in Denver -- and somehow got the New York Jets to give him a fourth-round pick.

Elways seems like a genius for that move alone.

But Elway then landed the free agent prize of last offseason -- future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning -- who led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and a second consecutive AFC West championship, though the season ended with a disappointing loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

And while Shanahan, along with general manager Bruce Allen, is scrambling to keep his NFC East title team intact despite facing the second leg of a $36 million salary cap penalty, Elway landed arguably one of the top free agent prizes again in wide receiver Wes Welker.

Now with Manning throwing to Welker along with threats like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, it makes Denver the favorite to win the AFC -- which means Elway will make it back to the Super Bowl before Shanahan.

Unless Shanahan can find a way to keep the team competitive in this second year of the cap penalty -- and Griffin returns to shock and awe opponents on the field -- it appears that his former quarterback in Denver will only fuel the notion that the Broncos' Super Bowl success was Elway-driven.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.