Dan Neil was born on October 21st, 1973 in Houston, Texas. A Texan through and through, Neil would play his High School and college ball in the Lonestar state. After a fantastic tenure at Cypress Creek High School, Neil would head to Austin and become a Longhorn. In his four years at the University of Texas, he was a two-time All-American, team captain and received several reward recognition. A stable and reliable member of the Longhorn offensive line, Neil's college tape quickly elevated his Draft status. The Denver Broncos would select him in the 3rd round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
Career stats for Broncos RG Dan Neil
Years Played: 1997-2004
Teams Played for: Broncos
Stats: 108 games played (104 starts)
Upon his arrival in Denver, Neil would be joining a team with Championship expectations. Despite his early draft status (67th overall), he would rarely see the field in his rookie season. When the guy ahead of you (Brian Habib) hasn't missed a game in nearly 5 years, it's hard to see the field. To that point, the 1997 squad was a decorated unit. The group included a future HOF player Gary Zimmerman at LT and Pro Bowlers in Tom Nalen, Mark Schlereth, and Tony Jones. Needless to say, the young lineman would have to bide his time to enter the top unit.
After earning a Super Bowl ring as part of the 1997 team, Neil's chance to be a starting lineman would be coming. The man ahead of him, Brian Habib, took an offer to return to his home state and play for the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. This left a void on the vaunted Broncos line, one in which Neil was ready to fill. He would continue to stabilize the Right Guard position, becoming the full-time starter and earning his second Super Bowl ring. In total, Dan Neil would play 8 years for the Broncos, 7 of which as the starting Right Guard.
To further the point on his stability, Dan Neil would only miss seven games in his time as a starter (five of which came in his last two seasons). As part of the Superbowl and Post-Elway eras, Neil was an important piece of the team's offensive success. Paving the way for several 1,000-yard backs, Neil and his fellow lineman were best defined as the "strong, silent types". A well-known fact around Broncos Country, it's been tradition for many offensive linemen to not speak to the media. The oft-silent wall on offense, Broncos linemen had a long history of not voicing their opinions to the public. Of course, this is a tradition that would change as several Bronco linemen would eventually find careers in the media.
Despite few words being uttered in pads, Dan Neil was one of the Broncos' most consistent and reliable players for his entire tenure. Unfortunately, injuries towards the end of the 2003 and 2004 seasons would ultimately end his career. Neil played in 108 total games for the Broncos, starting 104. After his playing career, Neil joined the media as a member of different radio stations and ran for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.
In an era where the Broncos have struggled to field a competent, consistent offensive line, appreciation for Dan Neil's efforts are amplified. He played perhaps the most unglamorous position on offense, yet he did so with amazing toughness and consistency. It's not a coincidence that the Broncos' offense continued to churn out top-10 efforts after Elway retired. Yes, having Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak running your offense will work wonders, but they couldn't do it without the guys up front.
As we've seen in recent years, no amount of talent at the skill positions can override the importance of an offensive line (especially a bad one). With the Broncos looking to reform with Payton's philosophies, perhaps looking back at a former player's resume can give new appreciation to what he meant to the team.
So with that said, Dan Neil, here's a Mile High Salute to you! Thank you for everything you've done for Broncos Country!