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Super Bowl stories never get old for Fredericksburg native George Coghill
Before he had a chance to play alongside Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway with the Denver Broncos, George Coghill caught a glimpse of future NFL greatness during an offseason workout in New Orleans.
Coghill was competing for a job in the defensive backfield with the New Orleans Saints back in 1993 when one day he noticed a lanky quarterback off to the side throwing tight spirals.
“Who is that?” he wondered aloud to his teammates.
“That’s Peyton Manning,” someone answered.
“He was throwing some pretty good balls,” said Coghill, a Fredericksburg native who would go on to win two Super Bowl rings as a player with the Broncos. “I didn’t know who Peyton Manning was. They said he was a senior. I said, ‘A senior? Isn’t that illegal to have seniors in college practicing with us?’
“They said, ‘No, he’s a senior in high school.’”
Manning, the son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, was a schoolboy star in New Orleans. He went on to play at University of Tennessee and with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in the NFL.
Coghill has been a Manning fan since the two met that day more than 20 years ago. He has followed the superstar quarterback with great interest.
Today, Manning will try to lead Coghill’s former team to its third championship against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“I’ve always been a huge Manning fan because of the way he carries himself and how gracious of a person he is. … I was happy for them [when they beat the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game two weeks ago],” Coghill said. “It feels good to be a Broncos alumni.”
Coghill, now a teacher and assistant football coach at Mountain View High School in Stafford County, had his greatest football achievement in the Broncos’ 34–19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999.
The former James Monroe High School standout recorded a tackle on the game’s opening kickoff and forced a fumble late in the game that put the finishing touches on the victory for Denver.
He won his second Super Bowl ring that day. He was a member of the Broncos’ practice squad the previous season and watched the team’s Super Bowl XXXII victory over the Green Bay Packers from the sideline.
This time every year, Coghill is asked by friends, family members, even co-workers, to share his Super Bowl memories. He said it never gets old because of the hard work and sacrifice it took for him to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.
He went undrafted after earning All-American honors at Wake Forest and signed with the Saints as a rookie free agent.
After getting injured that first preseason with the Saints, Coghill, now 43, spent three seasons playing in the World Football League, the precursor to the now-defunct NFL Europe. He signed with the Broncos as a practice squad player in 1997 and made the dress squad in 1998.
Coghill played in 54 NFL games with the Broncos from 1998–2001 and recorded 34 solo tackles and three interceptions during his career.
“I enjoy telling my story,” Coghill said. “Not that I’m bragging or anything like that. It was such a good time. To me, what means the most was the journey that I took to get there, so when I talk about it, I’m reliving some of those memories of me working out by myself and me making the squad and actually not worrying about, ‘Am I sitting out this game?’”
The Broncos’ second Super Bowl victory came 15 years ago, a fact that is hard to believe for Coghill.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago, because the memories are so vivid,” Coghill said. “I remember everything about those two weeks [before the game] and the buildup for the Super Bowl.”
Coghill’s family was a big part of both Super Bowl experiences. His older brother, Antonio, had the time of his life sharing in George’s big moments.
“To be able to go with my family and see my brother play in the Super Bowl was priceless,” Antonio Coghill said. “It was one of those times … you can’t explain it, but it was awesome.”
The greatest memory for Antonio was watching from the stands in Miami as George dislodged the ball from Falcons running back Jamal Anderson in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XXXIII.
The rest of George’s family members on hand that day missed the fumble because they were making their way down to the field, but Antonio refused to move from his seat.
“I like to stay and watch the whole game. That’s just the kind of person I am,” Antonio Coghill said. “He stripped the ball, and I was jumping up and down by myself. I was happy. I had my Coghill jersey on, and people in the stands were giving me high-fives. It was cool.”
The fumble, which Denver recovered, was an appropriate climax to a special victory for the organization.
It ended up being the last career game for Elway, who is now Denver’s vice president of football operations. The team will look to another future Hall of Fame quarterback, Manning, to bring another Lombardi Trophy home to Denver.
George Coghill will be watching intently, cheering on his former team.
“I’m a huge fan,” Coghill said. “I’m a big Broncos guy.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442