Nov. 7, 2008
Jonathan Mann, Texas Media Relations
As far as successful careers go, none may be more prototypical than Dan Neil's. An All-American at Texas and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos, what Neil accomplished in 12 years of collegiate and professional football is only dreamed of by many football players.
Neil will add another accolade to his resume this week when he is inducted into the Longhorns Men's Hall of Honor.
"It means the most to me of any award I've been blessed with," Neil said of the induction. "I'm slowly figuring it out, that I'm being put on the wall with some of the greatest athletes in Texas history."
Neil, a native of Cypress, Texas, was a Longhorn fanatic from birth. After playing football at Cy-Creek High School, he was ecstatic about the prospect of donning the burnt orange on Saturdays in Austin.
"Going to Texas meant a lot to me," Neil said. "I came here, born and raised a UT fan. When I first stepped foot on campus, I felt at home."
At UT, Neil started 49 consecutive games at both guard and center, the second-longest streak in school history. In his senior season, he was a consensus first-team All-American, a finalist for the Outland Trophy and a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award. He was also team captain and team MVP, one of only two linemen in the last 42 years to earn team MVP honors.
Neil enjoyed team success as well in his time on the Forty Acres. In 1995, his junior year, Texas won the final SWC Championship, and Neil earned first-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America. The following season, the Longhorns won the first ever Big 12 Championship in a dramatic 37-27 victory over No. 3 Nebraska.
"I look back on that with pride," Neil said of the back-to-back conference titles. "At the time, we weren't a powerhouse and we weren't favored to win."
But for Neil, neither trophy compares to his favorite moment at Texas, a 51-15 rout of Texas A&M in Austin prior to the first Big 12 Championship game in 1996.
"It wasn't a close game, but I hate A&M," Neil said of the in-state rivals. "I really enjoyed that one."
Neil credits a few people with a major role in his development while at Texas.
"It's hard to say one individual," Neil said. "We had two (offensive) line coaches while I was here, Pat Watson and Mike Beal. But the guy who gets overlooked was our strength and conditioning coach, Rock Gullickson. He played a huge part."
After graduating from UT in 1997, Neil was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos and was met with immediate success.
Standing on the sidelines in street clothes at Qualcomm Stadium his rookie season, Neil watched his Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers in a classic Super Bowl XXXII.
"God willing, I want to play in one of these," he thought to himself at the time.
One year later, Neil started at right guard - like he had in every game that season - against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. The Broncos won that game too, giving Neil two Super Bowl rings in his first two seasons as a professional.
"At the time, I thought, that's a neat accomplishment," Neil said of the consecutive Super Bowl titles. "But I look back on it now and I have a lot more appreciation for those rings than I did at the time."
Most important for Neil was representing the University well at the next level.
"You talk to players I played with in Denver, and they'll tell you that Texas guys are some of the best guys around," Neil said. "I wanted to represent Texas like it should be represented."
After eight seasons in the NFL, Neil retired in 2004. Today, he is raising a family in Austin and is a sales representative for a spinal fusion manufacturer. Even though his playing days are over, Neil will always fondly recall his playing days in Austin.
"I've always been proud to be a Longhorn."