Scott Shanle has a hard time believing that it’s been six years since he was starting for the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
Shanle, a St. Edward native and former Nebraska Cornhusker, reached the pinnacle of the football world six years ago Sunday night, when the Saints topped Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 to win the Super Bowl.
“Those six years have gone by fast, I think,” Shanle said in a telephone interview with the Daily News earlier this week. “All I remember from that night, when it was over, I remember not wanting that night to end. When you talk about reaching the pinnacle of a sport that you’ve played since you were a child, it was an amazing night. It was an amazing experience.
“I just remember going through that week and trying to soak everything in so that I would never forget, even the smallest parts of it. This sticks with me so well that it doesn’t feel like it’s been six years.”
In that game, Shanle recorded six tackles, one shy of tying for the team lead with Roman Harper and Jonathan Vilma. The Saints trailed 17-16 midway through the fourth quarter, but they scored a pair of touchdowns in the final six minutes to bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“I just think the fact that, even though we were going to the Super Bowl (for the first time), our team was a very mature team of veterans,” Shanle said. “We looked at that trip to Miami as a business trip. I remember late at night, guys in the hotel watching film, breaking down Peyton Manning, studying film and not going out.”
Shanle also remembers the amount of focus he and his teammates had ahead of the big game.
“One of the things I remember guys just saying is ‘Hey we have the rest of our lives to go to Super Bowls as fans — we’re going to this Super Bowl to win a championship,’ ” Shanle said. “Our team lived by that — we were prepared. That was probably the biggest reason we were able to beat a Peyton Manning-led team.”
Six years later, Manning is back in the Super Bowl, this time leading the Denver Broncos against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“He’s not the same player he was when we played him or over the course of his career,” Shanle said. “He doesn’t have the rings that Tom Brady does, but this guy was a nightmare to go against because he could do it all. He could make every throw. Mentally, he was as sharp as there was in the league. That was in his prime — he’s still sharp, but he doesn’t have the physical tools that he did.”
Shanle also played against Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton during his first two seasons in the National Football League.
“Cam Newton is the new up-and-coming quarterback,” Shanle said. “When he came in the league and we played him, he was a physical specimen. But the thing I’ve been most impressed with Cam (in) watching him develop and grow and watching him audible and get his team in the best plays, I can tell he’s spent a lot of time in the film room. He’s dedicated himself to the small details of playing that quarterback position, which is why he was as good as he was this year.”
Shanle hung up his pads after the 2012 season and moved back to the Dallas area, where he played from 2003 through 2005 with the Cowboys. Since his retirement, Shanle has spent his time coaching his sons in youth sports and working with Michael Johnson Performance to train linebackers for the upcoming NFL Combine. He also started doing weekend pregame and postgame work in the studio for the Saints last season.
“I’m just trying to stay involved in the game,” Shanle said.
During his 10 seasons in the NFL, Shanle credits growing up in rural Northeast Nebraska for making him the player that he was.
“I can say this 100 percent: I wouldn’t have made it the way I did for as long as I did without growing up in Nebraska,” Shanle said. “I think there’s something about growing up the way I did — I grew up on a farm in small-town Nebraska — (where) hard work, dedication and sacrifice shaped me from a young age. It helped me make it through tough times going through college and the NFL.”
As a boy in St. Edward, Shanle was exposed to the passion of Husker Nation and it became his dream to one day play for the Huskers — a dream he realized in 1998 after completing an all-state senior season at St. Edward High School.
“Growing up as a child in Nebraska, Nebraska football is the it thing,” Shanle said. “Every friend you play with is a Cornhusker fan. It’s on the minds of everybody, so it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I wanted to play (college) football, it was going to be for Tom Osborne and play for the University of Nebraska. That was my goal all along.”
Shanle arrived at Nebraska in 1998 as a walk-on and redshirted his first year. He made his debut in 1999, then cracked the starting lineup the following season and went on to be an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection in 2002.
“I just think it’s really cool how the state takes so much pride in the Nebraska football program,” Shanle said. “They’re always interested in it. I always tell people, like these kids from out of state, that if they would just visit a game and see how passionate and loyal the Husker fans are, I don’t know why (they) would go any other place when it comes to recruiting. It’s a very special place — a lot of people on the outside just don’t quite understand what it’s like.”
Shanle was chosen in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. After playing his first three seasons with the Rams and the Cowboys, he was traded to the Saints in 2006 and spent the final seven seasons of his career starting at linebacker for New Orleans.
“When I got drafted in the seventh round, I didn’t have expectations of playing 10 years,” Shanle said. “It was literally making it one day at a time. I took that approach, and that ‘one day at a time’ approach — trying to keep my job every day I went to work — it turned out to last for 10 years. Then your body just gets to a point where you’re not the same player, and at that point, I was ready to be done.”
Shanle has many great memories from his NFL career, including the friendships that he made along the way.
“I think the thing that stood out to me is the relationships and the friendships with the guys that I made that would have never happened if I didn’t travel around and play professional football. As an example, I grew up as a Nebraska football fan and we were pretty much taught to hate the Miami Hurricanes because they would always ruin things for Nebraska football back in the (80s and the) 90s.
“But to this day, some of my best friends are now Miami Hurricanes — and that’s because I played with those guys in the NFL and (gained) a whole new respect. I think the coolest thing on playing in the NFL is just the people I met that I would have never had the opportunity (otherwise) to meet and be friends with.”
However, it all goes back to what he learned growing up in St. Edward in the heart of Nebraska corn country.
“There was one thing that my dad always taught me — (and that) was if you’re the better player and you work hard, good things will happen,” Shanle said. “You just have to be patient. And that’s exactly what happened. I think those Nebraska values shaped me and allowed me to be patient — and it all paid off in the end.”