Remembering the exceptional American, and Ohioan, who was Don Shula
I rooted against his Miami Dolphins every single game, but boy where they great!
Don Shula died today at the age of 90.
As a little boy, I saw things very much in a all or nothing way. And I was stung by Coach Shula leaving the Baltimore Colts, the first sports team I connected with – probably because of the pretty cowgirls in their entourage. But also because their kamikaze rabid dog linebacker Mike Curtis. I didn’t realize (consciously) that they were the longtime rival of my dad’s Cleveland Browns, but he never said a discouraging word against it.
Shula jumping to the AFL was another snub, even if they were merging with the NFL. And he had the bad manners to move to a team in the same division as my Colts, and take the lowly Dolphins to the playoffs in his first season. At least my Colts won the Super Bowl that year – finally!
But worst of all, he beat my Colts 21-0 in the AFC Championship in his second season on the way to losing the Super Bowl, preventing a rematch between the defending champion Colts and the eventual champion Cowboys. But then he went on to win the next two Super Bowls, including that “Perfect Season,” where I rooted against them every game they played.
But I always had tremendous respect for his Dolphins, and admiration for their rhino fullback Larry Czonka and the rest of those glory teams.
He was a tough S.o.G., some say a veritable alligator as a coach. And I always loved this story, recounted in his obituary at NFL.com.
“After the 1969 season, Shula moved to Miami, where he was given a 10 percent stake in ownership of the team (he later sold it). His first team made the playoffs. His second made it to the Super Bowl. His third and fourth teams won championships and established themselves as South Florida legends, complete with a famous story about the time former Dolphin Manny Fernandez captured an alligator from the Everglades and put it in Shula’s shower after practice. When Shula ran into the locker room, fullback Larry Csonka informed him that players had taken a vote — with Shula prevailing by just one — to decide whether to tape the alligator’s mouth shut.”
He was drafted by the Browns in 1951 as a Defensive Halfback, but spent most of his seven seasons with the Colts, who in 1963, made him the youngest coach in NFL history, at that time.
And the rest is very much history indeed. R.I.P. Coach Shula. It was a great 90 years.