A nice, long conversation with Don Shula the other day reminded me of the best, most memorable assignment I ever had in high school. We were to interview a grandparent and write their life story. The point is its good to read a history book, but its better still if you have a chance to speak with the person who made the history.
Shula, 83 now, rates as living NFL history in a way maybe nobody else does, with more career coaching victories in the league than anybody else (347) and of course those two Dolphins Super Bowl championships topped by the still-unequaled 1972 Perfect Season.
Shula is the deserving subject of a one-hour documentary, Shula 347, that premieres Saturday at 3 p.m. on CBS. He also happens to have coached in more Super Bowls, six, than anybody else, so this seemed like a good time to ask him about each.
Lot of great memories, some not so great, he began with a chuckle.
His worst loss was his first one, while still with the Baltimore Colts, but that also was the loss that led him directly to the Dolphins. Shula found himself on the wrong end of Joe Namaths famous guarantee that the heavy-underdog Jets would win. It was this time of year, 1969.
His guarantee was the headline in the papers on game day. I had it pasted up in the lockerroom and used it in my pregame speech,, Shula recalled. The only problem was they won! My relationship with the owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, was never the same. That had a lot to do with me coming to Miami, and with my whole career.
Shula was back in the Super Bowl in only his second year with Miami, facing the Cowboys. It was this time of year, 1972. It was not pretty. The Dolphins would lose by three touchdowns. But that feeling was the springboard to something special.
I remember telling the team afterward, I dont ever want to feel this way again. We will NOT feel this way again! Shula said. The thing we found out was, when you get to a Super Bowl both teams are treated the same, talked about in glowing terms. But when the game is over only the team that won matters.
At that point Shula was 0-2 in Super Bowls. He carried that like an anvil.
When youre 0-2 in the Super Bowl they say unkind things about you, he said with a small smile. They say, He cant win the big one. And thats the worst thing that can be said about you. The only way to get em to stop is to win. And when we won, we won with an exclamation point.
It was this time of year, 1973. Miamis perfect record to that point would shatter into something meaningless unless the Dolphins beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl.
Shula is famously captured afterward rocking to his right in a buoyant victory ride off the field, the frozen moment in time when that anvil left his shoulders. The record 17-0 was embossed in sports history for all-time.
That victory ride is always the best memory you can have. Its a time where youre completely fulfilled and happy. Such a relief, he said. The thing you dont ever want said about you is, He cant win the big one. Thats a label you dont want hung around your neck.
Back-to-back was the next challenge. It was this time of year, 1974. And Miami steamrolled the Vikings to a degree pundits wondered if this team wasnt even better than the 17-0 team.