Lost in the aftermath of Miami's Super Bowl VII tanning of the Washington Redskins was a left hook from Dorothy Shula, the coach's wife, to the flushed mush of a man in the row behind her. Dorothy is a sweet-natured, responsible mother of five and she was properly unnerved by the incident. A staunch fan of her husband and his teams for 15 years, she is not loath to criticize him herself now and again, usually for not making greater use of the onside kick. "I scream for it all the time," she says, "but he never listens."
On the other hand, she will not stand—or sit—idle when her man is being abused. When Don was an assistant coach at Virginia, for example, Dorothy once blurted to the head coach that Don could hardly get much coaching experience if he was always off scouting on game day. "I surprised myself," she said. "Don, of course, was mortified."
And when Don was coaching the Baltimore Colts and received an unusually deprecatory letter from a correspondent who could, in a family journal, only be described as a four-letter man, Dorothy tracked down his phone number. Posing as an official of the Professional Security Agency (a wholly imaginary association), she threatened him with the very shadow of the state penitentiary.
But that was more or less for fun. This was the first time, she said, that she really went overboard. The object of her disaffection was one of four Redskin fans who had come to the Los Angeles Coliseum in the company of two bottles of Scotch. Their recognition of Mrs. Shula—privacy for the Shula family these days is the rough equivalent of a ride on the lead float in the Orange Bowl parade—and the chemical reaction of four into two fifths led to some pointed remarks in her direction.
Dorothy took it as long as she could. After all, Don had endured Carroll Rosenbloom, had he not? Then, just as the action on the field came to a head and she broke down into grateful tears, one of the four men went too far. "Aw, look," he cooed, "isn't that touching? The poor thing's gonna cry." And Dorothy spun around and unloaded.
As blows for justice go, it was an indiscriminate one, there being no certainty which of the four made the operative remark, but Dorothy remembers being relieved that she had not swung with the other hand because that one was clutching a crucifix. She and Don do not wear their religion on their sleeves but they both like to keep it handy. Don attends Mass daily; there is a Bible pedestal, an old house-warming present from Rosen-bloom, by the front door of the Shula home.
Dorothy was still shaken on the bus ride to the Los Angeles airport. "Don," she said tearfully. "I've blown the whole thing. All the years, all the frustration...and now we're going to get sued!" Her husband smiled ("Isn't she something?" he says) and patted her shoulder soothingly. He knew better.
Not all of Don Shula's critics have been dealt with so neatly. No need. Few to begin with, they are diminishing. Even Rosenbloom's one-man anti-Shula philharmonic has played out at last. In the teeth of Shula's stupefying success and popularity, Rosenbloom's posture as an abused party was retrograding rapidly even before Super Bowl VII.
The pouty declarations—that Shula had acted "deviously" in leaving Owner Rosenbloom's tentative embrace in Baltimore three years ago (the truth is that Rosenbloom all but chased him away), that Shula "is a loser of the big ones," that Shula was a "pig"—served to enlarge rather than lower Shula's stature because they strained the elastic of credulity. Shula barely lifted a syllable in response. This won him an even larger respect. Like Swinburne, Shula had discovered the nobility of silence.
After that sublime 17-0 Dolphin season, Rosenbloom just quit trying. Last April in Scottsdale, Ariz., Rosenbloom, now the owner of the Rams, made a thing about "burying the hatchet" at a brief meeting between the two. Shula goes along with this version because he genuinely wants to put the whole thing to rest but, as his close friends say, the wounds were too deep for so skimpy a bandage. "We talked," is all Shula says.
So. Shula memorialists, now virtually unchecked, have multiplied like driver ants. They sing his praises as a professional. "A born leader," says George Halas. "A genius," says Colt Linebacker Ted Hendricks. "The outstanding coach of our time," says new Colt Coach Howard Schnellenberger. And they are able to recall facets of his life that may have escaped all but the most avid Shulaphiles.
Congressman Bill Stanton (R., Ohio), an old friend, recalls that Shula was "an outstanding car salesman" when the two were hawking Lincolns and Mercurys at Stanton's showroom in Painesville, Ohio in the off-seasons of Don's Colt playing days (1951-57). Weeb Ewbank remembers him then as "a coach on the field." Shula called signals as Weeb's right cornerback, a job usually entrusted to linebackers. Baltimore News-American Columnist John Steadman says Shula was "one of the surest tacklers you'd ever see, right out of the Spalding Guide."
More qualitatively, Dolphin Managing Partner Joe Robbie says that Shula has an aptitude and intelligence that would have made him a winner in any field. Robbie talks of Shula's "personal values" and "innate decency," Publicist Charlie Callahan (an old Notre Darner with a feel for such things) of his "righteousness." Edwin Pope, Steadman's counterpart on The Miami Herald, has determined from the slaw of a hundred encounters—he and Shula argue all the time; they enjoy it—that there is "no one in sport I admire more" and finds Shula to be "an almost unique human being." Pope thinks Shula would have made a "terrific minister." Not only that, says Steadman, "He's a damn good golfer."
Honesty, and a remarkably unleavened head, compel Shula to step in now and then to keep this flood from cresting. He said when he came to Miami three years ago that he was "no miracle worker," and the facts speak for themselves: he still cannot get his devil-may-care collie dog Colt to answer to the name Dolphin. He concedes, too, that coaching football was more a "logical extension of my playing days" than a tap on the shoulder from Providence, and that he isn't sure he could have answered other calls. His Hungarian-born father wanted him to be a fisherman on Lake Erie and Don responded by developing a chronic seasickness.
"Dad said, 'You'll get over it.' Every time we went out he said that, 'You'll get over it.' I never got over it." Furthermore, Don says, his days as a bull in the automobile market were numbered "as soon as I began running out of brothers and uncles and aunts to sell."
He does not protest that he was a coach on the field at Baltimore (honesty is one thing, modesty another), but he recalls that the Colts did not allow it to go to his head. After a season (1953) of having to badger his own teammates with the verities of defense—Shula was not afraid of his own voice even then—he reckoned he deserved a raise. He mailed back his 1954 contract unsigned.
"I'd heard that was the way the veterans did it," he says. After a while he got a letter from the front office. "We assume you have decided to retire," it said, and asked for his playbook. "I got on the phone right away. Paid for the call myself. 'Listen,' I said, 'you've made a terrible mistake. I'm not retiring.' "
Too, a reasonable pride in his image as a man's man makes any portrayal of rigid goodness faintly offensive to his nostrils, which flare around an exquisitely twisted septum. "I can appreciate having fun," he says defensively. He says that as a player he hung with a group that knew the inside of a lounge or two and the outer limits of bed checks and curfews. These alleged rogues included Gino Marchetti (the godfather of Shula's son Michael), Bill Pellington, Carl Taseff (now on Shula's staff), Artie Donovan and the late Joe Campanella.
"There were some memorable occasions," a fellow roisterer says, relating a time when Shula had to forcefully put to rest a troublemaker who had gone on the offensive in the parking lot outside a favorite watering hole.
Nevertheless, once a man's goodness is known it is hard for him to live it down. The story is told of the time Shula, while still a player, ran into George Halas at early Mass the day of a game in Baltimore. Shula's genre of Catholicism is what he calls nonfanatic ("I enjoy going to Mass, thinking about Christ, giving thanks. I consider it part of my day"), and he does not engage in the luxury of judging others, but that afternoon things did not go well for the Bears and the thanks Halas gave blued the crisp fall air.
Shula's vocabulary does not lack color, either, but the lava flowing from the mouth of an esteemed owner-coach appalled him. Finding himself near the Bears' bench during one particular choleric outburst, Shula said to Halas, "George, do you think that's the way a good Catholic should talk on a Sunday afternoon?" Halas never said exactly what went through his mind at that rebuke, but a few years later, when Shula was the Baltimore coach and the Bears' owner Coach of the Year for the last time, Halas said an interesting thing. He said Shula deserved it more than he.
The super-serious Shula image (Rosenbloom saw "no frivolity" in him; Paul Brown once said he was "never a comedian") does not hold up anymore. Dorothy Shula says he has discovered that a smile in public will not break his face, and he has become an attractive stand-up speaker. He is also the star of his own top-rated Miami TV show.
As for his golf, it speaks quietly for itself. It is no small love affair he has for the game. The lawn of his five-bedroom, $150,000 home bleeds onto the 16th fairway of the Miami Lakes Country Club. Shula, in the off-season, applies to golf his customary intensity. At 43, he is still solidly built, with the blocky abdomen and thorax that serve a man well for long-ball hitting and/or dock work.
But he does not get his hips into his swing and therefore hits a lot of pop flies. He is undaunted. He admits he once sliced a shot into the men's room, and if he does not scream—he has a reputation as a screamer that is deserved—over a missed putt he is likely to squirm. Jim Kiick, the halfback, took him for $10 in a friendly Nassau this summer. Kiick said Shula was too proud to take the handicap he deserved.
On the unproved but widely held theory that a man betrays himself on the golf course, John Steadman tells this story:
"We were at the par-3 12th hole at Bonnie View, in the midst of a very serious match. I think a $1 Nassau. I had a putt of about two feet for a par. Less than two feet. I lined it up, but I was really expecting him to say, 'It's good.' I stood over it a long time. Finally I pulled up and said, 'It takes a real adjective noun to make a guy putt one this short.' Shula came right back at me. 'It takes a real adjective noun to ask for it.' You want to know what makes Shula tick? Try fierce competitor."
Try ruthless. It is a word Bill Braucher uses, but standing there all alone like that it has a mean look and needs definition. Braucher is another whose business it is to analyze the daily Shula. He does it for The Miami Herald and is the man who started the Miami-Baltimore war three years ago by alerting Shula that Robbie was in the market for a new coach. He and Shula were college classmates. Braucher's "ruthless" Shula would be this: "If he had charge of 60 people in a given place, doing a given job, and suddenly the walls collapsed on half of them, he would not wring his hands and dig in the rubble. He would round up the other 30 and go back to work."
The reason Shula's approach to football is so successful, these analysts believe, is that it is realistic in a milieu where illusions are slow to die. "He is no rah-rah guy," says Larry Csonka. "Even his pep talks make sense." Csonka hates "phony" incentives. He thinks, for example, that the Redskins use phony incentives. Shula says he cannot imagine himself leading Larry Csonka in a chorus of Hail to the Dolphins.
There are no inspirational slogans in a Shula camp; no inflammatory clippings on the bulletin board. There is, rather, an almost majestic continuity to Shula's practice and game conduct; he puts the tactical factor above the morale factor (e.g., Csonka gets yelled at from 40 yards away if he is half a stride out of place in formation). He achieves, does Shula, what an awed Bill McPeak, newly added to the Dolphin coaching staff after six years with the Lions, calls "an air of professionalism."
Nevertheless, Shula's reputation for temper is richly deserved. For games and practices, he has what he calls his "dull sideline look" when he exhibits—jaw out, eyes slightly hooded—a bland cockiness, like a sleeping bulldog. When he comes out of it he comes out spectacularly. He reacts to errors and mental lapses (an offensive hold, a bungled hand-off) the way fingers react to a lick of an open fire, and his mouth follows suit. Bubba Smith never got used to Shula's outrages in Baltimore. John Unitas once offered Shula the football after being screamed at ("Here," he said, "you wanta be the quarterback?"). But the system works, says Csonka, "even if it kills me to say it. Spirit is built on reality."
The key, says Csonka, is that Shula "treats everybody the same—if he chews you out, he's just as liable to chew out Bob Griese." Csonka doesn't think Duane Thomas would last long in Shulaland.
Shula admits that his temper has been a problem. "I knew if I chewed out Tom Matte one minute I could kid with him the next, but some guys I couldn't. I've had to learn that. I think I'm getting better"—better, says Edwin Pope, "at governing what amounts to an ungovernable temper." "I still slip occasionally," says Shula. "I do things I'm not proud of." Last year he grabbed an official after a deflected Dolphin pass was ruled a lateral and given to the other team.
"Didn't you see it?" he yelled at the official. No. "Then ask the referee." The official turned away; Shula grabbed his arm. "Did you ask the ref?" The official pulled away again, and Shula hurried him along with a shove. The official dropped a flag at Shula's feet. Fifteen yards. "That shut me up," said Shula.
One of Shula's redeeming qualities is that he does not close his ears to criticism. In fact, he ferrets it out for examination; he listens to it, reads it and tries it for size. He usually doesn't like it. Writers who are not afraid to argue with him find the sessions markedly purgative because, says Braucher, "he doesn't let things fester. He tells you what he thinks, listens to what you think and, bang, it's over. He does not hold grudges."
Braucher wrote of Mercury Morris' discontent when Morris clamored to play more after the 1972 Super Bowl loss to Dallas. Shula called Morris in and told him he did not object to Morris' statements to the press but "if you don't think you can come to me first we don't have a relationship." Morris said he got the message. So did Shula. Last year Morris gained 1,000 yards.
"Braucher is my conscience," says Shula. "When I get out of hand, I don't just 'say' anything. I 'snap' or I 'grimace' or I 'growl.' Just when I get too pleased with myself, he writes something to put me on my knees." Conscience Braucher once made a casual reference to Shula's "rippling waistline." "What rippling waistline?" snapped Shula—and dieted away 10 pounds.
Pope gets into it regularly with Shula because he always sides with labor in labor-management disputes (Csonka and Kiick vs. management in a 1971 holdout, Jake Scott and Dick Anderson vs. management in their holdout this summer). Shula tells Pope he looks for trouble and is preoccupied with finding out salaries. He once closed a press conference by saying, "Well, we set a record today. Pope didn't start an argument."
A typical round: Shula will announce, "So-and-so hurt his leg today." Pope will ask, "Which leg?" "What the hell difference does it make?" Shula will say. "Well, take a stab at it," Pope will say. "You've got a 50-50 chance to be right."
Trying to peg Shula is the easiest and yet the most difficult of tasks, not because of him but because of us—we prefer our heroes to develop gradually, like fine cheese. We are not usually prepared for sudden flashes, such as, say, Jack Nicklaus at 21 and Muhammad Ali at 22. The speed of Shula's ascent was breathtaking; nobody, not even Brown, got to 100 pro victories quicker than Shula (he has 105 in only 10 years). The egg opened and out popped the best coach in the National Football League.
Perhaps Griese came closest to it when he called Shula "the coach of the future." But the future came so swiftly that the transfer of power was not orderly. Though a product of them both, Shula was really very little like his illustrious predecessors, the icy Paul Brown and the passionate Vince Lombardi.
He was, in fact, a more approachable figure, a more embraceable one. This was confusing because we would rather our gods ignore doorbells; we prefer them slightly inscrutable, faintly mysterious. Shula is as inscrutable as a stop sign, as mysterious as the origin of a sunburn.
For all his reputation as a disciplinarian and screamer, he comes across in strikingly human terms. The one trait he has in common with the other great coaches is what Robbie calls "the total unwillingness to be distracted"; he will not allow his time to be wasted. But he is an artful dodger. Dorothy Shula lays it to an "intense sensitivity." For all his bombast around the house, she says, fear grips none of the tenants because everybody is aware that he is, behind the scream, mostly peaches. "He gets that cruel look every now and then," his wife says, and home life is punctuated by earsplitting, air-clearing argument. "We enjoy a good fight. Our daughter Annie saunters in and listens for a while and says, 'You two fighting again?' "
Shula's pride is his ability to see the other side; he strives to treat a player' 'the way I wanted to be treated when I played." He remembers how he felt being benched without explanation by Paul Brown; he remembers how he felt being summarily traded and cut. Ex-Colt Center Bill Curry, who played for them both, said that, unlike Lombardi, Shula "does not intimidate. He inspires a player. He lives and dies with a player."
Joe Robbie believes that "it would offend Don Shula to be on the outs with anybody at any time." That Shula gets along with Robbie is proof enough of that—two massive egos, one a Spiro Ag-new man (Shula), the other a McGovern Democrat. Shula is not crazy about Robbie's penchant for crowding the communications lanes with memos, but is delighted with Robbie's business sense. The Dolphins are already in the black and have never had a player play out an option. Robbie did not bat an eye when Shula wanted quarterback insurance and asked him to cough up $75,000 for Earl Morrall. "He's spent money he didn't have to get us what we needed," says Shula. "I handle the business, Don handles the coaching," says Robbie. "Anybody who would interfere with Don Shula's coaching should be psychoanalyzed."
The word commonly used by players who have dealt with Shula is "fairness." His fairness is usually unquestioned. It is, therefore, difficult to keep a controversy going around him. Rosenbloom was able to, but unilaterally. Csonka and Kiick had the makings of one this month when their book Always on the Run revealed that both thought Shula had acted out of "spite" in making Kiick half a starter with Morris last fall. They said it was because Kiick and Csonka had failed to complete Shula's annual 12-minute run on the first day of practice.
Like playful heretics, they bandied Shula about in their book:
Kiick: "We could tell by looking at him, just the way his jaw was jutting, that this was not a day to kid around.... Shula's not the kind of coach you want to win for as much as you want to win for yourself.... Winning keeps him quiet.... Shula yells at me less...because he knows I don't like to be yelled at.... That's one reason Shula is a good coach. He knows the personalities of the 40 guys on the team."
Csonka: "[Shula] doesn't trust...us. He knows a hell-raiser when he sees one, because he was one himself." Csonka said he threw a rubber snake at Shula in the middle of a punting drill. "I thought he had a heart attack.... But he didn't really get mad. I don't know why."
Kiick: "You're his son, that's why. The old Hungarian father-and-son team."
Csonka, in a bantering locker-room exchange, told Shula he didn't like practice; Shula said there were a lot of guys who did. "You can't tell me that you liked practice," Csonka said. "I loved practice." "You weren't practicing for a coach like you. Who was your coach?" "Weeb Ewbank." "Right there you proved my point. I've seen TV of the Jets, running around in sweat suits, no equipment.... I'd love to run around like the Jets do...." "You wouldn't win," said Shula.
Ironically, just before the book came out Shula had told a friend that he had "regretted" not starting Kiick in the opening game at Kansas City last year because it had been a blow to Kiick's pride. Shula at that time credited Csonka with making the substitution work. "He could have made it tough by taking sides, but he didn't. Kiick's his best friend but they both made Mercury feel at home. I can't say enough for Kiick and Csonka."
The peppershot did not bother Shula, but the "spite" charge did. It left him, momentarily, in a kind of artistic shock, as if he were Erroll Garner and had suddenly been attacked by a piano stool. He said the two "don't know me as well as they think they do if they say I'd do anything out of spite."
The controversy died aborning. Csonka said he had made a mistake "not qualifying" his remark, that he was "talking about that day, not the whole season. Listen, I want to be a winner. I want to be on a winning team, year after year. The only way we can do that is with a coach like Shula. As much as I bitch and argue, they're surface things—curfew, hair and so forth. Not the fundamental things, the structural things.
"We argue, but I like knowing we have that kind of relationship. I wouldn't throw it out the window to sell a silly book, and I don't want Shula or anybody else to think I'd stab him in the back."
When the air was cleared, Csonka said he thought the brief furor had "brought us closer together."
It boils down to a matter of caring, says Csonka. "Shula cares. I remember after the Oakland game that first year, when we got to the playoffs and lost.... I can't recall what he said, but you could sense how much it meant to him, how much it hurt him to lose. He told us he appreciated our effort. Just like that. For the first time I remember really thinking that even if I didn't always agree with him we were on the same wavelength."
Carl Taseff can talk about caring. After 10 years as teammates and roommates at John Carroll University and with the Colts, Shula and Taseff were split up in 1957 when Shula was released and went to Washington. Later that year Taseff was in the hospital having his dinner through a plastic tube. He had severely fractured his nose in a playing accident and had almost died. He had had 14 transfusions; he had lost 50 pounds. He was barely coming around when he became aware of a man on his knees by the bed. The man was Don Shula.
"This is everything I ever dreamed of, everything I ever wanted," Don Shula said. "I have to shake myself to realize it happened. All the frustrations, the disappointments. I know I'm not subtle, I know I'm not a patient guy. But there were so many times...at Baltimore, no matter what I did I was overshadowed by Lombardi. I didn't resent that, but it was true, and it was frustrating. What happened after that?"
He made a short turn in the swivel chair behind the low-slung, vinyl-padded bar and swirled the ice in his Scotch and soda. Past the picture window behind him the rich summer-green Florida grass sloped to reach the trees bordering the 16th fairway. A long thin slash of brown split the slope top to bottom, a dead strip worn there by his daughter Annie's rainy-day dives down a yellow plastic slide. Dorothy had three of the other Shula's off on a guest ride on a Navy warship, and Michael, at eight the youngest, was busy keeping up his .805 batting average in the Pinto League.
It was just days before the beginning of practice, and Shula had the house to himself. Over the brick fireplace was the image of the man at the bar, done in oils by Tommy McDonald, the former football player; the Shula chin was not prominent here since he was pictured head-on. The trappings of his success were all around. Some were more heartfelt than others. A child's sign on the master bedroom door read: "Love is the Dolphins Undefeated."
"When I try to work out my life in stages," Shula said, "it's miraculous. If I'd stayed one more year in any one of three jobs I'd probably have been out of football now. But we never were conservative. Dorothy was great. Anytime I wanted to make a move she'd say, 'Do what you think best.' Baltimore was the toughest move. Seven years, a lot of friends, a great house. The house of her dreams.
"I was lucky to get that far. I was always one step ahead of the posse. My first coaching job was at Virginia. The team won one game. It was awful. I left to join Blanton Collier at Kentucky and that year the whole Virginia staff got fired. After a year at Kentucky I went with George Wilson at Detroit. Kentucky fired Blanton and his staff the next year. I was with the Lions three years when I got the Baltimore job. George got fired the following year."
The family name was S√ºle. His father worked in a nursery in Grand River, a village of 500 on Lake Erie's southeast shore, and young Donald got his first job planting cuttings. They all died, he recalls. Mr. S√ºle changed the name to Shula. It was to cause some discomfort to his son years later because a cocktail lounge in North Miami opened with the name "Shula's" and the proprietor, one Frank Shula, advertised that it was a good place to "score" after the Dolphin games.
One day Mrs. Shula went to the hospital and the family grew from three children to six overnight. Mr. Shula took a job trap-net fishing for more money. Don worked on the drift boats and in the factory, and the smell of dead fish and entrails made him sick on land as well as on the sea.
From early on, in any kind of contest, Don was nobody's favorite adversary. He could not stand to lose. His grandmother beat him at cards and he threw them in the air and hid under the stairs, crying. He was a natural athlete and leader and an organizer of teams and games, and a sorehead. When his team lost in baseball he stormed under the stands and refused to come out.
Painesville (pop. 18,000) was the "big town" the Shulas moved to after his father gave up the nursery job. At Painesville Harvey High School Don was all-league in four sports and played them all with passion. He was not satisfied sliding into second, he had to bowl the fielder over. Mrs. Shula said he took after her. "That's right," said Mr. Shula, "he's got your temper."
Don told all his teammates how to play their positions. It was a habit he would never break. "The coaches didn't always like it," he remembers. Once, when he got out of hand, the football coach slapped him. The coach thought he would quit. Instead, Shula came around later and apologized.
Shula went to John Carroll on a make-good football scholarship, because no one else asked him. If no one had asked him, he probably would have had no choice but to get over his seasickness. This was shortly after World War II and most college football teams were loading up with veterans. At John Carroll, Shula spread his wings. In the sainted words of box-fight manager Al Weill, "He come along good."
Shula and Carl Taseff were the stars, offensively and defensively, of the John Carroll team. Both were drafted by the Cleveland Browns, Shula in the ninth round. He then sat by the phone waiting for Paul Brown to call. Brown didn't call. "So I called the Browns. 'Aren't you going to sign me?' I asked. I drove to Cleveland and they gave me a contract—the minimum, $5,000. I was afraid they'd pull it back before I could get my signature on it."
In early scrimmages Paul Brown often mistook Shula for Taseff. Once, after tackling the great Marion Motley in the open field ("It probably won me a job because I was having no luck covering Mac Speedie"), Shula looked up to hear Brown say, "Nice tackle, Taseff." Shula said, "Shula, not Taseff." Filling in for the injured Tommy James, Shula was a starter as a rookie, intercepting six passes during an 11-game Cleveland winning streak. In the 12th game, without a word, Brown reinserted James.
Taseff says that Shula had plenty to say about that, but he didn't say it to Brown, whom he still regards as "the greatest single influence on my life. Brown brought the classroom to pro football." Shula, in turn, impressed Brown as "a hitter, and smart. Some guys are great players, but you know they won't stay with it. Don gave you the feeling he was vitally interested."
That didn't stop Brown from trading Shula and Taseff to the Colts, where they were starters at cornerback for four seasons. Then Shula was cut. "I was so damned mad I didn't know what to do. I had sunglasses on and I was glad of that because the players were going out to practice and I had to pass by. I got in my car, and I went out on the Beltway and just drove. Somebody said I threatened to go back and poke Weeb in the nose but that's not true."
Shula married Dorothy Bartish in Painesville in 1958. They had met at a bowling alley while Dorothy was teaching second grade, and then, though smitten, she ran off to teach in Hawaii for a year. "You're making a terrible mistake," Don told her.
"I was playing it cool," says Dorothy. "I didn't think he was ready to give up all those girls I imagined he had." Don wrote her a letter. " 'It's the beginning of Lent,' he said. 'Let's pray we do the right thing.' I'd met a pilot and I was thinking about getting married. Don was coaching at Virginia. I got three letters talking marriage. The last one said, 'Will you?' " Don made all the wedding arrangements.
In 1963 Carroll Rosenbloom relieved Weeb Ewbank of the burden of coaching the Colts and began looking around for a savior. He asked Gino Marchetti what he thought. Marchetti said, "There's only one man for the job." "Who?" said Rosenbloom. "Shula."
Thus began a seven-year relationship that was more a fling than a romance, an interlude of breathtaking achievement and crushing unfulfillment. Shula was 33 years old when he took the job ("Imagine that," he told Dorothy, "a head coach at 33") but much much older when he left it.
By the time Joe Robbie (through Braucher) made his first tentative move in Shula's direction in January 1970, what was once a friendly union between the charming, sagacious Colt owner and his intense, highly principled young coach had already gone through its Indian summer and was freezing fast. They had known great success in wins and losses, and no championship. Worse, the most memorable setbacks had occurred at heaven's door: a 13-10 sudden-death playoff loss to Green Bay in 1965 (the Packers' tying field goal was vigorously disputed and led to a rule change called "The Baltimore Extension" that heightened the goalposts) and the 1969 Super Bowl loss to the Jets. Rosenbloom was embittered at being the first old-line NFLer to lose to an AFL team.
When Shula's 1969 Colts went 8-5-1, the haymakers began coming in combinations. Baltimore reporters wrote of "dissension" on the club. Headlines speculated on a coaching change. Don Klosterman was interposed between Rosenbloom and Shula as general manager. When asked what Shula's position as "vice-president" therefore meant, Steve Rosenbloom, the owner's son, said, "You know how we throw titles around." He said Shula was given one because "we needed somebody to sign checks."
But the unkindest cut of all, says Dorothy Shula, was made by the elder Rosenbloom, an offhand remark that he was "never big on coaches, anyway." Says Dorothy, "For Don it was like having his father reject him."
All things considered, that Rosenbloom was then able to strike a pose of righteous indignation over Shula's exodus to Miami was a triumph in histrionics. Shula went through proper channels, Steadman wrote, and got a 10-year, $70,000 contract and part ownership, and Steve Rosenbloom had been the "proper channel" he had gone through. (Carroll was on vacation in the Orient.) The negotiations lasted 22 days, plenty of time for all parties to be made aware. Dorothy Shula recalls that Steve Rosenbloom himself made the plane reservations for the Shulas' trip to Miami.
Nevertheless Commissioner Pete Rozelle subsequently extracted as "punishment" a first-round draft choice from the Dolphins. The charge was "tampering." Steadman called it a miscarriage and said the Colts should give it back. Rozelle admitted Shula had got permission to talk, but Miami had not. Robbie pointed out the absurdity of this conclusion: Shula could talk to Robbie, but Robbie couldn't talk to Shula. It was clear enough, however. Rozelle had opted for harmony in lieu of justice. Rosenbloom had made the most noise.
The rest, of course, is vindication of the purest kind. Shula, the non-miracle worker, turned the Dolphins inside out, from downstairs maid to belle of the ball in three dizzy years. Moreover, once Shula got to Miami, the Dolphins beat the Colts five out of seven times, and shut them out twice on their way to victory in Super Bowl VII.
When he won, Shula said it was like "a weight taken off." But he said he had "no worries about being complacent. My goals are the same. I have no desire to do anything else in life but this, and if I can set an example, of hard work and dedication as opposed to cutting corners and cheating, so much the better."
The thrill for Dorothy Shula was to see Don settle into his chair at night and "watch the peace on his face. He'd light up a big cigar, and sit there, and I'm thinking, "Happy at last.' For so long he'd been so sensitive. Small, petty things would bother him. He'd have to take out his energy on something. Lately it had been the garage. When he had nothing else to do he'd raise a storm and clean out the garage.
"Don't get me wrong. He never said 'no' to anything. Our cup runneth over. I mean, this has been a woman happy. But to see him happy. At breakfast he always has coffee, black. Grapefruit, cut up. Eggs and sausage. Early. Ordinarily I get up and do it and it's just the two of us. I do it, but don't expect me to say 'good morning' when I do. Well, after the Super Bowl, I'd get up and he'd already have the coffee made. And sometimes he'd even be cutting his own grapefruit."
At John Carroll University in May, Shula was made a doctor of humanities, and delivered the commencement address. In a letter to The Wall Street Journal, the president of the university asked that readers "not get the impression Don Shula is getting a doctorate because he gained 6.8 yards per carry while on our football team. We feature two things [here]—the development of values and preparation for leadership. Shula exemplifies both at the highest level. His personal life is a model we invite our students to emulate.... I doubt that many of this year's honorary degrees will be better deserved."
Larry Csonka ran into Shula later in the summer. Already, he told his coach, he could feel the vibrations of Shula's opening remarks to the 17-and-0 Dolphins—how good it would be to win two straight Super Bowls, how Green Bay was the only team that ever did it, how the others fell on their faces, etc. Csonka was not surprised by Shula's response.
"He's even more serious than he was last year," Csonka told Edwin Pope. "More determined to go back. I could just see his metabolism speeding up, his eyes getting buggy and his hairline jerking the way it does once in a while. All the signs are there. It takes a Hunky to catch one."
Then, the day before the start of practice, Shula played a round of golf with his old coaching friend and Dolphin predecessor, George Wilson, at Wilson's golf course on North Kendall Drive. It was a hot day; they hacked around the course keeping a small gallery sweating after them. A skinny redheaded boy, no more than 11, invited himself into Shula's conversation whenever possible. The redheaded boy wanted to know about "Bob Griese's criminal record."
Shula smiled as if to let the obvious absurdity pass, but the boy persisted. "Don't you know about Griese getting arrested?" he said.
Shula said, "O.K., I'll bite. Why?"
"Why?" shrieked the boy. "Why? For throwing all those bombs at Paul War-field, that's why!" He doubled over with laughter, very pleased with the execution of his joke.
But that was not the end of it. The redheaded boy dogged Shula the entire round, making jokes and keeping him apprised of the world at large, and when Shula was finally going off the course he offered the boy his hand and patted him on the head.
The boy said, "Wanta know something else?"
Shula said he could probably stand just one more piece of information.
"I wish you were my father," said the boy.