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Don Shula, the coach is “perfect”

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Published on May 12, 2020

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There is a famous game all over the world, and are known as immediate and childish, and I will tell you one thing and you tell me another thing associated with the first, without thinking, without thinking, out of pure instinct. Try doing that any other person who knows what american football in the United States but also in the rest of the world, and say to them: “Miami Dolphins”. The answer may perhaps be “Dan Marino” or “perfect season”, maybe “Your” if the person is very young; but there are very strong odds that the response of the majority of the people is “Don Shula”. Why is Donald Francis Shula was born in Grand River, Ohio, on January 4, 1930 and passed away last may 4, 2020, at Indian Creek, a suburb of Miami, just that it WAS the Miami Dolphins.

The family Shula was of Hungarian origin, the parents Don emigrated to the United States at an early age. Its history from the child is that of many children of immigrants: large family (seven brothers and sisters, including three twins), the catholic tradition as typical of the european immigrants, the father who works to keep all, the mother who takes care of the education and growth of children. The small Don you interested now in football but the beginnings were not easy: to 11 years old, playing in the street with friends, had a gash in his face, and his parents forbade to play; then, at the high school, gave up the team in order not to distress the parents having regard to the residuals of a pneumonia, only to succumb to the calls of an assistant coach who had noticed and falsify the signature of the parents to come into the squad. He played halfback and even evil, as with him in the team at Harvey High School and that he had seven victories in a season for the first time in 18 years.

After graduating in 1947, he met with the return of the post-war many of the athletes who had had to give up the college to the war and that they were then to crowd into the ranks of aspiring to a scholarship. Even there, luck befriended him, because a chance meeting at the petrol station referred him to the John Carroll University, a small private school of the jesuits in a suburb of Cleveland, where he obtained his scholarship. And it was there that, after three years, the young Don was considered seriously the idea of taking vows and becoming a priest: he was the passion for football to make it desist, but he remained a fervent catholic throughout his life.

A degree in sociology in 1951, he was chosen by Cleveland in the ninth round of the draft that year. The Browns then were a great team, champions NFL the year before with a team led by Otto Graham and coached by Paul Brown. Shula came into the team as a defensive back and played in all 12 games of the 1951 season, winning four interceptions. Cleveland also came in that year to the final (then the NFL Championship), losing 24-17 against the Los Angeles Rams.

But for the United States was again a period of war, this time to Korea, and in the following year, as a member of the National Guard of Ohio, Shula was precettato for 11 months. Back to the Browns at the end of the firm regained his place in the team and, still, the Browns reached the final, finally defeated, this time by the Detroit Lions. At the end of the season, after to be able to take another degree in physical education, was traded to the Baltimore Colts where he played for four years with results that are not comparable to those obtained in Cleveland: the Colts, the same year in which Shula arrived in Baltimore, had moved from Dallas where they were called the Dallas Texans, taking the place of the old franchise of the Nfl, which was dissolved only a few years before. It was then a team in the settling and refounding. In 1957, a year after Baltimore had arrived, a certain Johnny Unitas, Shula was traded to the Washington Redskins where he played one last year before closing the career. In 7 seasons he played 73 games, getting 21 interceptions and covering 4 fumbles (the tackles, at the time, had not yet traced).

Shortly after retiring, he obtained a place as a coach of defensive backs at the University of Virginia and began a career that would induct him among the legends. And in the same year, he married Dorothy Bartish, who would have been his first wife and with whom he had five children. After one season, Shula moved to the same role at Kentucky University, and from there, after another year, he made the leap to the NFL as coach of the defensive backs with the Detroit Lions. The fabric there was, and it showed: in the three years that Shula's trained there, the Lions had three seasons to winning, and their defense was always among the best in the league for points and yards conceded.
In 1963, Webb Ewbank, who was the coach of Shula in his time in Baltimore, was dismissed, and the Colts took immediately Shula, making it 33 years and the youngest head coach in the history of the NFL until then. Carroll Rosenbloom, then owner of the Colts, said he had wanted to take Shula to “return the game to the players”.

“Don has been an average player, not great,” said Rosenbloom to the newspapers of the time. “But taking always photos, took notes, he was always talking about football. He always wanted to do the coach: after we went to Virginia, to Kentucky and did a great job for the Lions. I am convinced that it will be very good. It only has 33 years: some of the players are older than him, but here there is already a different spirit, which I like. My intuition tells me that I made the right choice”.

The intuition of the Rosenbloom he was not wrong. The first year the Colts Shula's closed the season 8-6 and the following year won the division with a record of 12-2, qualifying for the Championship against the Cleveland Browns. In the Colts there were very good players, like wide receiver Raymond Berry, tight end John Mackey, the defensive end Gino Marchetti, of clear Italian origins, and halfback Lenny Moore. All, of course, there was the quarterback Johnny Unitas that year, he made 2.824 yards passing and was named the MVP. Shula himself won the award of Coach of The Year but, unfortunately for them, the final closed with a resounding 27-0 in favor of the Browns.

Despite the good results in the regular season and the awards of MVP and coach of the year, Unitas and Shula, the revenge for the Colts in the final came only in 1967, two years after the establishment by the league of a final single called the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, on the way of the Colts that year he parried Joe Namath to guarantee the win to the Jets and Shula and went out, defeated by her second final.

In 1969, Joe Robbie, the historical owner and founder of the Miami Dolphins decided to hire Don Shula as head coach: the Dolphins were born in the AFL only 4 years before, and in the first 4 seasons, the coach was George Wilson, with results in line with expectations for an expansion team: 15-39-2 in four championships. The choice of Shula's cost dear to the Dolphins because they had to sell their first choice to the Colts as compensation for the actions of tampering: it was, in fact, in the period of the merger between the NFL and AFL, and the negotiations between Robbie and Shula went on a little too long. If you had agreed prior to the merger between the leagues, there would have been no problem, being a Colts and Dolphins on the two sides, but as we concluded after the fusion took, according to the rules, to the allegations and then to a fine: in retrospect, one can certainly say that it was a first choice very well invested. Don Shula closed his career in Baltimore with a record of 71-23-4 in seven seasons and began the adventure that would induct him, leading 10-4 in his first year as a team that the year before had closed 3-10-1 and even going to the Super Bowl in his second year, lost against the Dallas Cowboys.

Were the basis for the two titles that followed, the Dolphins that went 32-2 in the seasons of 1972 and 1973. The victory 14-7 over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, he gave to the city of Miami to its first title in any professional sport. And the Dolphins defended him then, with success, dominating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in the year after.

Remembering the Perfect Season, a time, Shula said, laughing:

“What I remember of that year is that vincevamo the coin toss, received the ball, the attack kept the ball eight to nine minutes, marked, others went ‘three and out’, then the attack kept the ball the other eight-nine minutes and scored again. We were ahead 14-0 and the first time was almost gone. And so it was that training!”

It would take pages and pages to tell of all the victories, the conquests and the stories that have characterized the history of Don Shula as the head coach in Miami. The numbers are a good starting point: in 26 years as the head coach of the Dolphins, his record in the regular season reads 257 wins, 133 losses, and 2 draws (65,9%), and in the post-season with 17 victories and 14 losses (54,8%). He has won 12 titles, divisional, 5 titles, Conference titles, 2 Super bowls, won one behind the other in 1972 and 1973. And of course he coached the only team in the history of the NFL to have completed an entire season undefeated, the 1972.

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