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A Tribute to Don Shula — Podcast Notes

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The Game before the Money Podcast’s weekly series, “Five Minutes of Football History” is posted on Tuesdays. We celebrate the life and career of legendary NFL coach Don Shula in this episode. Coach Shula passed away on May 4, 2020 at age 90.

Donald Francis Shula. Even his initials – DFS – almost look like a box score abbreviation for Dolphins. Shula is one of the few coaches to have his name synonymous with a team he coached.

Shula’s name is etched so deeply in Miami Dolphins lore that it’s easy to forget that he also coached another franchise to the Super Bowl. His personal history reads like the story a man destined for success crossed with a guy who needed some luck to overcome the odds.

Don Shula was born the son of a Hungarian immigrant who once made $9 a week (later $15 week). Shula remains the only person in the history of his high school to play in the NFL. He attended a tiny college that played home games in a high school stadium.

Yet one day – one college football game to be exact – opened an NFL locker room door to him and he never looked back. Don Shula had a great game in front of Cleveland Browns scouts during his team’s unlikely upset of Syracuse in 1950. The Browns drafted Don Shula in the 9th round of 1951 NFL Draft.

He made the team and studied football under Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown. Later, he played for Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank. Those mentorships twisted Shula’s life-story plot toward a “Destined for Greatness” type storyline.

This “Five Minutes of Football History” podcast episode celebrates Don Shula’s life and career. There is no way to do that in five minutes so I’ll also post articles in our “Football Biographies” section.

The first post – covering Shula’s upbringing through his NFL playing days – can be found here.

You can listen and subscribe to The Game before the Money Podcast on your favorite listening platform, including on Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play.

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NFL Podcast

NARRATOR: Jackson Michael, author of football history book, THE GAME BEFORE THE MONEY: VOICES OF THE MEN WHO BUILT THE NFL:
Hi, everybody, welcome to The Game Before the Money podcast. Celebrating pro and college football history.

This episode is a Five Minutes of Football History edition. Looking at the life and career of Don Shula.

Don Shula Career Accomplishments

Hi, everybody, welcome to The Game Before the Money podcast. Five minutes of football history, edition. I’m Jackson Michael, author of The Game Before the Money. Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. As of the end of the 2019 NFL season. Don Shula still holds the record for most coaching wins in NFL history. He holds both the regular season total with three hundred and twenty eight. He also holds the combined play off and regular season total with three hundred and forty seven wins. He won two Super Bowls as a coach. Super Bowl seven and Super Bowl eight. And he led the 1972 Miami Dolphins to what through the 2019 season stands as the only unbeaten team through the regular season and postseason in NFL history.

Don Shula also played pro football in the NFL for seven seasons as a matter of fact. He played his first two seasons, 1951 and 1952, with the Cleveland Browns under coach Paul Brown. He also played a few years under Weeb Ewbank in Baltimore for the Baltimore Colts.

Don Shula Childhood

Don Shula was born in Ohio in 1930. He attended Harvey High School in Painesville, Ohio, during football practice one year, he cut his face and his mother told him to stop playing the game. The next year, Shula forged just signature on a permission slip so he could play.

Don Shula College Football Career

He played college football at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. He averaged six point six yards a carry as a running back and made all conference. Shula played college ball at a small school in Cleveland long before a national scouting networks existed. A huge break for Shula was when he rushed for over 100 yards in a game against Syracuse. John Carroll upset Syracuse that day, and sitting in the stands was legendary Cleveland Browns head coach Paul Brown.

Don Shula NFL Playing Career

The Browns eventually drafted Shula in the ninth round of the 1951 NFL draft. Shula played defensive back for Cleveland and intercepted four passes as a rookie. Shula played two years with Cleveland, and the Browns made the NFL championship game both years, although they lost both times.

I recently interviewed Browns legend Dub Jones, who was a member of those teams, and earlier had interviewed Pete Brewster from the 1950s Cleveland Browns and I’ll have individual episodes with them coming up on The Game Before the Money podcast. So be sure to subscribe to The Game Before the Money podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

Don Shula Traded

In March of 1953, the Browns traded Shula to the Baltimore Colts in a massive fifteen player deal. Shula played four years in Baltimore, three under ex Cleveland Browns assistant Weeb Ewbank. Shula finished his NFL playing career in Washington in 1957.

Don Shula Assistant Coaching Career

Of course, when we all think of Don Shula, though, we think of Don Shula as a head coach rather than a player. Shula’s coaching career started in 1958 as an assistant at Virginia. And then the next year, Shula moved on to the University of Kentucky as an assistant under Blanton Collier. Don Shula’s time at Kentucky is very important to his career later in Miami. I don’t have time to go over it in a five minute podcast, but I will post about it at The Game Before the Money.com in the Football Biographies section.

Shula cracked into the NFL the following year, in 1960 as a defensive assistant with the Detroit Lions, and he was the defensive coordinator during that famous Thanksgiving game where the Lions beat the Packers in 1962.

Don Shula Baltimore Colts Head Coach

After the 1962 season, The Baltimore Colts were looking for a new head coach and owner Carroll Rosenbloom asked Colt Offensive lineman Gino Marchetti, “who might make a good head coach?” And Marchetti suggested Don Shula. When the Colts hired Don Shula. He was 33 years old, the youngest coach in the National Football League.

1964 NFL Championship Game

And in his second season, he led the mighty Colts to the 1964 NFL championship game. The Colts lost the game 27 to nothing to the Browns, whose head coach was get ready for it — Blanton Collier, who had hired Shula at Kentucky.

1968 NFL Championship Game

The Colts, got back at the Browns in 1968 and crushed them 34 to nothing in the NFL championship for the right to play in Super Bowl three.

Super Bowl 3

But in Super Bowl three, however, Shula suffered his most crushing defeat a 16 to seven loss to the New York Jets coached by Shula’s former head coach at Baltimore, Weeb Ewbank.

Don Shula Miami Dolphins Head Coach

Before the 1970 season, the fledgling Miami Dolphins, a relatively new franchise, hired him as their second head coach ever. And Shula took a team that won only three games in 1969 and turn them around to a 10 and four record and got Miami a wildcard berth in the playoffs the next year. Shula guided them to Super Bowl Six. Miami lost to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl Six.

Dolphins Undefeated Season

But the next year, 1972, cemented Coach Shula’s legacy. The Dolphins finished the regular season at 14 – 0 and went on to win three playoff games to finish 17 and no on the year after a 14 seven win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl seven. Shula followed up that amazing performance in 1972 by leading Miami to a second straight Super Bowl victory with a win over Minnesota in Super Bowl eight.

What made Don Shula a great coach?

That Dolphin defense often referred to as the “no name defense”, highlights what I think is one of the things that separates Don Shula from other coaches. It’s just how much he could get out of his players that weren’t necessarily superstars. The Dolphins were perennial contenders through the 80s, even into the mid 90s when Shula retired. And if you look at the Dolphins rosters throughout the years, there were a lot of key players that contributed greatly to their success, but aren’t really that well known historically.

Guys like Tony Nathan, Duriel Harris, Jimmy Cefalo, Delvin Williams, AJ Duhe, the Blackwood Brothers, Richmond Webb in the 90s. These are players that Dolphins fans are probably perking their years up and saying, “Yeah!” And maybe some of the rest of you either hadn’t heard of them or hadn’t thought about them in a long time. But they were solid NFL players under Shula.

And in Miami, Don Shula had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Bob Griese and Dan Marino. But when the Dolphins played in Super Bowl 17, their starting quarterback was David Woodley. And often during those years between Griese and Marino, he would alternate between David Woodley and Don Strock. And yet they still made the Super Bowl. And that kind of shows you what Don Shula could do. And don’t forget, in that 1972 season when the Dolphins went undefeated, Bob Griese, he missed a lot of that year and Earl Morral started at quarterback for many of those games.

And if you really want to talk about what Don Shula could do in a pinch with quarterbacks, you look at when he was coaching the Baltimore Colts when they faced the Green Bay Packers in the nineteen sixty five divisional playoff.

Legendary starting quarterback Johnny Unitas was injured. His backup quarterback, Gary Cuozzo, was injured and Shula started running back Tom Matte at quarterback and the Colts almost won that game at Lambeau Field. There’s a lot to that story, but that’s another story for another day.

Of course, there is no way to cover Don Shula’s great career in five minutes. In fact, I’ve already gone a little bit over when I get started talking about football, it’s tough to stop, especially when talking about great coaches like Don Shula.

I’m going to post a lot more about Coach Shula at the game before the money.com over the next few weeks. There’ll be four blog posts about Don Shula in the Football Biographies section. I’ve already put up a post about his early life through his NFL playing career. Soon I’ll have opened up about his assistant coaching days and then also have separate posts about his time with the Colts and his time as head coach with the Dolphins.

Those will be at the game before the money.com in the Football Biographies section. And we also have a new search feature at the game before the money.com. So visit the Web site and use that search box to search for Don Shula. And the articles should pop up once they’re posted. And thank you for listening to this. Five minutes of football history. Don Shula. On The Game Before the Money podcast.

Football History Podcast

Please subscribe to the game for the Money podcast. Wherever you get your podcasts and check in next Tuesday for the next edition of five minutes of Football History.

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