Twenty-eight years ago today -- Sept. 15, 1963 -- the NFL opened its 44th season.
It was a different world on and off the field. John F. Kennedy was president. Pete Rozelle was a young commissioner. George Halas was coaching the Chicago Bears, and Mike Ditka was playing for them. Ray Handley was playing for Stanford. George Seifert was in the Army.
One thing hasn't changed.
Don Shula was on the sidelines.
He coached his first game that day for the Baltimore Colts -- you remember them -- and lost to the New York Giants, 37-28.
The next week, he got his first victory, 20-14, over the San Francisco 49ers.
Today, in the third week of the NFL's 72nd season, at the Pontiac Silverdome -- which didn't exist in 1963 -- he goes for No. 300 when his Miami Dolphins play the Detroit Lions.
He can become only the second coach in NFL history to reach 300. Halas won 325.
It's safe to say that no other coach will win 300 games. Chuck Noll, 59, is a distant second among active coaches with 203 victories.
Not that Shula will stop at 300. At age 61, he could go another decade. He hasn't heard about burnout.
Cleveland Browns general manager Ernie Accorsi uses a Bear Bryant story to explain Shula's longevity.
He said that when Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles retired, they were talking about how Bryant could go on. Royal said: "Frank, let's face it. He's a tougher human being than we are."
That's Shula. He's tough.
It hasn't all been the perfect season of 1972, either. He had to survive losing five championship games -- four Super Bowls and the 1964 NFL title game. The Colts' loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III so infuriated owner Carroll Rosenbloom that Shula fled to Miami in 1970. He didn't exactly work for Art Rooney or Clint Murchison, either. Rosenbloom and the late Joe Robbie were demanding owners. But Shula survived.
He had to cope with his toughest loss earlier this year when his wife, Dorothy, died after a long battle with cancer.
"This is walking new ground now. This is the first year I've coached without her," he said.
But he keeps coping and winning, although he won't savor No. 300.
"Whenever you spend too much time trying to figure out how you've won, you might not be spending enough time trying to figure out how to win Sunday," he said.
He added, "Now is not the time for me to enjoy it."
D8 He'll be too busy working for No. 301. Or maybe 401.
Four years ago, after the second week of the season, the NFL Players Association called a strike. It was a disaster. The owners crushed it with the replacement games and the players came back in mid-October without a contract.
The players decided to try to win in court what they couldn't win on the picket line. They're planning for the free-agency trial set for Feb. 17 in Minneapolis.
The owners, meanwhile, are worried enough about the legal fight that they put together a proposal in Dallas Friday to present to the NFLPA lawyers. It includes free agency tied to a salary cap. The NFLPA has no interest in a salary cap and is expected to reject the offer.
In effect, the NFLPA gave its answer the day before the owners made their proposal when they filed another lawsuit over exhibition-game pay. A league spokesman called it a "publicity stunt," but it was another signal that the NFLPA is sticking to its court strategy.
The owners will try to go directly to the players with the offer, but that's not likely to make much difference. The players seem willing to take their chances in court.
The Maryland Stadium Authority and the Greater Baltimore Committee put the final touches Friday on the Baltimore expansion application -- which is in excess of 60 pages -- and sent it to the printers. A finished copy must be sent to the league by tomorrow.
VTC "It's an application we're proud of. It presents Baltimore in a very positive way," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
The owners' applications are due in two weeks, but Belgrad said he was authorized to put down the names of five groups, including real estate developer Nathan Landow, author Tom Clancy and clothing magnate Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass. The other two are the group headed by former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, renamed the Maryland NFL Expansion Group Ltd., and a newcomer to the field, Malcolm Glazer. A Rochester, N.Y., native, Glazer is head of First Allied Corp., which has diversified holdings.
Glazer could make an impact because he's not a member of a group. He has the financial clout to go it alone along with his sons, and could be the heaviest hitter in the expansion field since hotel magnate Robert Tisch pulled out to buy the New York Giants.
It's still uncertain whether banker Alfred Lerner will submit an application. Belgrad said he doesn't think Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale will apply, although he hasn't announced a decision.
Pro Football Weekly last week became the latest publication to list Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis as the leaders in the expansion derby.