325th win uplifting for Shula Dolphins coach sets NFL record in victory over Eagles

November 15, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- As several of the Miami Dolphins carried coach Don Shula off the field, his mind drifted through memories of Unitas, Matte, Marino, the unbeaten team of 1972, and of course, a lot of other victories.

But the one yesterday at Veterans Stadium was one of the sweetest.

The Dolphins put on a display typical of a Shula team, pulling off a gritty comeback, playing with no-name quarterbacks, making great on-the-field decisions, winning.

The Miami Dolphins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 19-14, before 64,213, as Shula became pro football's winningest coach. Shula's record of 325-153-6 during 31 years surpasses the 324-151-31 mark set by George Halas during 40 seasons.

After the game, Shula, 63, ran the gamut of emotions. He hugged and kissed his relatives and members of the Robbie family, who own the Dolphins. He thanked his players, shook hands with his coaching staff and cried.

And then he felt relieved.

"There have been a lot of great memories. This one is pretty special to me, mainly because of the way we won, the adversity we overcame," said Shula, who coached the Baltimore Colts from 1963 through 1969. "I've said I wanted to get this record when we were having a good season. This comes when we're sitting at 7-2, and we've had a lot of injuries, just with quarterbacks.

"The last time that I was up there [on the players' shoulders] was in 1972 when we went 17-0 to win the Super Bowl. A lot of good things went through my mind. It's been a long time since I've been on top of anybody's shoulders. It was very emotional, and at the same time, I'm glad it's over."

It was a chase that began in January 1963 when Shula, then 33, became the youngest coach in league history when he was hired by the Baltimore Colts. The record became Shula's when Eagles quarterback Ken O'Brien fumbled away the ball on a fourth-and-four at the Miami 22-yard line with 2:17 left and the Dolphins ahead, 19-14.

In the game's final moments, several Dolphins players were ready to dump Gatorade on Shula. Then they changed their minds. "A classy man," guard Keith Sims said. "We looked at the Gatorade and said, 'You know, we need to do a classy thing.' " So they hoisted him upon their shoulders.

"Did I ever imagine this? No way," Shula said. "One day I'm going to sit back and have the luxury of enjoying this."

Shula had little time to relax yesterday because he was always making moves. When starting quarterback Scott Mitchell, who had replaced injured Dan Marino, separated his left shoulder 1:16 into the third period, Shula had to send in Doug Pederson, 25, an exile from the World League. Pederson had never thrown a pass in the NFL.

No problem for Shula. He scratched a lot of the one-back formations. He went with two tight ends and two running backs. Pederson never threw long, just short passes underneath the Eagles zone. Pederson completed three of six passes for 34 yards. No interceptions. During the Dolphins' final 11-play, 45-yard drive that ended with a 45-yard Pete Stoyanovich field goal with 3:36 left to put Miami ahead, 19-14, Pederson completed two short passes for 11 yards and a first down.

Mitchell is expected to be out four to six weeks. Pederson, who has been waived during training camp the past three years, probably will be replaced by veteran Steve DeBerg, who was signed this week after being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I heard about what Coach Shula had done with Tom Matte and his work with some great quarterbacks," Pederson said, laughing. "He's so resourceful. We came in wanting to throw, and immediately he was making moves after Scott got hurt to rely on the running game and defense. This kind of game fits into his legacy."

In the 1970s, Shula won with Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris grinding out 10-minute drives. Then came Marino and the one-back set in the 1980s to take advantage of Marino's quick drop back and release.

But Shula has won, too, with reserves as starters (Shula has a 28-8 record in regular-season games started by reserve quarterbacks). Remember Earl Morrall and a journeyman named Don Strock?

"I was nervous the first two plays, and he just kind of settled me down and told me to do the things that I knew how to do," Pederson said. "I just didn't want to make the big mistake that cost us the game. He was so calm."

Not on the Eagles' next-to-last possession, though. O'Brien had taken the Eagles from their 35 to the Miami 28. On first down, with 2:34 left, O'Brien passed for six yards to Lofton. Shula paced the sidelines.

On the next play, O'Brien threw incomplete to receiver Calvin Williams. Shula grimaced, then looked at the clock. Two minutes and 24 seconds were left. O'Brien threw a pass to Lofton, who dropped it at the Dolphins' 5-yard line. Shula pumped his fist. He yelled at his defense.

O'Brien fumbled on fourth down. Shula raised his arms in victory.

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