Shula, Chargers' Beathard clash

January 09, 1995|By Edwin Pope | Edwin Pope,Miami Herald

SAN DIEGO -- The Miami Dolphins' 1994-season roller coaster took its last plunge yesterday to the hysterical cheers of a record throng of 63,381, but the battle was not over. Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard kept things flaring after the Chargers' 22-21 playoff victory by refusing to offer a consoling handshake to his old friend and boss, Don Shula.

"Hell, no," Beathard said when someone asked if he had gone in to pay his usual respects to the Dolphins' coach. "I lost a lot of respect for Don for what he pulled yesterday."

You would think a scene of such epic celebration would have been enough. The Chargers were headed on to Pittsburgh for the AFC championship game against the Steelers, winner to play in the Jan. 29 Super Bowl in Miami. This nifty arena, Jack Murphy Stadium, had not seen such an explosion of noise since the Padres were trying vainly to win the 1984 World Series against Detroit's Tigers.

However, Beathard was still steaming after congratulating his own coach, Bobby Ross.

Beathard worked for Shula as Dolphins director of player personnel from 1972-78 and left for the Washington Redskins only because of differences with then-Dolphins owner Joe Robbie.

Beathard and Shula had remained friends, but they clashed Saturday because Shula wanted his team to get in at least one workout on the field where they would play.

Beathard, in turn, did not want a tarpaulin removed because rain was expected, and indeed materialized several hours later. Meanwhile, the Chargers held their final pre-game practice at another field, and Beathard insisted the Dolphins do the same.

Jerry Seeman was on hand as the NFL's director of officials. He went along with Shula. When Seeman rendered his decision, Beathard shouted at him: "The guy Shula owns the league, so he gets whatever he wants! Anything he wants, he gets!"

Even the victory failed to mollify Beathard. "I'm not going to let this go," he said, possibly indicating a complaint to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Shula declined to respond Saturday in what seemed to be a classic case of a visiting team seeking practice privileges while the home team tried to preserve the condition of its field.

Yesterday, he had enough to deal with when Pete Stoyanovich'48-yard field goal went wide with one second left, and had already left for the team plane when Beathard cut loose again.

It all went south when center Jeff Dellenbach's snap to holde John Kidd came in slightly high. "I thought it was OK when it left my hands," Dellenbach said, "and Kidd told me he got it down in time."

We are talking about split seconds here, just as we may be talking about split hairs between Beathard and Shula.

Whatever, Stoyanovich considered the instant's delay enough to throw off his timing.

"Of course it was a factor," he said in the gloomiest corner of the Dolphins' altogether gloomy locker room. "Anytime anything doesn't happen in the right sequence, it affects a kick. I knew it was going to miss when I hit it. I didn't even watch the end of it."

Shula did, standing on the sideline beside the motorized cart he uses after surgery for a ruptured Achilles' tendon. His teeth clenched, and he looked down at the ground. He has been trying to win another Super Bowl since his second straight after the 1973 season, and another chance had just drifted off -- wide right.

"That's about as tough a loss as I've ever been around," said the winningest coach in NFL history.

It's always tough when you put somebody on the deck and then they jump up and knock you flat.

Even after the Chargers held them to five offensive plays in the third quarter and scored nine points of their own, the Dolphins felt cocksure. The feeling deepened when defensive back Troy Vincent tipped a Stan Humphries pass into an interception by Michael Stewart with 4:24 left.

"I thought we were in," Vincent said. "I thought all we had to do was make a couple of first downs. But then we went three and out and they came back and killed us on that 61-yard drive."

That drive ended with Humphries tossing an eight-yard touchdown pass almost disdainfully to Mark Seay, and ex-Dolphin Tony Martin rushing over and embracing Seay. John Carney's extra point put the Chargers ahead, 22-21.

"They just worked us over in man-to-man coverage," Vincent said. "That's done well for us most of the season, we dominated a lot of teams with it. But you can die by the sword when you live by it, and that's what happened. The man coverage caught up to us in the end."

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