Losing to Jets was best thing that happened to Shula

On the NFL

January 07, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

There will be a void in the NFL next year.

For the first time since John F. Kennedy was president, Don Shula won't be roaming an NFL sideline.

When Shula, who resigned as Miami Dolphins coach Friday, became the Baltimore Colts' coach in 1963, the NFL was a 14-team league with a 14-game schedule and a $1 million-per-year-per-team TV contract.

There was no cable TV, much less ESPN, no talk radio. Man hadn't yet walked on the moon. Newspaper stories were written on typewriters and filed by Western Union operators. An electric typewriter was considered high tech.

cd,3 For 33 years, the world changed, but Shula was a constant.

He played for Paul Brown and coached against him. He also coached against George Halas and Vince Lombardi and 129 other NFL coaches, including his son, David.

He was the youngest coach to win 100, 200 and 300 games and wound up being the winningest coach of all time, with 347 victories.

Don't expect anybody to coach for 33 years again.

Shula's career got a jump-start with his lowest moment -- Super Bowl III. That loss to the Jets soured his relationship with Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and led to his departure to Miami in 1970.

It was the best thing that ever happened to Shula. In Baltimore, he would have had to deal with an aging team and Bob Irsay, who bought the Colts in 1972. In Baltimore, he would have had to live down his "can't win the big one" reputation.

In those days, he was more noted for his losses than his wins -- the 1964 NFL title game (against the Browns), Super Bowl III, the Tom Matte wristband playoff loss to the Packers in 1965 and the 1967 season finale in Los Angeles, when he took an 11-0-2 mark into the game but lost and missed the playoffs.

In Miami, he drove a young team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, including the perfect season in 1972.

The only coach to make the Super Bowl in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it would have been the perfect touch if Shula had made it in the 1990s.

In the end, though, Shula the personnel man let down Shula the coach. He never really overcame the loss of Bobby Beathard in 1978 and George Young in 1979.

He was a victim of poor drafts and poorer free-agent signings.

But Shula's place in football history is secure. If you name a dozen people who were part of the pro football boom, his name would be on the list.

Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga handled Shula's departure with much more finesse than Jerry Jones handled the Tom Landry firing. With one year left on Shula's contract, it was called a resignation rather than a firing.

There was no immediate hiring of a replacement -- Jimmy Johnson is the popular choice but it's Huizenga's call -- so Shula could savor one last moment in the spotlight.

He deserved it.

The Rhodes way

In these days of million-dollar athletes, Eagles coach Ray Rhodes gives speeches that went out of style with Knute Rockne.

As the Eagles prepare to play the Dallas Cowboys today, the players are still talking about his speech Dec. 9, the night before Philadelphia's last game against Dallas.

Upset by the team's lackluster showing against the Seattle Seahawks the previous week and by a Nov. 6 loss in Dallas, Rhodes gave a talk that was loud, profane and threatening. He named names of players who weren't meeting his expectations.

"This was one of those situations where my fists were clenched when I was talking," he said. "You can tell when somebody has had enough of people not going out and doing what they're supposed to do. Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don't, but at least they understand where I was coming from."

That time, it worked. The Eagles upset the Cowboys, 20-17, with the help of Dallas coach Barry Switzer's fourth-and-one gaffe.

Afterward, Rhodes had another message for his team: no gloating.

"We're not done with Dallas, so let's watch our mouths," Rhodes said. "We'll do some talking on the field again the next time we face them. And we will face them again. With a lot more on the line than was out there today."

That next time is today.

Will Irvin rebound?

Don't be surprised if the Cowboys' Michael Irvin has a big day against the Eagles.

He's still annoyed that rookie cornerback Bobby Taylor was named Defensive Player of the Week after Irvin was held to three catches for 40 yards in the Cowboys' loss in Philadelphia.

Irvin says that implies Taylor covered him one-on-one. He says he was double-covered.

"I haven't seen Bobby all over the field on me one-on-one," he said.

Quarterback Troy Aikman said, "They double-covered him almost every play. We'll have to come up with some strategy to defeat that this time."

The Cleveland campaign

It's unfortunate for Cleveland that Mayor Michael White isn't as good at finding a way to build a stadium as he is at leading his Save The Browns campaign.

Before he made his presentation to two owners' committees on Thursday, he led "The Two-Minute Warning" rally on Tuesday. He's asking the fans to renew their efforts to fax or write every team and the league office to protest the move. He even has an Internet Day set for E-mail messages to the teams. He also plans to deliver thousands of petitions and hold a rally in Atlanta on Jan. 16, the day before the owners vote.

But the plan White presented was still a renovation of Cleveland Stadium. It's going to be difficult to persuade a team to move to Cleveland until the city has a proposal for a new stadium.

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