Dolphins make D. Shula proud

January 01, 2009|By Harvey Fialkov | Harvey Fialkov,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

DAVIE, Fla. - Finally, a winning season and AFC East championship for the first time this decade. Iconic former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula couldn't think of a sweeter way to bring in the new year and sounded as proud as if he were still patrolling the sideline, as he did from 1970 to 1995.

"Just a great turnaround from going from where they were last year, nearly going 0-16 and turning it around and making a run like they have for the playoffs," said Shula, a former Baltimore Colts player and coach, who was watching snow fall in Vail, Colo., while on vacation with his family, including 21 children and grandchildren.

"The refreshing part of the whole story is Chad Pennington, what he's done and what he's meant to the team, his leadership. His play has been just great.

"They've improved in all areas. Having that kind of leadership has made them what they are this year."

Shula's teams were known for being among the least penalized in the NFL and for committing fewer turnovers, two mantras of rookie head coach Tony Sparano.

"The thing that I felt strongly about is never beat yourself," said Shula, 78. "Bill [Parcells] has stayed in the background, and Sparano's the guy on the front line. He's the one out there having to make the decisions and making all the calls on game day. I'm sure he's had lot of help from Bill, but you got to give him credit for the job he's done."

Shula said last season was especially tough because he noticed Dolphins fans being replaced at home by fans from opposing teams.

Just like Sparano and his players, Shula isn't in a rush to see this season end.

By Sunday, Shula said, he would be out of the snow and at Dolphin Stadium rooting his favorite team back into prominence, where he had them for nearly a quarter of a century.

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