Don Shula’s greatest victory was overcoming his most devastating defeat

As soon as upon a time, I made the error of asking Don Shula if the 1998 New York Yankees certified as an ideal group. These Yankees received 114 video games within the common season and swept San Diego within the World Collection to complete 125-50 total. Because it was clearly not possible for a baseball group to go undefeated over seven months, nicely …

“Excellent?” Shula barked incredulously. “I’ve quite a lot of respect for Joe Torre and the Yankees, however who stated what they did final 12 months was excellent? I imply, excellent is ideal.”

Staggered and scrambling for my dislodged mouthpiece, I felt like Shula had simply run me by way of the Oklahoma drill. So just a little greater than a decade later, when speaking once more to probably the most prolific winner in professional soccer historical past and the one man to steer an NFL group by way of a flawless season, I tiptoed right into a dialog about Shula’s most devastating defeat, a defeat that helped form the game into the runaway monster it’s at the moment: dropping Tremendous Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets.

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Turned out I did not want to point out up in full pads on at the present time. Shula, then 80, relaxed his granite jaw and benched his well-known mood and satisfaction and agreed to relive the ache of January 12, 1969, when the NFL champion Baltimore Colts have been anticipated to place the unwashed AFL champion Jets of their place. Namath had assured victory, in fact, and even his coach, Weeb Ewbank, feared his quarterback’s public pledge would encourage the closely favored Colts to play with an underdog’s abandon.

“It made headlines,” Shula recalled of the assure, “and I attempted to make use of that as a motivational instrument with my group.

“It did not work.”

Shula had turned 39 simply earlier than Tremendous Bowl III, but had already coached 88 video games for the Colts, profitable 65 of them. He had crushed the Cleveland Browns for the NFL championship, a victory that meant the world to him. Shula grew up within the Cleveland space and stated he discovered extra soccer from the coach of that group, Blanton Collier, his former boss at Kentucky, than anybody.

The Colts have been charged with defending NFL supremacy over the AFL; the leagues have been nonetheless one other full season away from the official merger. “However Namath was the quarterback of the Jets for 4 years going into that recreation,” Shula recalled in our 2010 interview, “and Earl Morrall was our quarterback for less than 4 months.”

Morrall had gone 15-1 rather than the injured Johnny Unitas, together with the postseason, and but every thing went improper in opposition to the Jets in Shula’s future house, the Orange Bowl. Baltimore even ran a flea-flicker to perfection, not less than up till the purpose when Morrall was purported to throw the ball.

“I can nonetheless see Jimmy Orr all by himself, waving his arms,” Shula remembered by way of a sigh. “Earl did not see him as a result of the band had come onto the sphere and was standing behind the again line of the tip zone, ready for halftime. Earl regarded down there and noticed a mass of individuals in uniform and did not discover Jimmy.”

Morrall discovered a unique Jimmy — Jim Hudson of the Jets, who picked off the Morrall go that was supposed for Jerry Hill. In consequence, New York carried the momentum and a 7-Zero lead into halftime.

The Jets have been up 13-Zero within the third quarter when Unitas relieved Morrall, who had thrown three interceptions, and that previous Johnny U magic was nowhere to be discovered. The Jets finally received 16-7, turning their quarterback right into a prophet and leaving Shula to deal with the damaged males in his locker room.

“I actually was devastated,” he stated. “We have been 19-point favorites, and the primary group from the previous league to lose to the upstart league. It was a really troublesome time after the sport, a disappointment of that magnitude. I simply informed my gamers, ‘We’re all dissatisfied, however it doesn’t matter what we’re not going to have the ability to change the rating. It is one thing we will must reside with and resist. Crucial factor is what we do from right here on out, how we atone for it.'”

Shula atoned for it like few coaches have ever atoned for something, although he needed to go away Baltimore after yet another season to do it. He fell out of favor with Colts proprietor Carroll Rosenbloom, who was embarrassed by the Jets loss and ceaselessly reminded about it by his mates in New York. “When someone referred to as and requested in regards to the Tremendous Bowl,” Shula stated, “he’d go the telephone to me.”

The Miami Dolphins had received 15 video games of their first 4 years and have been coming off a 3-10-1 season in 1969 when Shula was employed. Two years later, they superior to the Tremendous Bowl. The next 12 months, with a 15-Zero file, they really needed to play the AFC Championship Sport in Pittsburgh (the Steelers had three losses) on account of the league’s weird home-field rotation system on the time. “We acquired fortunate,” Shula stated, “as a result of the solar was out and it was 65 levels in Pittsburgh in December. I stated, ‘This can be a Miami day.'”

It wasn’t the final one. In a separate interview, I as soon as requested Shula how he overcame Tremendous Bowl III. “Tremendous Bowl VII,” he stated of his breakthrough 14-7 conquer Washington on January 14, 1973.

Shula would win back-to-back titles. He would make it to 6 Tremendous Bowls in all. He would win playoff video games in 4 completely different a long time. He would coach for 33 NFL seasons, and keep away from a dropping file in 31 of these seasons.

Shula additionally received 31 consecutive video games within the Orange Bowl, the scene of that haunting demise.

“We’re nonetheless speaking about it at the moment,” the then-80-year-old Shula stated of Tremendous Bowl III. “It nonetheless occurred. It is one thing you’d wish to erase out of your reminiscence, however you possibly can’t.

“It occurred to me, and there is nothing I can do now to vary that. So you must reside with it, and that is what I’ve executed.”

Till his loss of life Monday at age 90, Shula lived and relived Tremendous Bowl III with profound dignity and beauty. As a lot as that recreation made Namath a cultural icon, it might have destroyed a younger coach nonetheless attempting to determine the best way to win the large recreation.

As an alternative the late, nice Don Shula dealt with his worst defeat like he dealt with the 1972 season. Completely.

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