Ron Cook: Don Shula built far-reaching legacy by doing things ‘the right way’

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PITTSBURGH — So many thoughts, so many names came to mind Monday morning after the passing of Don Shula at 90 …


Joe Namath

Broadway Joe guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III after the 1968 season and he and his New York Jets delivered, upsetting Shula’s Baltimore Colts in the greatest Super Bowl of all. At least it was the greatest for a kid — me — growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa.


Chuck Noll

Noll was Shula’s defensive coordinator in that Super Bowl loss to the Jets. Shula recommended Noll for the Steelers’ vacant coaching job the next day. He also recommended the Steelers and Art and Dan Rooney to Noll. “He came into the room and said, ‘If Chuck gets that offer, take it. Take it. They’re good people,’ ” Noll’s wife, Marianne, told Post-Gazette columnist Joe Starkey in April 2017, not long after Dan Rooney’s passing.


Steve Furness

This goes back to the Steelers-Miami Dolphins AFC championship after the 1972 season, a game that was played a week after Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception and a few hours before Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash on his mission of mercy to Nicaragua. The Steelers led, 7-0, when the Dolphins’ Larry Seiple came on to punt on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers 49. But Shula had noticed a potential flaw in the Steelers’ punt return team in preparations for the game. Seiple saw it and took off up the middle of the field for a 37-yard gain. The late Furness, unaware as all the Steelers were that Seiple was running behind him, virtually led Seiple up the field. The Dolphins quickly scored the tying touchdown and went on to win, 21-17.

It was a day the teacher taught his prized student a lesson.

“We had position, momentum, everything when that happened,” Noll said after the game. “That changed the game.”

It also helped the Dolphins make unprecedented history. They went on to beat the Washington Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII to finish the season with a 17-0 record. Nearly half a century later, they remain the only unbeaten team in NFL history.

“All I saw was green grass and I took off,” Seiple said years later. “Thank God it worked. If it hadn’t, I’d still be walking back to Miami.”


David Woodley

The late Woodley spent a brief time with the Steelers, but he is better known as being a Dolphins quarterback between Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino. He actually led the Dolphins to Super Bowl XVII after the strike-shortened 1982 season where they lost to the Redskins, 27-17.


Dan Marino

I remember Noll coming to midfield to shake Shula’s hand after the Dolphins beat the Steelers in the AFC championship after the 1984 season. “Wow!” Noll said to Shula, amazed that Marino, in his second NFL season, had thrown for 421 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-28 win.

The Dolphins went on to lose to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers, 38-16, in Super Bowl XIX. It’s almost impossible to believe, but that was the only Super Bowl that the great Marino and Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history, made.

Yes, Woodley got Shula to as many Super Bowls as Marino.


Bill Belichick

Or, “Beli-cheat,” as Shula called him in 2016.

“The Spygate thing has diminished what they’ve accomplished,” Shula said of Belichick’s New England Patriots. “You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments.”

Do you think Shula was thrilled when the New York Football Giants beat Belichick and the Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season? The Patriots were 18-0. If you listen closely, you probably still can here Shula and the ’72 Dolphins popping champagne corks, which they did each season after the NFL’s final unbeaten team lost.

Belichick has six Super Bowl wins to just two for Shula, who was 2-4 in Super Bowls. Belichick also might catch Shula on the all-time NFL coaches regular-season wins list. Shula won 328 games and Belichick is third behind George Halas (318) with 273 wins.

But Belichick never will have the universal respect that Shula did and will have for eternity.

“I want them to say he won within the rules,” the Miami Herald’s obituary on Shula quoted him as saying when asked about his place in NFL history. “That he had players that took a lot of pride in playing within the rules. I want them to say that we did it all the right way. Always the right way.”

Not a bad legacy, right?

Not a bad way to be remembered.


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