While Mike was engaged in another Stablerian round of Beat the Clock, Don was prowling his Miami home like a caged animal. He started watching the game in the family room and then moved to the bedroom. He wound up storming between the two tubes. "I'm used to the sidelines," says Don. "When Mike was in high school, I would go to the top row of the stands and just go back and forth."
Because of his NFL schedule Don has not seen Mike play for Alabama. "It may be better this way," says the elder Shula. "I don't think I could stay in one seat. I sit there on Saturdays and watch on TV and try to relax, but I get more and more wrapped up in it. I have meetings on Saturday nights, and I'll be drained and have to gear up for Sunday. When you're a coach your concentration is so great you don't have time to think of anything else. But when you watch your son play, you watch with your stomach in knots."
It's not any easier for a father when his son's team gives a powerhouse like Ohio State two extra shots at victory. That's just what linebacker Derrick Thomas did by interfering with the Buckeyes' outstanding wideout, Cris Carter, on two consecutive plays with no time remaining. Finally, Thomas's replacement, Chris Goode, and cornerback Britton Cooper sandwiched Carter in the end zone as another Buckeye pass arrived. It fell incomplete.
The next day the Crimson Tide filed out of four chartered buses into a redbrick church hard by the Chattahoochee River. "I can't imagine what it would have been like to lose and go to the funeral," said guard Bill Condon. Rev. J.H. Flakes eulogized Ryles as a gentle giant, a devout Christian and a winner. As Shula, who regularly attends noon Mass, tried to cope with his sorrow for a teammate he had not known well, he turned to a bowed and stricken Jarvis. Looking up at Shula, Jarvis said, "Well, buddy, you missed out."
Shula and Jarvis had met inauspiciously at freshman orientation when Jarvis, a 265-pounder from Gardendale, Ala., moseyed up to Mike and inquired, "What's it like being the son of Don Shula?" Gradually, through mutual friendships with a couple of coeds, they got to be buddies and then roommates. They never play a Saturday game without first catching a half hour of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.
A polished urbanite, Shula has made certain concessions to Jarvis and rural life. For instance, he traded in his sports car for a four-wheel-drive Bronco, and he even went hunting for deer. Not that such a doe-eyed kid could actually shoot one. In fact, the first night his folks came to visit in Tuscaloosa, Mike, who's the youngest of their five children, packed them in his car and drove out to a distant spot to show them the way deer looked and moved in the dark.
The Shula family is built on love and football; otherwise, all the kids wouldn't have stuck so tightly to the game and to one another. "Michael's always had a special relationship with everyone in the family," says his sister Annie. "When he comes home everyone fights to be next to him." By age 7, Mike was going with his three sisters to the Orange Bowl to play on the artificial turf. By 10, he had attended his first Dolphin training camp. He would shag and spot balls during practice, vacuum floors and do the team laundry. The club paid him $96 a summer for his work.
He was a ball boy for the Dolphins until he was 14. When an equipment manager left, Don asked Mike to chart plays for him. It was like getting driving lessons from Andretti. For three years Mike tracked the result of every offensive snap, noting the Dolphin formation, the defense they faced and the play that was run. Moreover, he overheard crucial confabs between his dad and quarterbacks Bob Griese and Earl Morrall. Mike even used to sneak a peek at the crib sheets Griese would leave under the play charts on his clipboard.
"What stands out about Mike is that he's so mature and cool," Griese says. "When he throws interceptions as he did the other night, it doesn't faze him. I think being around me when I threw interceptions helped. He also was very levelheaded and intelligent. He wanted to know the right way to do things."
In Mike's senior year at Miami's Columbus High, he first demonstrated just how cool he could be under pressure. Nothing he has done at Alabama has approximated his exploits in the semifinals of the Florida state championship in 1982. With less than four minutes to go he was down by eight points to Vero Beach and on his own 20. Shula maneuvered the Explorers into Vero Beach territory before scrambling to the 10, where he was knocked silly while heading for the sidelines. "We called timeout and he came over to talk, but he was out of it," says Columbus coach Dennis Lavelle. "He kept saying, 'We've got to run the ball, 30 dive.' I said, 'Mike, there are 15 seconds left.' "