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Sitting on Top of the World
John Underwood
September 17, 1973
A perfect end to a perfect season: Miami won the Super Bowl and Don Shula was vindicated
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September 17, 1973

Sitting On Top Of The World

A perfect end to a perfect season: Miami won the Super Bowl and Don Shula was vindicated

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He was, in fact, a more approachable figure, a more embraceable one. This was confusing because we would rather our gods ignore doorbells; we prefer them slightly inscrutable, faintly mysterious. Shula is as inscrutable as a stop sign, as mysterious as the origin of a sunburn.

For all his reputation as a disciplinarian and screamer, he comes across in strikingly human terms. The one trait he has in common with the other great coaches is what Robbie calls "the total unwillingness to be distracted"; he will not allow his time to be wasted. But he is an artful dodger. Dorothy Shula lays it to an "intense sensitivity." For all his bombast around the house, she says, fear grips none of the tenants because everybody is aware that he is, behind the scream, mostly peaches. "He gets that cruel look every now and then," his wife says, and home life is punctuated by earsplitting, air-clearing argument. "We enjoy a good fight. Our daughter Annie saunters in and listens for a while and says, 'You two fighting again?' "

Shula's pride is his ability to see the other side; he strives to treat a player' 'the way I wanted to be treated when I played." He remembers how he felt being benched without explanation by Paul Brown; he remembers how he felt being summarily traded and cut. Ex-Colt Center Bill Curry, who played for them both, said that, unlike Lombardi, Shula "does not intimidate. He inspires a player. He lives and dies with a player."

Joe Robbie believes that "it would offend Don Shula to be on the outs with anybody at any time." That Shula gets along with Robbie is proof enough of that—two massive egos, one a Spiro Ag-new man (Shula), the other a McGovern Democrat. Shula is not crazy about Robbie's penchant for crowding the communications lanes with memos, but is delighted with Robbie's business sense. The Dolphins are already in the black and have never had a player play out an option. Robbie did not bat an eye when Shula wanted quarterback insurance and asked him to cough up $75,000 for Earl Morrall. "He's spent money he didn't have to get us what we needed," says Shula. "I handle the business, Don handles the coaching," says Robbie. "Anybody who would interfere with Don Shula's coaching should be psychoanalyzed."

The word commonly used by players who have dealt with Shula is "fairness." His fairness is usually unquestioned. It is, therefore, difficult to keep a controversy going around him. Rosenbloom was able to, but unilaterally. Csonka and Kiick had the makings of one this month when their book Always on the Run revealed that both thought Shula had acted out of "spite" in making Kiick half a starter with Morris last fall. They said it was because Kiick and Csonka had failed to complete Shula's annual 12-minute run on the first day of practice.

Like playful heretics, they bandied Shula about in their book:

Kiick: "We could tell by looking at him, just the way his jaw was jutting, that this was not a day to kid around.... Shula's not the kind of coach you want to win for as much as you want to win for yourself.... Winning keeps him quiet.... Shula yells at me less...because he knows I don't like to be yelled at.... That's one reason Shula is a good coach. He knows the personalities of the 40 guys on the team."

Csonka: "[Shula] doesn't trust...us. He knows a hell-raiser when he sees one, because he was one himself." Csonka said he threw a rubber snake at Shula in the middle of a punting drill. "I thought he had a heart attack.... But he didn't really get mad. I don't know why."

Kiick: "You're his son, that's why. The old Hungarian father-and-son team."

Csonka, in a bantering locker-room exchange, told Shula he didn't like practice; Shula said there were a lot of guys who did. "You can't tell me that you liked practice," Csonka said. "I loved practice." "You weren't practicing for a coach like you. Who was your coach?" "Weeb Ewbank." "Right there you proved my point. I've seen TV of the Jets, running around in sweat suits, no equipment.... I'd love to run around like the Jets do...." "You wouldn't win," said Shula.

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