Taseff says that Shula had plenty to say about that, but he didn't say it to Brown, whom he still regards as "the greatest single influence on my life. Brown brought the classroom to pro football." Shula, in turn, impressed Brown as "a hitter, and smart. Some guys are great players, but you know they won't stay with it. Don gave you the feeling he was vitally interested."
That didn't stop Brown from trading Shula and Taseff to the Colts, where they were starters at cornerback for four seasons. Then Shula was cut. "I was so damned mad I didn't know what to do. I had sunglasses on and I was glad of that because the players were going out to practice and I had to pass by. I got in my car, and I went out on the Beltway and just drove. Somebody said I threatened to go back and poke Weeb in the nose but that's not true."
Shula married Dorothy Bartish in Painesville in 1958. They had met at a bowling alley while Dorothy was teaching second grade, and then, though smitten, she ran off to teach in Hawaii for a year. "You're making a terrible mistake," Don told her.
"I was playing it cool," says Dorothy. "I didn't think he was ready to give up all those girls I imagined he had." Don wrote her a letter. " 'It's the beginning of Lent,' he said. 'Let's pray we do the right thing.' I'd met a pilot and I was thinking about getting married. Don was coaching at Virginia. I got three letters talking marriage. The last one said, 'Will you?' " Don made all the wedding arrangements.
In 1963 Carroll Rosenbloom relieved Weeb Ewbank of the burden of coaching the Colts and began looking around for a savior. He asked Gino Marchetti what he thought. Marchetti said, "There's only one man for the job." "Who?" said Rosenbloom. "Shula."
Thus began a seven-year relationship that was more a fling than a romance, an interlude of breathtaking achievement and crushing unfulfillment. Shula was 33 years old when he took the job ("Imagine that," he told Dorothy, "a head coach at 33") but much much older when he left it.
By the time Joe Robbie (through Braucher) made his first tentative move in Shula's direction in January 1970, what was once a friendly union between the charming, sagacious Colt owner and his intense, highly principled young coach had already gone through its Indian summer and was freezing fast. They had known great success in wins and losses, and no championship. Worse, the most memorable setbacks had occurred at heaven's door: a 13-10 sudden-death playoff loss to Green Bay in 1965 (the Packers' tying field goal was vigorously disputed and led to a rule change called "The Baltimore Extension" that heightened the goalposts) and the 1969 Super Bowl loss to the Jets. Rosenbloom was embittered at being the first old-line NFLer to lose to an AFL team.
When Shula's 1969 Colts went 8-5-1, the haymakers began coming in combinations. Baltimore reporters wrote of "dissension" on the club. Headlines speculated on a coaching change. Don Klosterman was interposed between Rosenbloom and Shula as general manager. When asked what Shula's position as "vice-president" therefore meant, Steve Rosenbloom, the owner's son, said, "You know how we throw titles around." He said Shula was given one because "we needed somebody to sign checks."
But the unkindest cut of all, says Dorothy Shula, was made by the elder Rosenbloom, an offhand remark that he was "never big on coaches, anyway." Says Dorothy, "For Don it was like having his father reject him."
All things considered, that Rosenbloom was then able to strike a pose of righteous indignation over Shula's exodus to Miami was a triumph in histrionics. Shula went through proper channels, Steadman wrote, and got a 10-year, $70,000 contract and part ownership, and Steve Rosenbloom had been the "proper channel" he had gone through. (Carroll was on vacation in the Orient.) The negotiations lasted 22 days, plenty of time for all parties to be made aware. Dorothy Shula recalls that Steve Rosenbloom himself made the plane reservations for the Shulas' trip to Miami.