Lost in the aftermath of Miami's Super Bowl VII tanning of the Washington Redskins was a left hook from Dorothy Shula, the coach's wife, to the flushed mush of a man in the row behind her. Dorothy is a sweet-natured, responsible mother of five and she was properly unnerved by the incident. A staunch fan of her husband and his teams for 15 years, she is not loath to criticize him herself now and again, usually for not making greater use of the onside kick. "I scream for it all the time," she says, "but he never listens."
On the other hand, she will not stand—or sit—idle when her man is being abused. When Don was an assistant coach at Virginia, for example, Dorothy once blurted to the head coach that Don could hardly get much coaching experience if he was always off scouting on game day. "I surprised myself," she said. "Don, of course, was mortified."
And when Don was coaching the Baltimore Colts and received an unusually deprecatory letter from a correspondent who could, in a family journal, only be described as a four-letter man, Dorothy tracked down his phone number. Posing as an official of the Professional Security Agency (a wholly imaginary association), she threatened him with the very shadow of the state penitentiary.
But that was more or less for fun. This was the first time, she said, that she really went overboard. The object of her disaffection was one of four Redskin fans who had come to the Los Angeles Coliseum in the company of two bottles of Scotch. Their recognition of Mrs. Shula—privacy for the Shula family these days is the rough equivalent of a ride on the lead float in the Orange Bowl parade—and the chemical reaction of four into two fifths led to some pointed remarks in her direction.
Dorothy took it as long as she could. After all, Don had endured Carroll Rosenbloom, had he not? Then, just as the action on the field came to a head and she broke down into grateful tears, one of the four men went too far. "Aw, look," he cooed, "isn't that touching? The poor thing's gonna cry." And Dorothy spun around and unloaded.
As blows for justice go, it was an indiscriminate one, there being no certainty which of the four made the operative remark, but Dorothy remembers being relieved that she had not swung with the other hand because that one was clutching a crucifix. She and Don do not wear their religion on their sleeves but they both like to keep it handy. Don attends Mass daily; there is a Bible pedestal, an old house-warming present from Rosen-bloom, by the front door of the Shula home.
Dorothy was still shaken on the bus ride to the Los Angeles airport. "Don," she said tearfully. "I've blown the whole thing. All the years, all the frustration...and now we're going to get sued!" Her husband smiled ("Isn't she something?" he says) and patted her shoulder soothingly. He knew better.
Not all of Don Shula's critics have been dealt with so neatly. No need. Few to begin with, they are diminishing. Even Rosenbloom's one-man anti-Shula philharmonic has played out at last. In the teeth of Shula's stupefying success and popularity, Rosenbloom's posture as an abused party was retrograding rapidly even before Super Bowl VII.
The pouty declarations—that Shula had acted "deviously" in leaving Owner Rosenbloom's tentative embrace in Baltimore three years ago (the truth is that Rosenbloom all but chased him away), that Shula "is a loser of the big ones," that Shula was a "pig"—served to enlarge rather than lower Shula's stature because they strained the elastic of credulity. Shula barely lifted a syllable in response. This won him an even larger respect. Like Swinburne, Shula had discovered the nobility of silence.
After that sublime 17-0 Dolphin season, Rosenbloom just quit trying. Last April in Scottsdale, Ariz., Rosenbloom, now the owner of the Rams, made a thing about "burying the hatchet" at a brief meeting between the two. Shula goes along with this version because he genuinely wants to put the whole thing to rest but, as his close friends say, the wounds were too deep for so skimpy a bandage. "We talked," is all Shula says.