A month ago Pete Rose stopped for dinner at Don Shula's steakhouse in Miami Lakes, Fla., and the Dolphin coach was summoned from his nearby home to meet the famous customer. The resulting visit wasn't any nice-to-see-you, uncomfortable chat between sports celebrities. This was 90 minutes of in-the-pit gossip and jock talk. Rose asked, "How can Marino get rid of it so quickly?" Shula asked, "How do you think the Miami baseball franchise will do?" What a sports documentary it would have made: alltime baseball hit leader and modern football's winningest coach, just talking.
"Don is not much older than me," Rose, 47, would later say of his 61-year-old host. "But when I look at him, he reminds me so much of my dad at that age, it's unbelievable."
By virtue of the Dolphins' 16-13 victory over the Packers at Joe Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Shula and Rose have something else in common—they have each earned a milestone for the ages. In becoming only the second NFL coach to win 300 games, Shula moved to within 26 victories of passing George Halas for most career wins in pro football history. Just as Rose chased Ty Cobb, so Shula now pursues Halas.
"In the modern era, 300 wins in the NFL is harder than getting 4,000 hits in baseball," says Bears coach Mike Ditka. "Whatever mark he puts on the board, that'll be the mark forever. Nobody's going to touch it." Rose agrees with Ditka's comparison. "Getting 4,256 hits is personal," he says. "Winning 300 games, you've got to get 40 guys to play for you."
Those guys presented Shula with the game ball after Sunday's win, and the usually stone-faced coach got a little emotional. Still, in his remarks to his players, he deflected the attention from himself, just as he did throughout the hubbub leading up to win No. 300. "The important thing is not me and the 300," Shula told the team. "This is a special moment, but the important thing is we're 2-2, and it's important what we do this year. Let's get it done."
Here's why Shula may be the last coach to win 300 games.
?He loves the coaching life, in an era when the game wears on other coaches like never before. Ditka and the Denver Broncos' Dan Reeves have been successful coaches for about a decade (99 wins apiece through Sunday), and each has had heart trouble in the past three years. Shula has had no major ailments during his 29 years as coach of the Baltimore Colts (1963-69) and Dolphins, even though his workday is two hours longer now than it was when he started coaching.
?Owners don't hire 33-year-old coaches anymore. That's how old Shula was when he was hired by the Colts. The average age of the last 10 coaches hired in the league was 49.
?He has won every which way a coach can win in this league. "He had a run-oriented team in the '70s," says Ditka, "and he had the best passing team in football with Dan Marino. Now he has a balanced offense. He's had a great defense, a not-so-good defense, and now he's rebuilding the defense. He has constantly bent his system to fit the talent of his players."
?He has ignored the lucrative financial opportunities that have lured some of the best coaches away from the game. John Madden (112 wins) and Bill Walsh (102) left coaching while they were on top and moved on to high-salaried jobs in the TV booth. Shula could too—NBC has loved his postseason studio work—but he wants no part of a full-time TV job.