By Lisa Johnson // @LJ1303
As I sit down and reflect on the news of legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula’s passing, I felt yet again that a part of my childhood was lost. Lost to only memories now. I won’t get to see Coach Shula in his golf cart driving around Hard Rock Stadium, or as it once was Joe Robbie Stadium.
Like so many older Dolphins fans, it took a while to adjust to this stadium, for all of our early memories were of the Orange Bowl. That is where the real magic was. That is where it all began. During the late ’60s and ’70s, Don Shula’s name was a mainstay in our household. Going to Dolphins game became so religious that all our neighbors would think we were heading off to church.
What the Shula’s brought to Miami Dade county was something many won’t forget. He was known as a hard knocks coach. His training camps were legendary. Being tough wasn’t an option for Coach Shula, it was a requirement. Two-a-days in the heat that hovered around 100 degrees every day. The infamous 12-minute run. Those are stories told to this days, from past players to fans.
I asked fans what Don Shula game is one of your most memorable, and got lots of answers. I have to tell you that mine was the Philadelphia Eagles game. Watching him get that 325th victory to pass George Halas as the winningest NFL football coach ever, and many fans agreed. From that AFC Championship double-overtime game, and how about those 80’s shootout games with the Buffalo Bills and Jim Kelly, or the New York Jets with Ken O’Brien… so many great games to choose from.
While others remember his greatest victory of them all. The 1972 undefeated season. To many, that was the greatest accomplishment of all. And to be able to say that until he took his last breath, knowing this record still stands to this very day, I know that would have put a smile on his face. For even years after he retired, you bring up that season and his face would light up.
This afternoon many Dolphins alumni spoke out on what Don Shula meant to them. Larry Csonka told us stories of the time he and Manny Fernandez went fishing during camp. Saw some little alligators and thought it would be funny to catch one and take back to camp, and put in Coach Shula’s shower. Even funnier was the team voted on whether to tape the gators mouth closed. Larry side won by one vote.
Then he spoke on his emotions on hearing that coach had passed. He said he was cutting some brush when his wife came out and told him that coach had passed. Larry had to take a moment as I think his emotions got the best of him. “He was my rock. He made me better. He made everyone around him better. And I miss him already.”
Don Shula will go down in history as one of the winningest NFL coaches of all time. However, to me and many Dolphins fans, he leaves us with some very cherished memories of some spectacular football games. Rest in peace, Coach.
Follow Lisa on Twitter // @LJ1303