Pro Football Hall of Fame
July, 26, 1997
Don Shula, was told by his mother, he could not play football in the eight grade. So he went home, forged his parents signature and he swore his teammates to secrecy. Dad was not a highly recruited athlete coming out of Painsville's Harvey High School. He ended up at Cleveland's John Carroll University and helped led his team to an upset victory over then powerhouse Syracuse. In 1960 Don Shula entered the NFL as defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. On the first defensive snap, his defense gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass. Welcome to the NFL. In his second season as head coach of the Baltimore Colts, they lost to the Cleveland Browns 27 to nothing in the NFL Championship Game. In 1968, Joe Namath led the Jets to an upset win over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In his second year as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, the Dolphins ended that season with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Don Shula is nothing if not resilient and competitive. Each setback fueled the fire of an intensely competitive man. In 1972, the Miami Dolphins and their coach achieved perfection. A 14-0 regular season, capped off by a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. The next season the Dolphins went 12-2 and won Super Bowl VIII over the Minnesota Vikings. Thirty-two and two over a two-year span. In 33 years as a head coach, he averaged ten victories per season, went to the Super Bowl six times and won twice, developed hundreds of Pro Bowlers and tens of Hall of Famers.
Don Shula lives by his word. He would not ask his players to do something he would not do himself so he ran gassers after practice with his team. If he had something on his mind, you were soon to hear about it, good or bad. Honesty is his credo. No team went into a game better prepared. Don Shula coached teams were audible ready, so well prepared, they could adjust to any unusual circumstance. Being as good as everyone else never entered his mind. Being better than everyone else is all he ever thought about. Excellence was expected.
Don Shula has a tender side as well, you just have to dig a little to find it. When the prettiest girl in Painsville took off to Hawaii to test his marrying resolve, he wrote and begged her to come back. They married and together raised five children, Dave and I and our three lovely sisters Donna, Sharon and Annie. He became a horseman because his daughters loved to ride and travel to horse shows. Now he loves to spoil his six grandchildren. He even spent over a $100 in a candy store to make them happy. After moms passing in 1991 dad found love again and married beautiful Mary Anne. They share two families now and fuss over both with a passion. Mary Anne is his guide as dad enters new territory, retirement and the restaurant business. His pursuit of excellence, now drives Don Shula's Steak Houses. His fundraising efforts to find a cure for cancer have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars for grants to fund cancer research. Devotion to his religion, his family and the NFL have brought dad here today. He has been described in part because of his jutting jaw as the NFL's National Monument. His devotion to his real and his football family, inspire tremendous loyalty for all of us.
Both Brothers in Unison
Larry Csonka said it best for all of us, some days we love to love him, some days we love to hate him, but we always, always loved him. Ladies and Gentleman, we present to you, the newest member of the NFL Hall of Fame, our dad, Don Shula!
Thank you. Thank you Dave and Mike. I can't tell you how much of a proud father I am to have those two up here to present me. I coached against Dave the last couple of years, and I was very proud to be the first time a father ever coached against his son. He beat me for 30 minutes the first time and 59 and a half minutes the second time. And I coached against Mike when he was an assistant with the Bears and they won that football game. But both of them clean my clock now on the tennis court and also on the golf course. They know more about me personally, family, profession than anybody that I could think of, and that's why I was so proud to have them present me. I want to acknowledge my daughters, Donna, Sharon and Annie. Mike talked about Dorothy and what a tremendous contribution and influence that she had on our lives. But, this is the ultimate honor. I look at the people sitting around me, the names of so many of the great players and coaches who are members of the Hall of Fame. I want to congratulate them again and also the new enshrinees: the two Mikes and then Wellington. What a time that we've have had this week and I've really enjoyed our time together.
You know it's only 50 miles from Grand River to Canton, but it took me 67 years to travel that distance. And I've got eight minutes to talk about it. Grand River, a little fishing village up on Lake Erie. Mom and dad came over, dad migrated from the old country, large family we had twins and triplets in our family. The triplets are here today and I want to recognize them. My sister Irene and the triplets. The triplets were my first coaching job. When I was in the eighth grade and they were in the first grade at St. Mary's school I was in charge of them and I had to make sure that they got to school on time and got home on time and they did the things that they should be doing in school. Parents taught me the early lessons, believe in God, hard work equals success, straight forward and honest, no free lunches.
Painsville, Ohio was next. St. Mary's school, the nuns. Joe Jenkins, my first coach, is here today, my fifth and sixth grade coach. Where's Joe? Put your hand up, Joe, all right. Then came Harvey High School. Don Martin is here today, he was the coach that took me out of gym class and wanted to know why I wasn't on the football team. And I explained that I was sick when football practice opened and that I didn't have the opportunity to go. He said "You get out for football, you should be out there." So Don Martin, thank you for your contribution to my career.
Then it was on to John Carroll University. A Jesuit education, Father Shelve, a great logic teacher. I hope that I've been able to use some of his logic through the years. A great small college coaching staff. Herb Eisley was the head coach. They did everything that the Cleveland Browns did we were right in the Browns shadow. Our playbook was the same as the Cleveland Browns playbook. So he prepared me for the opportunity that I had when I was later drafted by the Cleveland Browns. We played, John Carroll played Syracuse University in Cleveland Stadium, and we beat them, with Paul Brown and his entire staff looking on. Out of that ball game, I was drafted, Weeb Ewbank was the scout, an assistant coach and a scout, and he prepared the scouting reports, he recommended that they draft us. So, Carl Taseff and myself were drafted from John Carroll to the Cleveland Browns football team. And that was in 1951, as it turned out, I was the only rookie to make that team and Carl Taseff joined them later. And my rookie contract, my first rookie contract was for $5,000. I ended up playing seven years in the National Football League and then it came decision time. After John Carroll University, I was offered a teaching/coaching job at Canton Lincoln High School here in Canton, Ohio or $3,750. But I decided I would reach for the moon and shoot for that $5,000, and see whether or not I could play in the National Football League. And the fact that we had played Syracuse and beat them in Cleveland stadium, gave me the confidence that we could play on that level, even though we were a small college team.
I started my coaching career in the National Football League as an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions in 1960, '61 and '62 and the memorable game in that period of time is when nobody was beating the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi. We beat them on Thanksgiving Day in a great, great performance. I think we had twelve quarterback sacks in that ball game and then, again as a defensive coach, I was given a lot of credit for that success. This led me to have the opportunity to become a head coach in the National Football League, the Colts were looking. Gino Marchetti, the captain of the Baltimore Colts and a Hall of Famer and I was hoping that he would be here today, but I guess he could not be here. But, Gino Marchetti told Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner, who was going to make a coaching change that if your looking for somebody, Shula's the guy. And Rosenbloom then gave me an interview, and the question that he asked, he said "You're going to be the youngest coach in the National Football League, do you think that your ready for the job?" And I said "Carroll, the only way that you'll find out is if you hire me and give me the opportunity." He liked that answer, he gave me the job. I had seven great years coaching the Colts and a lot of things, a lot of memorable things, a lot of great players, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry, John Unitas , the quarterback. But the fun time of coaching was the time when Unitas was hurt and Cuazzo was hurt and we were getting ready to get into playoffs and the only player that I had to play was a guy that had played quarterback at Ohio State, Tom Matte, but hadn't played quarterback in the pros. So I had to get him ready in a hurry because we had to win in order to make it to the playoffs. So I called Woody Hayes. I said, "Woody, can this guy play in the National Football League?" He said, "Don, you don't have a thing to worry about, this guy is a winner. He's going to do the job for you. You don't have anything to concern yourself with." I said, "Well, are there any negatives about Matte?" He said, "Well he did have trouble taking the snap from center." So we moved on from there.
The Miami Dolphins in 1970. Joe Robbie hired me, the Robbie family. They were 3-10-1 the year before. We turned it around to ten and four, into the playoffs and then three Super Bowls in a row. Lost to the Cowboys. What I learned from that loss, and also another loss that I'm going to talk about later, was that when you're there, it's not good enough to be there, when you're there, you better walk away with that ring. Because, they're only thinking about one team when that game's over. Before the game, they're talking about two football teams. When the game's over, there's only one winner. And I learned that the hard way in my first two Super Bowls, I was 0-2 in Super Bowls. But then, things fell into place. Back-to-back Super Bowls, the 17-0 perfect season. The next year, 15-2, 32-2 in two years, what a football team. I think what coaching is all about, is taking players and analyzing there ability, put them in a position where they can excel within the framework of the team winning. And I hope that I've done that in my 33 years as a head coach.
The one thing that I know is that you win with good people. The Hall of Famers that I've coached, you got Bob Griese, Jim Langer, Larry Little, Larry Csonka sitting over there, Paul Warfield, some other guys offensively that I hope are soon going to be considered for the Hall of Fame, Bob Kuechenberg, Dwight Stephenson. We got Nat Moore sitting out here who has done so many things. And a defense, what a defense, a "No Name Defense" in those years led by Bill Arnsparger, who's here today and what a defensive coach. Nick Bouniconti, Dick Anderson, Jake Scott, Manny Fernandez, Bill Stanfill. Two Super Bowls, 32-2 in two years, we've go to get a defensive player from those teams into the Hall of Fame and I hope that someday that we're going to be able to recognize one of those players. And I also want to talk about other players that gave me everything that they had to give on special teams, practice squad, whatever. Their dedication and effort was the main reason that I was able to win so many games.
Earl Morrall, I got to say a word about Earl Morrall. When Unitas went down, it was Earl Morrall. I was smart enough to bring him to Miami and when Bob Griese went down, it was Earl Morrall. The toughest decision that I've ever had to make as a coach was after Bob was hurt, Earl led us to the unbeaten season. We get into the Super Bowl, after Bob's healthy, he comes back and helps us beat Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh. And then I had to make a decision, and I made the decision to start Bob Greise. I made the decision to start Bob Griese and Earl took it like the man that he is. And Earl, thank you for all of your contributions.
The present day, for the last thirteen years, I've had opportunity to coach Dan Marino. Dan Marino makes practice exciting. He's broken all of the quarterback records in thirteen years. It took [Fran] Tarkenton eighteen years to set these records. And I hope and pray that Dan gets the opportunity to wear this ring before he retires.
The career highlights - I'm proud of being able to break the record of a man that has meant so much to the National Football League, a record that nobody ever thought would be broken, George Halas' record of 324. And then to end up with a total of 347 wins, averaging 10 regular season wins for 33 years and the best winning percentage, and I'm very proud of this, of any professional team from 1970 to 1996. The team highlights, certainly have to be 17-0, the only team in history, and a special bond has developed with that group of players. They wear this ring with pride. And this year is going to be the 25th anniversary of the 17-0 team, the only undefeated season. The low-light in my career, the loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III. Weeb Ewbank is the coach here, and what a coach Weeb is. And then they had a quarterback by the name of, I keep forgetting, Joe, Joe Namath was the quarterback. And what a game that he had against us. But I did learn from that negative experience, I hope the hell I learned something from that negative experience. And I'm also a little bit upset because my career didn't end in a blaze of glory, I would have liked to have rode off into the sunset. But instead, we got beat in the first round of the playoffs in the last game that I coached. And I felt at that time the team underachieved. I would have loved to have bowed out with a Super Bowl win, but it didn't happen.
Some special thoughts, 43 years in the National Football League. The commissioners, Bert Bell was the first commissioner when I broke in, and then Pete Rozelle and the tremendous things that he has done in the National Football League. And now Paul Tagliabue, who is a man that has got a lot of tough problems, but nobody can handle them better than Paul does. The 33 years as a head coach, seven with the Colts and 26 with the Dolphins. Twenty years as a member of the Competition Committee, Don you know I'm going to mention that. And some great people, Tex Schramm, who I have so much respect for. He was originally on the committee along with the late Paul Brown. Al Davis was on that committee. George Young has been so instrumental in any success that this league has had in a lot of different ways. And Don Weiss, the liaison between the committee and the league and all the tremendous times that we've had together, meeting for two weeks every year talking about players safety and playing rules. I've only been carried off the field two times, one was after the 17-0 and the other was after 325 and I'll always remember those rides. A lot of special people, family that is here today and all of the sacrifices and the loyalty and the support. Friends that have been loyal in good and bad times. Assistant coaches, Chuck Noll was an assistant that went on to win four Super Bowls. I mentioned Bill Arnsparger, Howard Schnellenberger, Monte Clark is out here, John Sandusky, Tom Keane, Moe Scarry and Carl Taseff. I'd love to see a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches to get them the recognition that they deserve. The owners that I've had the opportunity, only three, Rosenbloom, who hired me at an early age, the Robbie family and we accomplished a lot together and Wayne Huizenga, who is here with us today. And Wayne, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to win that big one with you, I think that we would've had a hell of a time together. The fans that I've been around have been the best, they have been the best. I've enjoyed my relationship with the media over a long period of time. A lot of respect for the great ones that have survived the tests of time. They're true professionals in they're field. I want to count my blessings, I've been able to do something for a lifetime that I have enjoyed doing. I've had good health and I've met a lot of great people along the way. What's life been after the National Football League? I miss the action, there's no question, on Sunday afternoon, nothing could replace that. But my wife Mary Anne, Mary Anne stand up here. She's helped keep me busy by making life interesting and enjoyable. Together we have now a combined family of eight children and eight grandchildren and were having a lot of love and happiness together.
You know it's only 50 miles but I've relished every moment of the longer route to get here. Thanks for letting me reflect on those great moments. Thank you.
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