The NFL's all-time leader in wins set a standard for greatness
Pro football lost one of its greatest coaches with the passing of Don Shula. The NFL's all-time leader in wins and the architect of its only perfect season also epitomized class throughout his entire life.
Shula coached an unprecedented 33 consecutive seasons and only two of them were losing efforts. Along the way, he achieved greatness that few others have. Here are the 10 best moments of his football life.
10. Preserving history
Dec. 2, 1985 – Miami
The '85 Chicago Bears are mythicized by how they brutalized their opponents and would have gone undefeated had it not been for the Dolphins. The Monsters of the Midway entered the Orange Bowl for a "Monday Night Football" showdown having blanketed the Dallas Cowboys 44-0 and the Atlanta Falcons 36-0 in the previous two weeks. Members of the 1972 Dolphins stood on the sidelines as Dan Marino threw three touchdown passes in a 38-24 upset.
9. First conference title
Nov. 22, 1964 – Los Angeles
Shula became head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1963 and led them to a 12-2 record in '64. Baltimore clinched the Western Conference with a 24-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams (During this period, the only playoff consisted of the two conference champions playing for the NFL title.). Although the Colts were beaten by the Cleveland Browns 24-0 in the NFL Championship Game, the season showed that Shula was a special coach.
8. First Super Bowl berth
Jan. 2, 1972 – Miami
The Miami Dolphins had gone 3-10-1 when Shula took over as head coach after the 1969 season. He turned the team around and put them in the Super Bowl in his second season with a 21-0 shutdown of the Baltimore Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Dolphins lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3 in Super Bowl VI, but they would return to the big game with a vengeance.
7. Return to the Super Bowl
Jan. 23, 1983 – Miami
The fact that the Dolphins made Super Bowl XVII is a testament to Shula's coaching. A strike starting after Week 2 went on until November and shortened the season by seven games, prompting the NFL to create a 16-team playoff tournament. Shula kept his team focused with a 7-2 record and one of those losses was the infamous "Snowplow Game," where a spot was cleared for New England Patriots kicker John Smith to boot a field goal in a 3-0 win. In the playoffs, they took care of business, dispatching the Patriots, San Diego Chargers, and New York Jets to make Super Bowl XVII, where they lost to the Washington Redskins 27-17. It marked Shula's first trip to the Super Bowl in nine seasons, which is a lifetime in NFL coaching.
6. Sixth Super Bowl Berth
Jan. 6, 1985 – Miami
Miami was primarily a running team until they drafted Pitt quarterback Dan Marino in 1983. When Shula saw what he had in the young QB, he switched to a passing attack and the Dolphins put together a season for the ages in 1984. Miami went 14-2 and Marino became the first quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards and toss 48 touchdown passes. In the AFC Championship Game, Marino threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The win marked Shula's then-record sixth Super Bowl appearance. The Dolphins lost to the San Francisco 49ers 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX, but their 1984 campaign changed the way the NFL approached passing for good.
5. Pro Football Hall of Fame
July 26, 1997 – Canton, Ohio
Shula retired after leading the Dolphins to a 9-7 record and wild card berth in 1995. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (the time period was shorter for coaches at the time). Miami Herald reporter Edwin Pope noted that Beavis and Butthead could have made the case for Shula's induction given his rock-solid credentials. Here is the speech he gave.
4. NFL champions
Dec. 29, 1968 – Cleveland
If they had not lost Super Bowl III, Shula's 1968 Baltimore Colts would have been listed as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. The team went 13-1 and beat its opponents by an average of 18 points. The Colts' only blemish was a loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. However, Baltimore got revenge in the NFL Championship Game with a 34-0 beatdown of Cleveland. The success of this team is what made Joe Namath's guarantee and the New York Jets' upset in Super Bowl III all the more shocking.
3. Super Bowl VIII
Jan. 13, 1974 – Houston
Larry Csonka ran for 145 yards and the Dolphins held the Minnesota Vikings to 238 yards as Miami methodically built a 24-0 lead in a 24-7 win. The win marked Miami's second straight Super Bowl victory, a feat that only seven franchises have accomplished.
2. The NFL's all-time winningest coach
Nov. 14, 1993 – Philadelphia
The Dolphins beat the Philadelphia Eagles 19-14 at Veterans Stadium, giving Shula his 325th overall win and surpassing George Halas' mark of 324. He retired with 347 wins and the only active coach remotely close to touching this mark is Bill Belichick with 304.
Jan. 14, 1973 – Los Angeles
The Dolphins did something no other team has ever done in completing a perfect season that culminated with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. As time goes on and we see so many teams get eliminated from the postseason with 15-1 and 14-2 records, this achievement becomes more and more remarkable.
— Compiled by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)