His famous jaw never slacked. His eyes never teared. Don Shula was the epitome of the great coach Saturday as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Shula was in full control as he recounted the 67-year journey from Grand River, Ohio, to “the ultimate honor.” He spoke of the early days - his first coaching job was when he was in eighth grade, when he was placed in charge of watching over sibling triplets who were in the first grade. He mentioned the playing days at John Carroll University and in the NFL.
He reflected on the great triumphs as the winningest coach in pro football history. He referred to the disappointments, too.
At no time was Shula off-stride. And that’s just what anyone who played for him or against him would have expected.
“I was able to do something for a lifetime that I enjoy doing,” said Shula, who along with New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, Raiders and Patriots cornerback Mike Haynes and Pittsburgh and Kansas City center Mike Webster, were inducted into the Hall in ceremonies delayed by a morning deluge.
“I’ve relished every moment of the long route to get here. Thanks for letting me reflect on those moments.”
Shula, the first inductee introduced by two people - his sons David and Mike, both of whom have followed him into the NFL as coaches - won 347 games, averaging 10 victories a year for his 33 seasons. He also had the highest winningest percentage of any coach, .660, and was the only man to guide a team (the 1972 Dolphins) through an undefeated season.
When asked if he was the greatest coach in NFL history, Shula demurred slightly.
“I don’t know how you measure those things … I always thought that’s why they keep statistics and wins and losses,” he said.
Mike Shula said his father was the NFL’s national monument and David told of how Don forged his signature on a permission slip to play football in the eighth grade, when his mother would not give her approval.
And Don, who coached in six Super Bowls, winning in 1972 and ‘73, wondered what might have happened if he’d ignored the NFL when he graduated from John Carroll and accepted an assistant coaching spot that also included teaching math at a Canton high school.
“I might have been a principal by now,” he said.
Instead, he became a coaching icon.
Mara joined his father Tim, the founder of the Giants, as the first father-son duo in the Hall. With tears welled in his eyes, he spoke reverently of his brother Jack, who died in 1965 of a heart attack.
“I overwhelmingly feel I come to you as a surrogate,” he said. “If not for his untimely death, Jack Mara would certainly have taken his place to form the first father-and-son team.”
Mara, 80, has been involved with the Giants since 1925, when he sat on the bench for the team’s first game. He’s overseen the growth of the franchise into one of the most successful in league history.
Haynes, considered the best cover cornerback in the NFL in his time, was, in essence, the first significant free agent in league history. In 1983, he forced a trade from the Patriots to the Raiders after his contract expired with New England.
Webster was introduced by his former quarterback and another member of the Hall, Terry Bradshaw, who asked Webster to “just one more time, let me take that snap.” He then produced a football, which Webster dutifully snapped to him before they embraced.
Webster, who recently has been through difficult times because of mental, physical and financial problems, gave an inspiring, though rambling speech in which he implored the audience to “finish the game.”
“You don’t fail unless you don’t finish the game,” he said. “If you finish, you win.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.