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A Grip on Sports: When it comes to winning NFL games, no one did it better than Don Shula

Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula is carried on his team's shoulders after his 325th victory on Nov. 14, 1993, against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia. Shula, who won the most games of any NFL coach and led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history, died Monday, May 4, 2020, at his South Florida home, the team said. He was 90. (GEORGE WIDMAN / AP)
Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula is carried on his team's shoulders after his 325th victory on Nov. 14, 1993, against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia. Shula, who won the most games of any NFL coach and led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history, died Monday, May 4, 2020, at his South Florida home, the team said. He was 90. (GEORGE WIDMAN / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If you are of a certain age, you might remember the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. A bit younger and your memory might begin with the Miami Dolphins’ year of perfection – and continue with how they celebrate their uniqueness every season. There is a common denominator. Don Shula.

•••••••

• Shula was the losing coach in the first instance, the architect and winning coach in the second. And now he is no longer with us, having died this morning at age 90.

No coach won more NFL games than Don Shula. Few got his team to more championships. And he’s one of four coaches to have lost the Super Bowl four times.

In other words, he was great for a long time, his teams won game after game – a record 328 of them in the regular season and 347 overall – but winning the last one was hard. His Colts teams lost the NFL title game in 1964 and then the Super Bowl to Joe Namath’s Jets in 1969.

In the 1980s, his Dolphins’ teams made it the Super Bowl twice, losing to the Redskins in the Rose Bowl the first time, then Bill Walsh’s 49ers at Stanford the second.

In between, the Dolphins appeared in three consecutive early 1970s’ Super Bowls, losing the first one to the Dallas Cowboys and then winning the next two. The win in January of 1973, Shula’s first Super Bowl title, capped a 17-0 season, the only perfect year in the NFL’s Super Bowl era.

Shula was the epitome of the old school football coach, with the stern jaw and visage to match. He looked like the old defensive back he was, though he was smart enough to understand football changed throughout his career and he built his later teams on the strength of Dan Marino’s arm.

When the list of all-time professional football coaches are argued in taverns around America, the guy who won the most games usually is aced out in the semifinals, trailing Bill Belichick and Vince Lombardi in most fans’ eyes.

Still, that’s not a bad place to be.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12, what the heck will the college football season be like? No one knows for sure. … The conference leaders are meeting this week and that has to be the most important item on the agenda. … Justin Herbert has put Oregon behind himself and is now getting ready to be a Los Angeles Charger. … UCLA has a not-so-secret weapon in its basketball program. … If one of the Arizona State players who declared for the NBA returns, it might not be in Tempe.

Idaho: You know you are really old when you read a story about a young man, a former Vandal, ready to begin his pro career north of the border. And all you can think of is a young David Ungerer, no taller than the desk you are writing at, running around the Washington State football fields after practice. His dad was once a Cougar assistant coach.

Preps: Dave Nichols continues on his journey of introducing us to high school seniors who lost their final season to the quarantine. Up today is Gonzaga Prep, highlighted by a baseball player who also missed his junior year to injury.

Shock: Will the Shock play any games in this, their second incarnation in Spokane? Sure, just maybe not this year. The future is clouded by a virus-induced haze. Ryan Collingwood tried to clarify things a bit in this conversation with owner Sam Adams, the former Seahawk.

Seahawks: Is Cam Newton really an option at backup quarterback?

Mariners: Ryan Divish doesn’t have a crystal ball, but he does believe baseball could be back by July 1. That answer is part of his mailbag.

•••       

• Is it fun to be awoken at 4:27 in the morning because someone in your home is retching? No, no it isn’t. There was a time in my life when such a surprise may have been delivered by one of the children, but those days are long gone. Now it just happens to be the cat, who crawled up on my bed, my side of it of course, to let me know she wasn’t feeling well. Thanks so much. Guess who is washing the bedding today? Until later …

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