DON SHULA AND THE PERFECT NFL SEASON: I WAS AN EYEWITNESS!

IN JANUARY 1973 DON SHULA WAS ON TOP OF THE NFL WORLD.  HE RECORDED THE FIRST EVER PERFECT SEASON IN NFL HISTORY DEFEATING THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS IN SUPER BOWL VII 14-7. 

Don Shula, who won more games than any head coach in National Football League history, led the Miami Dolphins to the league’s only perfect season and helped usher pro football into its modern era, died on Monday in Florida. He was 90.

In his 33 years as a head coach, seven with the Baltimore Colts (1963-69) and 26 with the Dolphins (1970-95), his teams won 328 regular-season games — still an N.F.L. record — lost 156 and tied 6. He still holds the N.F.L. records for games coached (526) and total victories (347 — 23 more than the legendary George Halas of the Chicago Bears). His teams won 10 or more games in a season 21 times and reached the playoffs 19 times. He was coach of the year three times with the Colts.

He built fearsome defenses and explosive offenses in taking his teams, the Baltimore Colts and the Dolphins, to six Super Bowls. He won two with the Dolphins, crowning the 1972 and 1973 seasons.  Ironically, he lost back to back Super Bowla before winning back to back Super Bowls in 72 and 73.

Many folks have forgotten it was Shula who lost to Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III — one of the biggest upsets in professional sports — just three years earlier, when Shula coached the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. The game, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, gave the A.F.L. the legitimacy it craved while saddling Shula with the label of a coach unable to win on the biggest stage. It also signaled the victory of a flashier kind of football, led by an irrepressible Broadway Joe, over Shula’s blue-collar brand.  Shula definitely needed a win badly.

The 1972 Super Bowl was especially painful for me. The Dolphins won all 14 regular-season games despite losing their star quarterback, Bob Griese, to an injury in the fifth game.   They had the top-ranked offense and defense, they went on to win the three playoff games and capture Super Bowl VII, an unmatched string of victories, but Shula’s win 1n 1972 he had an assist from a woman who is never mention in that 14-7 defeat of the Washington Redskins, her name was “Lady Luck”!

After the riots in 1968 I found my non-profit organization Kids In Trouble, Inc.  In 1969 Redskin famed lawyer and owner Edward Bennett Williams  would lure a man whom many called the NFL’s greatest coach out of retirement, Vince Lombardi.  It is said that when Lombardi left Green Bay for Washington, “One town wept and the other cheered.”  Lombardi had won the first two Super Bowls and then retired.  While watching the third Super Bowl from the sidelines he got the itch for one more season.   After 9 seasons in Green Bay (called the Siberia of the NFL by players) Coach Lombardi wanted more, but this time he wanted to coach in the most powerful city in America–Washington, DC.  Edward Bennett Williams made him an offered he could not refuse.  The contract contained everything but a seat in the oval office of the White House.  Lombardi would be the head coach, GM and Vice-President of the team answering only to Edward Bennett Williams.

Following Lombardi would an unknown running back out of Kansas, Larry Brown.  Larry got off to a bad start and almost got cut.   During training camp Coach Lombardi notice Larry was always a count behind the QB getting off the ball.  He asked the team doctor to examine his hearing and there was the problem, his hearing was bad in one of his ears.  Lombardi next move was to lure legendary LB Sam Huff out of retirement.  He did and the Redskins went 7-5-2, their best won and lost record since 1955.

It looked like all NFL roads were leading to the Super Bowl, but the 1969 season would be Coach Lombardi’s last NFL season.  He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, he died in Georgetown Hospital on September 4, 1970.  There were tears in Green Bay, Washington, DC and NFL cities around the country.  Former Green Bay Packer and DC native the late Willie Wood said, “I was looking forward to being a coach on Vince’s staff one day”.

NFL Hall of Fame player Willie Wood was Vince Lombardie’s coach on the field during his nine year career in Green Bay.

In 1969 my childhood friend and my Spingarn high school teammate introduced me to Larry Brown.  We became friends and he introduced me to a brother who was a friend to everyone he met, the late great LB Harold McLinton, DB Ted Vactor was a teammate of mine with the Virginia Sailors a minor league team for the Redskins.  All three would join me in my community endeavors with Kids In Trouble.

Enter, Coach George Allen from the L. A. Rams.  He brought with him “The Over the Hill Gang”, they consisted of linebackers, Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios, Maxie Baughan, defensive tackle Diron Talbert, guard John Wilbur and special teams player Jeff Jordan.  The 1970 team went 9-4-1, the most wins by a Redskin team since 1942.  Allen’s next move was to trade for multi-talented WR-the Baltimore Colts’, Roy Jefferson.

Dave Bing, Willie Wood, Larry Brown, Harold McLinton, Ted Vactor and Roy Jefferson would be the “ORIGINAL” Kids In Trouble Santa’s Helpers.  When I found Bolling Boys Base on Bolling Air Force Base in 1971 they would join DC Superior Court Judges, Luke Moore, Eugene Hamilton, Harry T. Alexander and Chief Judge Harold Greene to cut the ribbon for the first ever half-way house on a military installation to house juvenile deliquents.

 

The NFL’s hardest runner and over worked player in 1972 MVP Larry Brown 

Fatty Taylor, Larry Brown, and Petey Greene hanging out during Kids In Trouble Hillcrest Saturday Program Community Day. 

The 1972 NFL season was sweet for Kids In Trouble because the Redskins players became regular visitors to the half-way house and the KIT Saturday Program located at 13th & W Streets NW in the heart of the inner-city.  Larry, Harold, Roy and Ted provided on field tickets for the youth for the regular season and play-off games leading to the Super Bowl.   We were seated in the end zone when the Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-3 to earn the rights to play the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl.  It was those great times with the players a lot of inner-city boys became men.

Redskin Linebackers Harold McLinton and Dave Robinson hold court keeping it real during annual Kids In Trouble Christmas toy party

NFL films video tape Larry and Harold teaching water safety to inner-city kids at Hillcrest Children’s Center Saturday Program.

The trip to LA for Super Bowl VII against Miami was bitter-sweet because the best QB Sonny Jurgensen was injuried.  George Allen’s favorite QB Billy Kilmer was slated to start, but the Redskins to a man thought they could still win with Billy.   Miami had the No. 1  offense and defense in the league on paper, but the game was still played on the field and not on paper.  The Redskins were no slouchs on offense or defense, Larry Brown was the NFL MVP, Charlie Taylor, Roy Jeffereson and Jerry Smith were the best pass catching trio in the NFL, but the question was could Billy get the ball to them?

The defense held their own holding the high powered Dolphin offense of running backs, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris and wide receiver the great Paul Warfield to 14 points.  The Dolphins keyed their defense on Larry Brown hopping the scattered arm of Billy Kilmer would be out of service.  They were right, the Dolphin defensive backs were like traffic cops directing the way to the end zone, but Billy could not get the ball to Charlie, Roy or Jerry who could be seen waving their hands and arms frantically for the ball.

Congratulations to Coach Don Shula a football life well lived RIP, but 14 points would have never have beaten Sonny Jurgensen. Luck can be a Lady!

 


On the road again Washington, DC’s Finest: Sylvia Williams-Gene Stevens-HB-Petey Greene-Judy Greene-Hattie T and a man of mystery as we prepare to go into L. A. Memorial Stadium for the history making showdown between the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins.  When we arrived back home I discovered our homeboy Marvin Gaye was sitting several rows behind us–loyal to his Redskins. 

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