Personal memo to Don Shula: You were absolutely right. Now shut up.
It is truly a shame when an important message regarding the integrity of the National Football League and the legacies that will forever define it is unnecessarily diluted by an inadequate messenger. And despite his status as a Hall of Famer, coaching legend and NFL icon, Shula is the wrong person to be calling out Bill Belicheater in New England.
“The Spygate thing has diminished what they’ve accomplished. You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They’ve got it,” Shula correctly stated last week. “Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,000 and they lost a first-round draft choice. That tells you the seriousness or significance of what they found.”
Shula was spot-on with every point, and despite his backpedaling on the issue a couple of days later in response to media criticism, his message was loud and clear. Having such a respected member of the NFL coaching community verbalizing what fans all over America think to themselves was long overdue, especially as the “experts” continue their season-long coronation of the Patriots as the “best team in history.”
In his strongest remark, Shula even pulled out the * card:
“I guess you got the same thing as putting an asterisk by Barry Bonds’ home run record. I guess it will be noted that the Patriots were fined and a No. 1 draft choice was taken away during that year of accomplishment.”
Once again, an outstanding analysis that needed to be made by someone of influence, and there are few voices in NFL history as influential than Shula. But again, this particular man of influence is the wrong man for the job.
The problem is that Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins team, which recorded the only perfect season in NFL history, is comprised of a bunch of bitter old men who continue to cling to their accomplishment like Rosie O’Donnell to a bucket of chicken.
Each year, the ’72 Dolphins count the days until the NFL’s last undefeated team is conquered. Then, they break out the champagne and celebrate like 3-year-olds at a Wiggles concert. Dick Anderson, Nick Buoniconti, Bob Kuchenberg and others have acted like spoiled babies for 35 years and they apparently have no intention of changing now. They behave as though their entire careers are defined only by the perfect season, as if their very identities will be somehow wiped from the record books if another team were to duplicate their feat.
Someone needs to inform the grumpy old men, including coach Shula, that even if they may no longer be the only team to reach perfection in the NFL, there is still something to be said for being the first. Records are meant to be broken and the Dolphins should take heart in the fact that theirs can only be equaled anyway. A perfect season is a perfect season, whether through 17 games or 19 games, and nothing can change that.
If Bill Walsh were here to drop the asterisk on the cheaters? If Chuck Noll or Tom Landry had called out the criminals in New England? Now that would have been a statement. All legendary coaches should be offended that Belicheater has invaded their historic territory. But Don Shula as the spokesman on the issue doesn’t come off like a legend protecting the integrity of his sport. He comes off like a crotchety old man protecting the egos of a bunch of petulant old players.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.