In Florida, football is king. In part because college football is huge in the south. But probably one of the most dominant reason is because of Don Shula, the longtime coach of the Miami Dolphins. He was (is?) a hard-nosed, no-nonsense old school coach who took Florida's premier franchise to the promised land twice, including putting together the NFL's only unbeaten season. His relationship with Miami's favorite son, Hall of Famer Dan Marino, was almost paternal (complete with fights and hugs). His football was always tough, disciplined, and honest. How could you not love the guy? I mean, just look at that CHIN!
When Jimmy Johnson (a name Shula almost never lets pass his lips) took over after Shula's retirement, Shula found himself on the outside of the organization he brought to glory. Johnson was more concerned with his own legacy than anything that had gone on before. That meant out with Shula, in with The Hair. Four years later, Dave Wannstedt helped patch things up, but it still wasn't the same. You loved the Dolphins, but it just didn't seem right to not have Shula involved. Or at least acknowledged.
That all changed at Christmas, 2004, when Nick Saban rode into town. He welcomed Dolphins history and lore. He invited Shula back to the clubhouse. He recognized that a team is not merely a collection of players, but an entity that lives in people's hearts and minds. And while the only focus during practice is the next game, the next series, the next play, running an NFL team is more than the 53 guys on the field.
So when Don Shula, arguably one of the greatest NFL coaches ever, says "Nick Saban has got `em headed in the right direction," you sit up and take notice. And then when he says, "It looks like they're good enough to contend [for the Super Bowl]" you almost get as giddy as a schoolgirl.
Well, I do at least.
JP: Go here to buy your Don Shula bobblehead.