Perfection and Protecting Perfection

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Only Don Shula has experienced perfection as an NFL coach.

Shula also has excelled in the role of spoiler.

The NFL has been around for 94 years and only one team has managed a perfect season -- Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins, who ran off 17 consecutive victories on the way to their first Lombardi Trophy.

And Shula did it the hard way -- with a backup quarterback starting 11 of those games through the heart of the season. Aging Earl Morrall, filling in for an injured Bob Griese, threw 12 TD passes in his 11 victories to earn All-Pro acclaim.

There have been 12 other NFL teams that navigated a season with just one defeat (and no ties). Nine of them won championships. Arguably, the two best of that bunch were the 1962 Green Bay Packers and the 1985 Chicago Bears.

The 1962 Packers were the greatest team of the NFL’s greatest dynasty. Green Bay won five NFL titles in a span of seven seasons (1961-67) under Vince Lombardi. That 1962 team was the centerpiece with 10 Hall of Famers plus a Hall of Fame coach.

Three other Packers on that 1962 team were selected to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team but have not been enshrined in Canton: guard Jerry Kramer, wide receiver Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. No team in history has ever trotted out more talent and skill onto a football field.

The 1985 Bears fielded what has been widely regarded as the greatest defense of the NFL’s modern era. Chicago allowed the fewest yards and points in the NFL that season. The Bears went 18-1 and held 14 of their conquests to 10 points or fewer. Seven opponents failed to score a touchdown and four were shut out.

Plug in Walter Payton on offense and those Bears would control the football for more than 34 minutes per game, tops of any Super Bowl champion. Payton and defenders Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Dan Hampton have busts in Canton.

The only losses suffered by the 1962 Packers and 1985 Bears were orchestrated by Shula.

In 1962, Shula was the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. The Packers rolled into Detroit that season with a 10-0 record for their annual Thanksgiving Day clash. But Shula’s defensive gameplan dismantled the mighty Packers that day.

Detroit sacked Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr 11 times, including once in the end zone for a safety, as the Lions built a 23-0 halftime lead on the way to a 26-14 victory in the first Thanksgiving game ever televised nationally.

Perfection denied.

“People booed when our offense came on the field,” Shula recalled. “They wanted to see our defense play the whole ballgame. We took Lombardi, Starr and the Green Bay offense completely apart. It was complete domination. It made me very proud.”

Shula’s brilliance that day caught the attention of the Baltimore Colts, who hired him as their head coach two months later.

Shula coached the Colts for seven seasons, taking them to a Super Bowl, before moving to Miami as head man of the Dolphins in 1970. He was on the Miami sideline in 1985 when the Bears visited south Florida with a 12-0 record for a Monday night game.

A national television audience watched that night as the Dolphins sprinted out to a 31-10 halftime lead on the way to a 38-24 victory.

Perfection denied.

“All of our alumni from that 17-0 season were there,” Shula recalled. “They knew the Bears had a great, great opportunity to beat our record. When you pulled into the parking lot, you could sense the excitement and electricity.

“In the pre-game warmup, everyone was so fired up. They couldn’t wait for the game to start. It was one of those magical nights in coaching and playing. The first half was probably the best first half of football I’ve ever been around.

“That was one of the great jobs of my coaching career.”

Shula is in the Hall of Fame with a record 347 victories. He remains the only coach in history to both produce and protect a perfect season.

Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN

Don Shula

*Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins