WEST VALLEY CITY — The trick to great steaks, Hall of Fame football coach Don Shula says, is in the cuts. His credo in the restaurant business — as well as the quarterback business — is to never settle for the low-grade stuff.
If you’re at Shula’s 347 Grill, which just opened in West Valley City, you have your eight-ounce filet mignon, your 14-ounce New York strip and your 16-ounce “Cowboy” ribeye — all fine meats, in Shula’s opinion. He’ll steak, er, stake his reputation on it.
That philosophy applied to his quarterbacks, too. He coached Johnny Unitas, who he terms “the toughest, mentally and physically, that I’ve ever been around he’d get up all bloody and battered and just get up and run the next play.”
Shula also coached Earl Morrall, a sometimes underappreciated signal-caller “who’s just a guy that all he ever did was win games.” Then there was Bob Griese, a Hall of Famer that Shula calls “a field general” that managed the offense masterfully. Lastly there was Dan Marino, “the best pure passer ever to play the game.”
Whether it’s football or food, it’s hard to argue Shula’s success. The West Valley restaurant is the 36th associated with his name. As for football, he won 347 games in his career, first on the all-time list. The most successful current coach, New England’s Bill Belichick, would need 10 wins a year for 14 more seasons to approach that.
All that winning didn’t happen quickly, but it leaped ahead in 1972 when Shula’s Miami Dolphins went 17-0, becoming the only team in history to go undefeated. It has been 40 years since, but, as Shula points out, if you add the previous 50 years, only one team in 90 seasons has won all its games.
That’s not bragging, it’s just sayin’.
A lot of legend surrounds that ’72 team, including the one that says when the last undefeated team falls each year, his famous team celebrates.
“They say we have a champagne toast, but we really don’t,” Shula says. “I know a couple of guys — Dick Anderson and Nick Buoniconti — live near each other and they go out in the parking lot and bust open a bottle of champagne and toast.”
He pauses for effect and adds, “They’re too cheap to invite the rest of us.”
But winning isn’t the only distinguishing thing about that team. It also produced the best “blunders” highlight ever. Garo Yepremian had his field goal blocked late in the Super Bowl, with the Dolphins ahead 14-0. Instead of falling on the ball, Yepremian picked it up and tried to pass. He instead swatted the ball into the hands of Washington cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it for a touchdown.
The story just gets better with age.
“When that happened, he went off the end line of the end zone and I haven’t seen him since,” Shula jokes.
Blunder-ful highlights aside, the NFL has taken on a serious tone in recent years, due to the concerns about head injuries. Discussion has reached such a level that Baltimore’s Bernard Pollard has predicted the league won’t exist in 30 years, due to rule changes. Shula spent more than two decades on the competition committee, which met for two weeks annually to discuss player safety.
His advice for the 2013 NFL is the same as when he was a coach. The league’s admonishment is “head’s up” to prevent serious injuries; Shula’s was “See what you hit.”
At the same time, he doesn’t expect the game’s action to change so much that it loses its appeal.
“I don’t think they’ll ever try to make it into flag football,” Shula says.
That doesn’t mean the game is the same as it was in 1972. From the old, pocket-passing quarterbacks of the Griese/Marino era has come a new breed of run/pass threats such as Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III.
Great athletes, one and all, Shula says.
But does every team need such a quarterback? Not necessarily.
“I think if you can surround them with good running backs where they can hand off to keep the defense honest, then when he drops back, he’s going to have that little extra time to throw the football and won’t have to scramble,” Shula says.
Still, he adds, the multi-faceted quarterbacks are “amazing” weapons.
The filet of modern filets, if you want to put it that way.
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