In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
History is made at Riverfront Stadium, as father and son head coaches face each other in the NFL for the first time. The Miami Dolphins were led by Don Shula, the all-time winningest coach while Dave Shula coached the Cincinnati Bengals. Dad’s Dolphins would get the best of Dave’s Bengals 23-7 in a nationally televised on Sunday Night. Miami also won the rematch a year later 26-23.
The game was dubbed the Shula Bowl as father coached against son for the first time in the NFL’s 75-year history. Don Shula had come into the game, as the NFL’s all-time winningest coach having topped the old record held by George Halas in 1993. The elder Shula was in his 25th season as the coach of the Miami Dolphins, having taken them from expansion struggles to the playoffs in his first season in 1970. Before arriving in Miami, Shula was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts from 1963-1969. He had been one of the NFL’s youngest coaches at the age of 33 when he got the job in 1963. A year later, he led the Colts to the NFL Championship Game, which they lost to the Cleveland Browns 27-0.
The Colts remained a top contender in the NFL under Don Shula over the next three years, but they could not get past the Green Bay Packers. In 1968, the Colts won the NFL Championship after a 13-1 season with Earl Morrall playing in place of Johnny Unitas. The New York Jets 16-7 in Super Bowl III would upset the Colts, setting the stage for Shula’s exit in Baltimore. After a disappointing 8-5-1 record in 1969, Don Shula signed to coach the Miami Dolphins.
The move to Miami was highly controversial, as the Dolphins did not seek Baltimore’s permission to negotiate with Don Shula. Since the deal was in place before the merger formally took place, Shula was allowed to go to the Dolphins in exchange for a first-round draft pick. Had the merger taken place, the NFL likely would have voided the deal. The Colts would win Super Bowl V, with Shula’s replacement Don McCafferty. The Dolphins meanwhile, made the playoffs in Shula’s first season. In year two, Shula’s Dolphins beat the Colts to advance to Super Bowl VI, which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3.
In 1972, there would be no beating Miami Dolphins, as they posted the only perfect season in NFL history, capping it with a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Miami would repeat a year later, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII. The early Dolphins teams were led by a strong defense and a bruising rushing attack. In the 1980’s he used the Killer Bee Defense to reach Super Bowl XVII, losing to the Redskins 27-17. Two years later with Dan Marino leading the way, the Dolphins returned to the big game, this time falling to the San Francisco 49ers 38-16. Over the next decade, Marino would become the NFL’s top passer, but the Dolphins could not return to the big game. They would be one of the NFL’s most consistent teams, as Miami only had two sub .500 seasons during Don Shula’s tenure.
Don Shula’s sons followed him into the coach profession. His older son Dave was born May 28, 1959, while he was serving as a Defensive Coordinator with the Detroit Lions. After graduating from Dartmouth, Dave Shula had one season in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts as a Wide Receiver, before joining his father’s staff in 1982. The younger Shula left Miami and worked as an Offensive Coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and 1990, before moving on to being an assistant under Sam Wyche with the Cincinnati Bengals. After Wyche left, Shula became the head coach in Cincinnati in 1992. Don’s youngest son Mike born in Baltimore on June 3, 1965, a quarterback at Alabama also became an NFL assistant coach, briefly working on his dad’s staff.
The Dolphins were off to a strong start in 1994, having won three of their first four games, while the Bengals were 0-4, heading into Shula Bowl I. Early on things looked good for Cincinnati, as they took an early 7-0 on a 51-yard pass from David Klingler to Darnay Scott on the first series of the game. On the next series, the Bengals drove down into Miami territory again but failed to score as Doug Pelfrey missed a 47-yard field goal. The Dolphins would answer in the second quarter as Pete Stoyanovich hit a 28-yard field goal. Miami would get the lead just before halftime, as Dan Marino hit Keith Byars on an 11-yard screen pass.
The Dolphins began the second half with a long drive that was capped with a four-yard touchdown pass from Marino to Mark Ingram. Miami would control the entire second half as they got two field goals from Stoyanovich in the fourth quarter to win the game 23-7. Dan Marino led the way completing 26 of 35 passes for 204 yards, and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, David Klingler had four turnovers for Cincinnati, with three interceptions and a fumble.
The Dolphins would win the AFC East with a 10-6 record in 1994, as the Bengals finished 3-13 after a 0-8 start. The Shulas would meet again 364 days later, as the Dolphins won again 26-23 in Cincinnati. It would be Don Shula’s final season as he stepped down following the 1995 season, posting a lifetime record of 347-173-6. Dave Shula meanwhile was fired midway through the 1996 season, posting a record of 19-52. Younger son Mike has yet to be a head coach in the NFL, though he did serve as the head man at Alabama for four seasons before being replaced by Nick Saban in 2007. Today, Mike Shula is the Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants.