Don Shula is known for winning a lot of games as an NFL head coach. For those in need of a reminder of just how many, make a reservation at one of the Shula 347 Grills in Coral Gables, Lake Mary or Tallahassee.
Of those 347 wins, 276 came while he was coaching the Miami Dolphins. Until the Buccaneers came to Tampa and the Jaguars to Jacksonville, the Dolphins were Florida’s team for a decade.
Two of Shula’s career victories came on memorable Christmas Day games. The first is the most legendary sporting event ever contested on December 25 as the NFL played on Christmas Day for the first time ever.
It was on that day in 1971 that Miami and the Kansas City Chiefs played the longest NFL game in history. On their way to the Super Bowl that year, the Dolphins outlasted the Chiefs 27-24 in double overtime.
This struggle between the reigning NFL champions and the up-and-coming Dolphins went back and forth until Santa Claus gave the Dolphins another gift that day. The Chiefs’ reliable kicker, Jan Stenerud, had an easy 31-yarder to give Kansas City the victory.
Inexplicably, he missed, sending the game to overtime. When Garo Yepremian drilled a 37-yarder in the second overtime, Miami and Don Shula had made history in more ways than one.
Three weeks later, the Dolphins were playing in their first Super Bowl. They were pounded by the Dallas Cowboys 24-3 in Super Bowl VI, but that game and that season put Shula and the Dolphins on the path to excellence for years to come.
By being so good for so long, Shula approached the record for most regular season coaching victories held by legendary Chicago Bears’ Coach George Halas. On December 25, 1994 the Dolphins hosted the Detroit Lions in a night game with a playoff berth on the line.
Dan Marino did not throw a single touchdown pass that night, but Bernie Parmalee rushed for three scores and the Dolphins won, 27-20. The victory was the 319th regular season win, putting him first all-time.
Shula had passed Halas the previous season for total combined wins. He would go on to post 328 regular season wins, plus 19 in the post season.
Shula has several off-the-field Christmas memories over his long life (he will be 87 in January). When it comes to football, he also has every reason to smile each December 25.