Joe Theismann has more than a few stories to share about the late Don Shula, who passed away at his home this week.
Shula won two Super Bowls, but had it not been for Theismann and the Redskins in Super Bowl 17, there could have been a third.
Washington defeated the Dolphins 27-17 with Theismann as their quarterback, but in Shula’s eyes, Theismann was on the wrong side of the field.
After all, Theismann was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 1971 draft, 99th overall. But the negotiations over his bonus, according to Theismann, stopped him from stepping on the field.
"I was surprised it was a fourth-round pick by the Miami Dolphins. Actually, it was their third pick in the draft because they had to give up their number one to Baltimore when Coach Shula left there to go to the Miami Dolphins and I went and tried to negotiate the contract myself," he remembered. "First mistake I made, business mistake, and [Joe] Robbie was the owner, Joe Thomas was their general manager. [Thomas] was having heart surgery so I negotiated with Mr. Robbie. I remember sitting in the office, sat down, he said 'what do you want the numbers?'"
Theismann put out $45,000 and $55,000 with a $35,000 signing bonus.
To his surprise, Robbie agreed.
"I'm thinking, that isn’t the way this works. I’m reading all these books on negotiations and all of a sudden he gave me what I wanted," he remembered.
So Shula and the Dolphins, according to Theismann, thought the deal was done. But Theismann had also been drafted by the Toronto Argonauts.
The deal with the Dolphins got stuck with a back-and-forth on how the bonus would be paid out and eventually, Theismann said he was tired of the whole process and instead of joining Shula's team, ended up in Toronto.
That wasn’t the end of their story. After spending his first three years with the Argonauts, in 1974, the Redskins traded a first-round draft pick to the Dolphins for the rights of Theismann. Theismann puts it, the rest is history, but admits, playing for Shula would have been special.
“I really would have loved to, I think, played for Coach Shula, he was kind of coach I could appreciate, he was tough, he was stern,” said Theismann. “Everybody I’ve talked to that has played for him, he was a tough coach to play for, but he did things the way he wanted to do it. People say the same thing about Bill Belichick today, he’s a tough coach, he has demands, he demands things of you, if you can't do em, you won't be there. I think Coach Shula was pretty much that way as well.”
The respect for each other was certainly there, but it took some time before there was any friendliness.
“He didn't like me for a number of years and then all of a sudden we play them in the Super Bowl and we beat him, which I’m sure he didn’t like me much more after that either.”
It was the last time they faced each other on the field, but their paths would cross again. “It was Super Bowl 19, when the Dolphins went out to play in Palo Alto California, the San Francisco 49ers. I happened to be in the broadcast booth with Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, he saw me again, and lost that Super Bowl.”
Theismann tells these stories fondly, because in the end, they were able to move past how it all started.
“As time went on Coach and I became friends and my heart goes out to his family," he said. “When you think of icons and legends and great people, great coaches, Coach Shula comes straight to the top of the list.”
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