Don Shula was not only the only NFL coach to go undefeated in a season, he was a man of great sporting integrity. Hall of Famer Larry Csonka tells a story about an ethical choice that faced the late Miami coach the season after their undefeated 1972 championship season:
“We went into Oakland on a Friday and we were gonna practice there on Saturday. But because of construction in the stadium, we had to use their training room. They had practiced earlier in the day, they cleared out, and we used their locker room. I picked [defensive lineman] Art Thoms’ locker, because I’d played with him in college at Syracuse. I was gonna leave him a note in his locker—dead fish or something, mess with him a little bit. So I’m sitting in his locker, going through it to find something to write on. I find the Oakland Raiders game plan. Now that can be construed a couple of different ways. Knowing what they’re going to do . . . it’s their fault for leaving it there. Is it the right thing to do? Unquestionably it’s not the right thing to do. Was it cheating? I don’t know. It’s a fine line. I went and handed that report, quite quietly, to [offensive line coach and Shula confidant] Monte Clark. He said, ‘What’s this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never seen it before.’ I walked away.
“Here’s the bottom line: We lost the game. Even with the game report, we lost the game. After the game, I’m riding on the bus. Monte Clark sits down next to me on the bus. I said, ‘Monte, what the hell did you do with the game report?’ He said, ‘I took it to Shula and when he asked what it was, I told him. He said, ‘Tear it up. If we can’t beat ‘em straight up, we shouldn’t beat ‘em.’”
That, even more than the man’s undefeated season, is a legacy worth leaving behind.