His father was coaching the Miami Dolphins and went to the Super Bowl three consecutive seasons, but for Mike it was simply a neat experience of sitting in the stands and watching a game with his mother and his siblings.
Now 50 and preparing for his first Super Bowl as an assistant coach, Shula has a full appreciation of what it is his father was able to accomplish and what it means to play on this grandest of stages.
“It’s funny, the first (Dolphins Super Bowl) against Dallas when I was 6, I remember sitting in the upper deck and it was so cold,” Shula said during Super Bowl 50 Opening Night, previously known as Media Day. “It was in New Orleans. I can remember getting a hot dog, and it was ice cold. The next year, the year they won it, I can remember that I was in the stands, and the biggest thing I remember from that year was that my mom had just bought me a red transistor radio. I thought that was awesome because I could listen to the game while I was watching it.
“Then, without trying to bore you guys, the next year they were playing the Vikings and they had a lead at halftime, and I remember they had these flags for each team, and the one for Miami said, ‘Dolphins No. 1; Vikings eat your heart out.’ I said, ‘Mom let me get it. I want to get it.’ She said, ‘No, it’s only halftime. We have a long way to go.’ I talked her into getting it, and sure enough, the opening kickoff of the second half, the Vikings return it for (65 yards). There was a penalty on the play, though. Those are the little things you remember as a kid.”
Indeed, John Gilliam’s long kickoff return was called back and the Dolphins cruised to a 24-7 victory to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Don Shula ended up coaching in six Super Bowls during his Hall of Fame career; the first one came when he was coaching the Baltimore Colts and Mike was 3 and the last came with the Dolphins when Mike was 17.
“The early ones that he won, (I remember) just little things, not much about the game, but just being in the stands with my mom and my brothers and sisters,” Mike said. “The ones that he got to later on when I was in high school, just how exciting it was getting there because I knew more about what it meant then as I was in high school and then in college, how hard it was to get there and then how tough it was after the loss.”
Mike turned 7 years old in June of 1972, three months before the Dolphins began what became the greatest season in NFL history, the 17-0 ride of 1972 capped by the 14-7 victory against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“I remember more about the season and just how loud it was sitting in the stands at the Orange Bowl with everyone waving the white hankies, going in and out of the press box with my mom and not knowing what it was really all about except that it was exciting,” Mike said. “Your dad was popular and you were popular at school. Then as I got older, I understood it more as I spent more time around the team and in the locker room and listening to his pregame, halftime and postgame speeches. Win or lose, I just thought that was, I mean, how you can tie in football and life, that’s what it is all about.”
A few teams have made a run at perfection through the years, and Mike played a key role this season in the Panthers getting off to a 14-0 start before they lost against the Atlanta Falcons in their next-to-last regular season game. Under his guidance, Carolina led the league in points scored and finished second in rushing offense.
Don Shula has been very clear all along he would have been thrilled for his son to be able to match his feat of going through an entire season and postseason without a loss.
The Dolphins coaching legend has enjoyed this football season immensely, make no mistake about it, and he was planning on heading up to California for another — and different kind of — Super Bowl.
“He’s excited,” Mike said. “He’s a dad first. He and (his wife) Mary Anne are very happy for us. It has been fun this year. Each and every year, as you guys know, when there is a team that is heading down the road and they haven’t lost, they start getting him more interviews and more quotes, and we always kind of chuckle because they are in the paper more. Well, this year it was fun because we were the team doing it. We were the team keeping those guys in the paper. He has always been extremely supportive and one of our biggest fans.”