On an unseasonably warm November day in Philadelphia, the Dolphins helped Don Shula make NFL history exactly 25 years ago.
When the Dolphins pulled out a 19-14 victory Nov. 14, 1993 against the Eagles with their third-string quarterback playing most of the second half, Shula became the winningest coach in NFL history.
It was his 325th victory, allowing him to pass George Halas for first on the all-time list.
Before he was done, Shula would tack on 22 more victories, closing out a career that would land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 347 victories.
The record-breaker 25 years ago wasn’t particularly memorable beyond its historical significance, although it showed Shula’s uncanny ability to adjust.
The coach who won two Super Bowl titles with a run-heavy offense and went to another with perhaps the greatest passer the NFL has ever seen, found a way to pull out that 325th victory with a quarterback who had never thrown a regular season pass.
That quarterback was Doug Pederson, the same Doug Pederson who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl title last season. Pederson, who had bounced on and off the Dolphins practice squad after first joining the team as a rookie free agent out of Northeast Louisiana, had to come into the game early in the second half after starter Scott Mitchell sustained a shoulder injury while scrambling out of the pocket.
As Dolphins fans know too well, Mitchell was in the lineup because this was the year Dan Marino tore his Achilles tendon in an early-October game at Cleveland.
The Dolphins trailed 14-13 when Pederson entered the game, but marched to a first-and-goal at the Eagles 1-yard line after a takeaway. Pederson, however, fumbled the snap and Philadelphia recovered to end the threat.
On the ensuing possession, cornerback Troy Vincent recovered a fumble at the Eagles 27-yard, setting up a Pete Stoyanovich field goal that gave the Dolphins a 16-14 lead.
Pederson led a 45-yard drive, which featured two of his three completions in the game, to set up another Stoyanovich field goal that made it 19-14.
It was up to the defense to make the lead stand, though the Eagles drove to the Miami 22-yard line with under three minutes late. On fourth-and-4, quarterback Ken O’Brien — yes, that Ken O’Brien — dropped back to pass and the ball slipped out of his hand. Defensive end Jeff Cross fell on the loose ball and was credited with his third sack of the game.
Philadelphia got the ball back one last time, but its drive started at its own 1-yard line with 25 seconds left. Two short completions later, the clock ran out and a group of Dolphins players — offensive linemen Keith Sims and Richmond Webb led the way — lifted Shula and gave him a victory ride.
In the victorious locker room, Webb presented Pederson with the game ball.
But the man of the hour clearly was Shula.
He had arrived at 325 victories 30 years after his first season as a head coach with the Baltimore Colts, 23 years after joining the Dolphins in a move that changed the fortunes of the franchise.
Shula’s 100th victory came in 1972 against the San Diego Chargers in the game where veteran Earl Morrall had to come in to replace injured quarterback Bob Griese; victory number 200 was a 30-27 overtime decision against the New England Patriots in November 1981; and number 300 was a 16-13 squeaker against the Green Bay Packers in 1991 where the biggest play of the game was a fumble recovery in the end zone by nose tackle Chuck Klingbeil.
Shula was 63 at the time he became the NFL’s all-time leader in coaching victories and one month removed from his wedding to Mary Anne.
The victory gave the Dolphins a 7-2 record on the season.
He had tied Halas two weeks earlier with a 30-10 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, but was forced to wait a week to break the record because of a loss against the New York Jets on Nov. 7.
“It’s really a tremendous relief and I feel really emotional right now,” Shula said after the game. “This one will be special because of the way we won it. They hung so tough to win a game that meant so much to me.”