The clock read zero, and so did the loss column for the Miami Dolphins' 1972 season. They had just defeated the Washington Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII, and the Dolphins wanted to celebrate. Never before - and never since - had an NFL team gone undefeated and won the Super Bowl.
The players hoisted their taciturn head coach, Don Shula, upon their shoulders and carried him off the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Atop his players' shoulder pads, pumping his fists, the oft-dour Shula looked joyful in that singular moment celebrating a singular accomplishment.
The celebration was still going on in the wee hours the next day when Shula arrived home to find a crowd of neighbors waiting to congratulate him.
"People wondered about our emotion, or lack of emotion, after we won some seemingly big ball games," he said on his TV show in Miami later that week. "But we saved it all up for the big one, and then we let loose after that tremendous victory, the climax of the season."
It was the biggest win of Shula's NFL coaching career, and one of the biggest in the history of the National Football League. Up to that point, he had lost two Super Bowls, and there were questions about whether he could win the big game, but the Super Bowl victory on Jan. 14, 1973, cemented Shula's status as one of pro football's finest coaches.
Until the day he died - May 4 at 90 - he considered the perfect 1972 season and his all-time NFL record of coaching victories (347, including 328 in the regular season) to be the crowning achievements of his Hall of Fame career.
Shula had only two losing seasons in 33 years as a head coach. He led his teams to the Super Bowl six times and won two of them. In 1997, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He had a volcanic temper that erupted when players or referees made mistakes. He coupled that intensity with rigorous training regimens for his players, sometimes holding four practices per day.
"I'm as subtle as a punch in the mouth," he said upon being hired in Miami in 1970.
As unbending as Shula was about discipline and preparation, he was flexible when it came to X’s and O’s and found success by adapting to his personnel.
During his earliest and most successful seasons with the Dolphins, he relied on a stout running game on offense and the "No-Name Defense" - a moniker more catchy than it was true. Through much of the 1980s and '90s, Shula's Dolphins were led by quarterback Dan Marino, one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.
The common thread that bound those disparate teams was Shula trying to control every last detail in pursuit of victory. He went so far as to map out where his assistant coaches should stand, and for how long, during practices.
"Don Shula is competitive in everything," Monte Clark, an assistant under Shula who became a head coach for the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, once told the New York Times. "He's competitive eating breakfast."
Donald Francis Shula was born in Grand River, Ohio, on Jan. 4, 1930. His father, a Hungarian immigrant, worked as a fisherman on Lake Erie, and his son often helped out but suffered from seasickness. Bouts of nausea aside, Shula never considered a life on the water anyway.
"Anything that interfered with sports upset me," he noted in his 1973 autobiography, "The Winning Edge," co-written with Lou Sahadi.
Shula played football at Cleveland's John Carroll University, where he received a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1951. He played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL for three teams, including the Washington Redskins, and had 21 career interceptions.
While an active player, Shula attended graduate school at what was then Western Reserve University in Cleveland, receiving a master's degree in physical education in 1955.
He followed his playing career with one-year stints as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia and the University of Kentucky. His first NFL job came in 1960 with the Detroit Lions, for whom he was an assistant defensive coach for three seasons.
The Baltimore Colts made Shula the youngest head coach in NFL history, up to that point, hiring him in 1963, when he was 33. In Super Bowl III, played after the 1968 season, his Colts were highly favored against the New York Jets. But Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously predicted and then delivered victory.
The loss opened a rift between Shula and Carroll Rosenbloom, the Colts owner. When the Dolphins offered Shula their head coaching position after the 1969 season, he accepted, even though the team had won just 15 games in the previous four years.
Shula quickly turned the Dolphins into a powerhouse, leading them to an appearance in Super Bowl VI against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys beat Miami, 24-3. A crushed Shula told his players to remember how miserable they felt and to do everything they could to avoid feeling that way again.
Shula’s perfect prophecy came true
In Mike Freeman's 2012 book, "Undefeated: Inside the Miami Dolphins Perfect Season," Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka quoted Shula's postgame speech: " 'We're going to take it one game at a time and win every damn game.' That's what he said. He wasn't speaking generally or in clichés. That's an important distinction. He meant: We're going to win every damn game."
When Shula's prophecy came true, it was in large part because of the ruthless discipline he demanded from his team. "He reacts to errors and mental lapses (an offensive hold, a bungled hand-off) the way fingers react to a lick of an open fire," John Underwood wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1973, "and his mouth follows suit."
The Dolphins repeated as Super Bowl champions the next season.
Some players never got used to those outbursts. But Shula maintained good relationships with most players because he had an open-door policy, Joe Zagorski, author of "The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football's Most Important Decade," said in an interview.
"He was a very rigid man, a rigid coach, with a caustic temper. But that didn't sour his approach to people," Zagorski said. "Any player who had a concern, he would let them come in and talk to him. I was surprised to learn how willing he was to accept their ideas. He was able to persuade so many of them to . . . accept why he was doing certain things."
Shula retired from coaching in 1996 and lent his name to a national chain of eponymous steak restaurants.
In 1958, he married Dorothy Bartish, and they had five children before her death in 1991. Shula married Mary Anne Stephens in 1993. Survivors include his wife and children. Two of his sons, Dave and Mike, had long coaching careers in professional and college football.
Shula lived in Indian Creek, Florida, for many years. The Dolphins announced the death but did not provide further details.
Shula's legacy as one of the greatest coaches in history is secure. But there is considerable debate about whether the 1972 Dolphins should be considered the best NFL team of all time, simply because of their 17-0 mark.
In 2013, President Barack Obama invited the surviving members of the '72 Dolphins to the Oval Office to celebrate their accomplishment. Obama acknowledged that he had once called the 1985 Chicago Bears the greatest NFL team ever - a widely held, but by no means unanimous, opinion. The Bears and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl to finish 18-1.
"The Bears lost once in their nearly perfect season," Obama said.
Interrupting the president, Shula said, "Who beat them?"
He knew full well that the Bears' sole loss was to his Miami Dolphins.