The Super Bowl memories come flowing back for Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, even though he never played or coached in one.
That’s because his father is Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, who will be in attendance Sunday when the Panthers play Denver in Super Bowl 50.
“I feel so lucky, not because of my dad’s last name and who he was, but just because he’s my father,” said the younger Shula, 50, a former Alabama quarterback who was a reserve for the 1987 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He’ll be going headset to headset Sunday with Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, also the son of a legendary coach. The late Bum Phillips rose from the ranks of high school coaches in his home state of Texas to become head coach of the Houston Oilers and then the New Orleans Saints.
“I’m my father’s son, that’s for sure,” said Wade Phillips, 68, who oversees one of the NFL’s most stifling defenses in years. “I was around football and around him my whole life. . . . He shaped pretty much everything.”
But there’s no denying that this game’s most enticing matchup is Carolina’s top-scoring offense, which averaged 31.2 points this season, and Denver’s defense, which allowed fewer yards than any other NFL team and gave up 18.5 points a game, fourth-best in the league.
Both men are highly complimentary of each other, just as their fathers were. Bum Phillips famously said: “Don Shula can take his’n and beat your’n, or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”
Reminded of that in a phone interview this week, the 86-year-old Shula said: “I took that as quite a compliment. Funny way of saying it.”
Wade Phillips has been both a head coach and defensive coordinator in his nearly four decades in the NFL, and he’s been best suited for the coordinator job, this season assembling a defense that finished No. 1 overall and against the pass, and No. 3 against the run, surrendering only 33 more yards rushing than first-place Seattle.
“He’s one of the best guys at getting things and letting you play your game,” Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan said of Phillips. “He puts you in the best position possible. He doesn’t really yell at you, he makes you feel like it’s on you. You want to go out there and play and you don’t want to mess up for him. You don’t want to mess up for yourself because you feel like you owe him.”
“It’s kind of strange,” the younger Phillips said. “My dad was in the league like 16 years and this is my 38th year. I’ve learned a lot of things as I’ve gone along and certainly made a lot of mistakes. He had great common sense. Some guys are great at Xs and O’s and he knew that, but he had great common sense of when to do things and what things to do. I like to emulate that, but it’s hard to do.”
Now for those Super Bowl memories. Mike Shula remembers Super Bowl VI, when he was a 6-year-old sitting in the frigid upper deck of Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, watching his father’s Miami Dolphins play Dallas.
“I can remember getting a hot dog, and it was ice cold,” he said.
Colder still were the Dolphins, who were on the wrong end of a 24-3 defeat.
The following season, Shula’s Dolphins won all 17 games for a “perfect season,” something no NFL team has matched in the modern era. The season culminated with a 14-7 win over Washington in Super Bowl VII at Coliseum.
“The biggest thing I can remember from that year was that my mom had just bought me a red transistor radio,” Mike Shula said. “I thought that was awesome because I could listen to the game while I was watching it.”
In 1973-74, the Dolphins made the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season, facing the mighty Minnesota Vikings. Miami had a 17-0 halftime lead in that game, en route to a 24-7 victory.
“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 very 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 a touchdown. There was a penalty on the play though. Those are things you remember as a kid.”