Hall of Fame coach speaks from experience
MIAMI -- Don Shula knows what it takes to achieve a perfect season, and he says the New England Patriots have a chance to do it.
On the other hand, Shula says, the winless Miami Dolphins have a shot at an upset Sunday at New England.
The Hall of Fame coach has a vested interest for two reasons. He led the Dolphins for 26 years and still roots for them, and his 1972-73 teams won 18 consecutive games, an NFL record the Patriots hope to break Sunday.
Four other teams share the record, but only Shula's 1972 Dolphins went 17-0. The Patriots need 16 more wins in a row for the second perfect season in league history, which would be 19-0.
"They've got a real shot at it," Shula said Tuesday. "They've got to win a lot of games to do it, and tough teams down the road. But they certainly are a legitimate threat to do it. They're a team that's solid in every way, from ownership to coaching to the players."
That's in contrast to the 2004 Dolphins, off to their worst start since their expansion season in 1966 with four consecutive losses.
It's a level of failure foreign to Shula, who holds the NFL record with 328 coaching victories. He never endured an 0-4 start in 33 years as a coach, and 16 times he had four losses or less the entire season.
"Obviously the Dolphins are 0-4 and not happy about that," he said. "They haven't been able to put together any drives offensively. If they can get something together offensively, with the great defense they play, they've got a chance to win some games this year, and they've got a chance against New England."
Shula has phoned embattled Miami coach Dave Wannstedt to offer encouragement and notes that the unexpected retirement of Ricky Williams and a wave of injuries have contributions to Miami's woes.
"A lot of tough things have happened to Dave," Shula said. "Ricky Williams is a great player, no question. Why he made the decision to do what he's doing right now is something I'll never understand. But he made the decision, and that hurt Dave. He thinks he's set there, and all of sudden he doesn't have Ricky, and then the backups get hurt. And the quarterback situation hasn't been settled.
"It seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong. Hopefully he'll be able to salvage the season and go from there."
Maybe Wannstedt's luck is changing. Shortly after Shula spoke came word that Williams wants to rejoin the Dolphins and has asked the NFL how soon he can return.
As for the Patriots, Shula said there's no question they're the NFL's best team. He said their defense reminds him of the 1972 Dolphins, and coach Bill Belichick reminds him of Don Shula.
"The way he teaches and coaches, I believe there are a lot of similarities," Shula said. "I give him credit for not letting all the outside influences interfere with his preparation."
While Shula will be cheering Sunday for Miami, he said characterizations of the 1972 Dolphins celebrating each year when the last unbeaten team loses have been overblown.
"Our record is the perfect season," he said. "That's a record we're very proud of and protect. But by the same token, if somebody does it, I'm going to be the first guy that calls to congratulate the coach that does it. And I'm sure our players will be the first in line to congratulate the players that do it."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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