In August 1995 I was looking for an advance story for the Dolphins' trip to Orlando to play the Tampa Bay Bucs in the preseaon finale. It occurred to me that Miami fans might be interested to learn what it's like to be on the road with the team, so I decided to do some digging and share what I learned.
Part of my research for the story included finding out just how well coach Don Shula was treated. And yes, the winningest coach of all time had it pretty good when the team went on the road.
I found out Shula typically got the nicest room in whatever hotel the team was staying, and usually that was a suite in a very high and security-guarded floor.
I also asked Dolphins media relations man Harvey Greene if there were any luxuries Shula typically got in his room. Well, I found out Shula got flowers, and candies, and sandwiches, and in the suite's refrigerator, he wanted beer.
Not just any beer -- Beck's beer.
And not just a couple of cans of beer but a case of beer, which by most definitions is 24 cans of beer.
So I wrote the story and thought nothing else about it -- until I arrived at the Orlando hotel where the team was staying. When I walked in the lobby entrance, I was immediately intercepted by Greene, who told me that I was probably directly responsible for his being fired.
Seems Shula had read my article and had
freaked out become disturbed about the unwritten conclusion everyone must have reached after finishing the story, namely, that I was saying Shula was an alcoholic. Shula asked Greene how I came to find out he had so many beers in his suite every road trip and Greene told him he had told me.
So Shula chewed on poor Harvey's butt for the entire bus trip from the Orlando airport to the hotel, leaving the team's public relations man visibly and understandably rocked.
Anyway, the following day came and Greene was still employed. And today he remains employed by the Dolphins as their senior vice president-media relatons. He is one of the best in the business, if not the best.
So I figured the episode was over.
And I figured wrong.
A few days later, I showed up alone to the training facility and sat down on a bench that used to be stationed just outside the locker room. After going for his routine noon run on the adjacent practice field, Shula would usually come over and sit with me on the bench and talk to me. And today was no different in that he came over and sat next to me.
It was usually a pleasant talk between us. Not this time. Not when Shula's first words to me this day were, "What the [bleep] were you doing by writing that [bleep] about me drinking beer?" Shula asked angrily.
Coach, I never wrote you drank all that beer. I wrote the beer was stocked in your fridge.
"You [bleep]. Everyone out there thinks I'm a drunk now," Shula said. "You made me look like a horse's ass. I don't drink all that beer, most of the times I don't even have one. I have that beer in there in case I have guests or if the assistants come up to the room.
"But you made it sound like I'm a [bleeping] drunk every time the team goes on the road. People are probably thinking I'm staggering around the team hotel drunk the night before games. It's not like I'm a kid anymore, I can't drink all that beer. Maybe when I was younger, but not anymore. But you made me sound like a [bleeping] drunk, you [bleep]."
It was the most anger Shula ever directed at me. It was actually the only time Shula was mad at me at all, which is saying something considering I covered him from 1990-95.
But the moment served me well. It gave me a glimpse of the venom Shula could direct at people when he was angry at them. It was an education.
And I learned something else very valuable about Shula that day. He could explode in anger one moment and move on as if nothing had happened soon afterward.
The next day, I came out to the training facility around lunch time and sat on the bench as I usually did, this time expecting the worst. And after his routine lunch time jog, Shula came over to the bench and talked with me.
As if nothing had happened.