Bud Grant and Don Shula were extremely competitive with each other but they also were friends. So Grant came up with a plan in the 1970s to help alleviate any possible friction.
Grant was coaching the Vikings, and Shula, who died Monday at the age of 90, was coaching the Miami Dolphins.
“I said one time before a game, ‘Don, one of us is not going to be happy after this game, so let’s not shake hands after the game,’ ” Grant said Monday in a phone interview. “He said, ‘I like that.’ So we agreed to never shake hands after a game from then on.”
Grant, who turns 93 on May 20, said he was saddened by the death of Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history with 328 victories. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Grant was enshrined in 1994, Shula in 1997. They coached against each other in Super Bowl VIII in January 1974, with the Dolphins winning 24-7.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Grant said. “He was a great competitor. He worked at it and was a coach who really enjoyed his work and was very, very successful at it. He needs to be recognized for it. The NFL needs to name something after him. There should be a trophy with his name on it.”
Shula won two of six Super Bowls he coached in. He is best known for leading the Dolphins to the NFL’s only undefeated and untied season in 1972.
Shula coached the Baltimore Colts from 1963-69 and the Dolphins from 1970-95. Grant coached the Vikings from 1967-83 and in 1985. Their teams played nine times in the regular season and playoffs. Shula’s teams went 6-2-1 against Grant’s teams.
While Shula won more times on the football field, Grant seemed to get some measure of revenge on the racquetball court. The two often battled at offseason meetings in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I was a little bit better than him in racquetball, so I won more games,” Grant recalled. “He was very competitive, and he didn’t like to lose. He didn’t like to lose at cards or golf or anything. It was just his personality, and that’s what made him a great coach.”
The first playoff game in Vikings history featured Grant’s team losing to Shula’s Colts 24-14 in 1968. The next season, the Vikings delivered some payback when Joe Kapp tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a resounding 52-14 victory in September 1969.
“Everything went right in that game,” Grant said. “We got to the end and I put (reserve) Jim Lindsey in at tight end just to get him in the game and (Kapp) throws the touchdown pass (of 15 yards) to him, and that was the seventh touchdown. Shula wasn’t very happy with that score.”
Shula moved on the next season to Miami, and then went 4-1 against Grant’s Minnesota teams. Grant’s only win was 29-7 in 1976.
Grant doesn’t recall many details from the loss in Super Bowl VIII but remembers quite well what happened the previous season. En route a perfect 14-0 regular season and 17-0 overall mark for the 1972 season, Miami’s closest call came in September against the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium.
The Dolphins won 16-14 on Bob Griese’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Jim Mandich with just over a minute left. On the final drive, facing second-and-8 at the Miami 43, Griese threw an incomplete pass but Vikings defensive tackle Bob Lurtsema surprisingly was called for roughing the passer.
“That was controversial, but if I’d had a gun then, I would have shot Lurtsema,” Grant said with a laugh.
Lurtsema has spoken often over the years about how bad a call he believes it was. He said, though, he was able to joke about it several times with Shula at golf outings.
“I told him they wouldn’t have gone undefeated if it wasn’t for that, but he just laughed,” Lurtsema said Monday. “Shula was a wonderful guy.”
Lurtsema was saddened to learn of Shula’s death. After Lurtsema went undrafted in 1966, Shula was his first NFL coach.
“I can’t love Shula enough,” said Lurtsema, who played in the NFL from 1966-77, including 1971-76 with Minnesota. “The first year I was on the taxi squad of the Colts and then in 1967 they drafted Bubba Smith and their defensive line was set. I went to Shula and asked if I could be traded. He said. ‘Where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘The New York Giants. They went 1-12-1 the year before.’
“So he arranged a trade to the Giants for a fourth-round draft pick, and then he told me, ‘Bob, you gave everything you had for us. Good luck.’ And then he went and said the same thing to the team. And the next year I made the All-Rookie Team. I owe everything in my career to what he did for me.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Grant said he won’t have his annual garage sale this year. He hopes for it to return next year.