Bobby Bowden was a young coach at West Virginia in the late 1960s when he made the 215-mile drive east to Baltimore to hear one of the rising stars in the NFL speak.
Don Shula was a rising star as the Baltimore Colts coach and spoke at a coaching clinic that Bowden attended.
“He was naturally a big hero to all of us during those times because he was the No. 1 (coach) out there,” Bowden recalled.
Shula, who passed away on Monday, went 328-156-6 as coach of the Colts (1963-69) and Miami Dolphins (1970-95). As coach of the Dolphins, Shula guided the franchise to a perfect 1972 season as well as a Super Bowl title the following year.
Their first meeting was one of a few through the years as Bowden and Shula would talk football and sometimes play a round of golf.
Bowden said he was curious about a play that Shula had drawn on the chalkboard, a run play that he liked. After thinking about the play some time later in Morganton, W.Va., Bowden called Shula to ask for some specifics.
“It was a fullback counter up the middle,” Bowden said. “And I remember I called him exactly how does that fullback step because he had to take a lateral step and then cross over and hit the hole. He explained that.”
FSU tailback Sammie Smith played for Shula from 1989-91. Smith was drafted in the first round by the Dolphins and ran for 1,787 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“Just a tremendous human being,” Smith said. “Real passionate about not only football but just about life. He reminds me so much of coach Bowden. He’s certainly one of the most influential men I’ve ever met. Outside of my dad, it has been coaches that have impacted my life in ways that I really can’t put a price on. He reminds me so much of coach Bowden with his accomplishments but on a different level.
“When you think of the Miami Dolphins, you think of Don Shula. When you think of Florida State, you think of Bobby Bowden. Just that same type of legendary legacy that he leaves behind.”
Bowden said he and Shula talked here and there through the years, recalling that the last time they were together was about a decade ago when they played golf in Miami.
“All I can remember is he was better than me,” Bowden said with a laugh.