And then there was 1: Shula is last of 3 titans from '70s

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the 1970s, which may be remembered as pro football's Golden Age, three coaches became living legends while setting a standard of excellence for the sport.

Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and Don Shula combined to win eight Super Bowls as they matched wits and drove each other to new heights.

They became larger-than-life figures in an era when the focus was on the game on the field before it was tarnished by regular-season strikes, franchise shifts, antitrust trials and 8-8 playoff teams.

They also set records for longevity that may not be matched. In the 1980s, Bill Walsh quit after winning a third Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers, and Bill Parcells of the New York Giants walked out after winning a second.

Landry, Noll and Shula stood the test of time, but that time is passing.

Landry, who went 3-13 in his final year in 1988, was fired after 29 years as the Dallas Cowboys' coach by a new owner. Noll resigned Thursday as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach after 23 seasons. He had just one playoff season in his past seven years.

Only Shula is left. He's coached 29 seasons, the past 22 for the Miami Dolphins. And he's getting some flak for making the playoffs only once in the past six years.

The Dolphins lost their last two games and their playoff bid by blowing fourth-quarter leads to the San Diego Chargers and the New York Jets.

Shula is struggling with the same factors that hurt Landry and Shula late in their careers. The years of drafting late have taken their toll.

When Shula was asked last week about whether the team needed someone to help him with personnel decisions, he said, "I don't feel like I have to apologize for what's happened around here since I've been here."

Like Landry and Noll before him, Shula can stand on his record.

But the days of coaches lasting more than two decades with one team may be over. Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins and Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos are a distant second to Shula in seniority. Both have been on the job 11 years.

The fortunate thing for Noll is that he was able to go out on his own terms instead of being sacked by a new owner the way Landry was.

When Noll departed Thursday, he said it would have been nice to go all the way one more time and then say goodbye. It wasn't to be.

Maybe Shula, who'll turn 62 Saturday, can pull it off before he calls it a career.

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Father and son: Mike Brown and David Shula always will be known in pro football circles as sons of famous fathers.

Brown, the president of the Cincinnati Bengals, is the son of Paul Brown, who virtually invented the modern pro football game. David Shula, who was born in Baltimore 32 years ago, is Don Shula's son.

That's why it was almost fitting that Brown hired Shula to replace Sam Wyche as Bengals coach. Don Shula started his pro football career in 1951 playing for Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns.

But this somewhat sentimental move may backfire on Mike Brown. Although David Shula is only a year younger than his father was when he became the Baltimore Colts' head coach in 1963, pro football is a different game now. The pressure and the stakes are much higher.

Also, there's nothing in Shula's background to indicate he's likely to be a good head coach. He didn't get along with Dan Marino in Miami or Troy Aikman in Dallas and was demoted by Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson before he left for Cincinnati this year.

It's also difficult to predict how an assistant coach will fare as a head coach. After all, pro football people laughed at Bears owner George Halas when he hired Mike Ditka, a Dallas assistant, as Bears head coach in 1982. Ditka was considered a raving lunatic who wasn't suited to be a head coach. Instead, Ditka proved he could coach as well as rant and rave. But the odds are against David Shula.

His hiring also will fuel the debate about the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL. It's hard to argue that minorities aren't qualified when David Shula gets hired at age 32.

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Still looking: Shula's hiring left seven teams (Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle and Minnesota) looking for coaches. An eighth team, Indianapolis, is interviewing coaches, but hasn't decided whether to keep Rick Venturi as coach or hire a new coach and demote Venturi to defensive coordinator.

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Parcells' choice: NBC-TV couldn't ask for more buildup for its pre-game show today with all the rumors swirling around Parcells' coaching future.

Parcells has denied all the reports that he's been offered the Tampa Bay job. Will he announce on NBC today that they're true or will he continue the denials? And if he continues the denials, will his nose be in danger of growing like Pinocchio's?

Stay tuned.

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Handley vs. Simms: Ray Handley still doesn't seem to have the hang of this head coaching business.

The New York Giants' beleaguered rookie head coach went on his radio show last week and said Phil Simms might be considering retirement as one of his options.

All that did was further aggravate the sensitive Simms' situation.

Simms had made it obvious he wants to continue to play, and he didn't appreciate Handley's comments.

"Retirement has never come up," Simms said. "I've never considered it. I've never insinuated it at any time to him or anybody else. It makes me think and sound like I'm over the hill. I don't like it, period."

Simms' contract has expired, so he's likely to ask the Giants to trade him. If they refuse, the NFL Players' Association will use Simms as another argument why the players need free agency, because Handley is going with Jeff Hostetler next year.

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Henning's parting shot: Despite his 38-73-1 career record, Dan Henning made it obvious that he thought he deserved more time with the Chargers, who fired him last week, because of a lack of stability in the organization.

"I don't believe any organization can win consistently with the changes we've made the last three years," he said.

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Scoring machine: In 1945, Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles scored 110 points while the Chicago Cardinals scored 98 and the Pittsburgh Steelers 79.

Van Buren was the last player to outscore a team until kicker Chip Lohmiller of the Washington Redskins scored 16 in the finale while the Indianapolis Colts got only three in their last game. Lohmiller outscored the Colts, 149-143.

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Streak or no streak: When Lance Alworth of the San Diego Chargers broke Don Hutson's "streak" of catching a pass in 95 straight games in 1969, Hutson was on hand to congratulate him.

It turned out that Hutson never caught passes in 95 straight games. A book published last year by two members of the Washington sports media, Dan Daly and Bob O'Donnell, "The Pro Football Chronicle," uncovered that Hutson was blanked in the 45th game of his "streak." His only catch of the day was an interception.

The NFL finally has conceded the book was right and has knocked Hutson out of the record book. It turned out that Alworth broke Bobby Joe Conrad's record of 94. The record is 177 by Steve Largent.

Nobody knows how Hutson's "streak" got into the record books in the first place, but the league didn't keep careful records in the early days.

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Christmas Day was the 20th anniversary of the NFL's longest game ever played -- the Miami Dolphins' 27-24 double overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dolphins won it on a field goal by Garo Yepremian after Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud missed a 31-yard try in regulation and a 42-yarder in overtime.

The game lasted 82 minutes, 40 seconds and broke the record of 77:54 set by the Dallas Texans in a 20-17 victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1962 AFL title game.

The Texans, coached by Hank Stram, moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs the next year.

Stram said, "Two of those in one lifetime is two too many."

The Christmas Day overtime game was the last playoff game played in Kansas City until the Chiefs played the Raiders yesterday.

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When the Detroit Lions play host to a playoff game next week, be their first home playoff game since 1957.

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Defense is supposed to win championships, but it doesn't always make the playoffs.

For the second straight year, the team with the league's top-rated defense didn't make the playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles missed with a 10-6 record this year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't make it at 9-7 last year.

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