Don Shula rooting for Panthers to keep undefeated streak intact

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Dressed in a dapper three-piece tuxedo, Don Shula showed up to Friday's gala celebrating the Miami Dolphins' 50th anniversary in a building full of people he helped succeed. Shula surely had plenty of reasons to be proud on this night.

Plenty plus one.

Shula, you see, has become quite acclimated facing questions at this time of year about whatever team still stands undefeated with a chance at joining his 1972 squad with the only perfect season in NFL history.

But now, those questions also involve his son.

"I'm so proud of Mike -- such a great young guy," said Shula, the father of the offensive coordinator for the 12-0 Carolina Panthers.

"I enjoy watching all the games that I can, and hopefully (the Panthers) will be there at the end of the year. That would make me proud. I would be so proud. I would want him to do as good or more, that's what it's all about."

Unlike years past, when the Dolphins have taken differing levels of pleasure in a loss by the final remaining undefeated team, Shula said he won't be hoping for the same this year. Instead, this would be an opportunity to bring his actual family into a very special football family.

So is Shula giving his son advice on the pursuit of an undefeated season?

"You really don't talk about that," Don Shula told "You just talk about everything that you can do to prepare. When you're tested, you've got to be ready. You've got to be the one who's got the answers."

On Friday evening, as the top 50 Dolphins of all time were honored during a extravagant ceremony, several of the 1972 team also spoke to about the Panthers' pursuit, specifically the fact that a man by the name of Shula is running the offense.

"I'm all for Mike Shula," said Bob Griese, when asked about the possibility of the Panthers going undefeated. "They gotta win what -- 7 more games? But it's like I say every year when the Patriots are undefeated. I'll be the first guy to pick up the phone and call Tom Brady or Cam Newton and say 'hey, welcome to the mountaintop. It was a hell of a thing you just did.' "

Larry Csonka, another member of the perfect 1972 Dolphins, joked that he'd prefer to see Mike Shula join the undefeated club another time, perhaps as the coach for the Miami Dolphins instead. That way, he'd truly be keeping it in the family.

"Obviously we're paying a great deal of attention to (the Panthers) -- all of us," Csonka said. "It's kind of a split decision. If it was just the Panthers, of course I'd be opposed. I wouldn't want to see them do that. When there's a Shula with them, that's a different story. I can't say I'm pulling against the Panthers. I might not say I'm pulling for them, but I'm certainly not pulling against them. I wish Michael the best and hopefully he'll wait and maybe be a Dolphins coach when he decides to go undefeated."

Mike Shula has spent some brief time as an assistant in Miami, first as a coach's assistant in 1991, then again as the quarterbacks coach from 2000 to 2002.

But don't think just because a Shula is a key cog on the current Panthers' squad that everyone in South Florida is cheering them on.

You'd better believe Mercury Morris, for instance, is sticking to his usual entertaining script.

"These guys have just as much a chance to go unbeaten as they do to lose next Sunday," Morris said. "So when they get to the end and they're 18 and got one left, then come talk to me and I'll tell you what I think. The biggest canyon in this country is the Grand Canyon. Do you know what the second largest canyon is? That's my point, nobody cares."

Much like the Dolphins of 1972 (ranked first that season in rushing offense and total defense), the Panthers are winning by successfully running the ball on offense and a strong defense. Carolina is currently ranked third in rushing and 27th in passing -- in large part due to the dual threat of Newton at quarterback.

"(Mike Shula) has a pretty good quarterback in Cam Newton, 6'5, 250 and can throw and run," Don Shula said. "Cam Newton is unbelievable. They're fun to watch."

The Panthers are the first team to start 12-0 since the Packers went 13-0 before a loss in 2011. They are also one of nine teams in the Super Bowl era to start 12-0.

"I'm going be there with them," Shula said. "Hopefully until the end."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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