Growing Up Perfect: My Dad and the Miami Dolphins

Posted at 11:09 AM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 12:36:20-04

After the passing of Coach Don Shula, my father, Michael Fuller, reflected on growing up with him as coach and what he learned from the Miami Dolphins.

My dad's earliest memory of the Miami Dolphins is him sitting on the floor next to my grandfather, not really understanding the game but listening to his dad's explanations and slowly getting a grasp of how it worked.

When he turned 10, the Miami Dolphins became the first football team to have a perfect season, Super Bowl win and all. Coach Don Shula was a hero to every player, fan and spectator.

"It was fantastic, you know for a 10-year-old boy," Michael Fuller said. "It was something that I had never experienced before, how everybody came together with people beating pots and pans and people driving and yelling out of cars."

For most of Michael Fuller's life Shula was coach. He watched him coach on TV and at games, and wrote to him hoping to get pictures of his favorite players back in the mail.

"The guy was fierce man, he didn't pace on the sidelines like you see guys today, but he could wear out 2 or 3 feet of grass, shouting at the guys, you know it was some kind of experience to see him coach," he said.

When the team held training camp down the street from my grandmother's house at St. Thomas University, they used to go watch together.

"If the team was working out, Shula was working out with them. No matter what they were doing," my dad said. "That's where I learned that sometimes you have to lead by example."

Football has always been something to bond over for my dad and I. The house would be filled with his chants of "GET HIM" and thunderous clapping on any given Sunday. The first time I asked my dad if I could go to a football game with him, I thought he was going to cry from happiness.

It was a much easier trip than the ones he took as a kid to get to the Orange Bowl. He and his family would park at the Golden Glades lot, take a shuttle to about six blocks from the stadium, stop for lunch, and then go and enjoy the game.

"It was a time our family always spent together, watching the Dolphins," Michael said. "The longest game ever that the Dolphins played, we all sat in front of the tv in their freezing Florida room to watch the whole game, and we had to drive from Tamarac all the way back to Miami, but we did it so we could sit and watch that game."

Much like the world we're facing today, where everyone has come together to help each other out, the Dolphin's 1972 season brought people together. People from all over the world came together behind the Dolphins,

"It wasn't only a South Florida thing, that team of the 70s made fans throughout the world. It didn't matter what station you were at in life or where you came from, everybody loved the Dolphins," he said.

Although he is gone, the teachings of Coach Don Shula are not going anywhere. There are people like my dad all over the place who looked up to him, and learned more than just how to play a ball game.

Shula helped create a community of fans that will never give up no matter how hard things get. A community of people who work hard, and strive to do their best.

"I think people who loved the Dolphins still love them and always will, it's just the type of team we are."