October 2, 2011
The October 2, 1994 game between the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals had a special distinction, not because of the action on the field, but due to the family relationship of the two head coaches. It was the first-ever father vs. son coaching matchup in pro football history – indeed, in any major professional sport.
For the visiting Dolphins it was Don Shula, who had started his NFL head coaching career in 1963 with the Baltimore Colts and, since 1970, had been head coach and general manager in Miami. Along the way his teams had reached the playoffs 17 times, won a pre-merger NFL title, five post-merger AFC championships, and two Super Bowls. In 1993, he had passed George Halas as the winningest head coach in league history and, with a 3-1 start in ’94, had an overall record of 330 wins, 159 losses, and 6 ties (309-143-6 in the regular season, 18-15 in the playoffs). His place in pro football history was secure, to say the least.
Son David Shula of the Bengals was in anything but a secure situation. Having started out as an assistant to his father with the Dolphins in 1982, he had gone on to become offensive coordinator of the Cowboys before being hired as head coach in Cincinnati for the 1992 season. The Bengals went 5-11 and 3-13 in the first two years under the younger Shula, and were off to a 0-4 beginning in ’94 for an overall tally of 8-28. QB David Klingler was proving to be a first-round bust, the defense was poor against the run, and overall, the organization under Vice-President/GM Mike Brown failed to devote needed resources to scouting. There was much speculation as to how much longer the third-year head coach would last if the situation didn’t begin to turn around.
It was an uncomfortable situation leading up to the contest. Father and son met at a barbecue the day before the game at David’s house in which the talk was about family, not football. There was an awkward staged media event at midfield prior to the kickoff.
“Please, Dad Not 0-5,” said a sign hanging from the upper deck at Riverfront Stadium. David Shula had lambasted his team at midweek, and the winless Bengals came out looking pumped up and upset-minded. Cincinnati scored first, on the third play of the game, thanks to a 51-yard pass play from Klingler to WR Darnay Scott, who blew past a hobbled Miami CB Troy Vincent.
While Cincinnati attempted razzle-dazzle and tried for big plays in the first two series, they were unable to score again and the tally remained 7-0 after one period of action. In the second quarter, Dolphins QB Dan Marino completed six passes on a possession that led to a 28-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.
Miami followed up with an 80-yard drive in nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 left in the first half. Marino fired the 11-yard scoring pass to FB Keith Byars running a slant and the Dolphins took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
Early in the second half, Marino audibled and tossed a four-yard TD pass to WR Mark Ingram that gave Miami a ten-point margin, allowing the senior Shula to play conservatively. Stoyanovich kicked field goals of 27 and 32 yards in the fourth quarter as the Dolphins coasted to a 23-7 win.
The performance by the Dolphins was workmanlike and it was apparent there would be no effort to run up the score on the hapless Bengals. As an example, up by 20-7 and with a third-and-nine situation at the Cincinnati 15, Miami opted for a shovel pass to set up a field goal attempt rather than try for the end zone. At one point, Ingram, TE Keith Jackson, and WR Irving Fryar were seen behind the bench slamming their helmets in frustration at not trying to put more points on the board.
Miami outgained the Bengals (345 yards to 246) and had more first downs (21 to 14). The Dolphins also didn’t turn the ball over, while Cincinnati suffered five turnovers. It was a relatively ordinary day for Dan Marino, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. David Klingler, by contrast, was successful on just 16 of 30 throws for 188 yards and was intercepted three times, as opposed to the one early TD pass.
Irving Fryar might have been discontented with the conservative play of the Miami offense, but he still caught 8 passes for 89 yards; Keith Byars added 6 for 54. RB Steve Broussard was the top receiver for the Bengals, with 7 catches for 43 yards, and his 16 yards on six carries put him just three behind the team’s leading ground-gainer, RB Derrick Fenner, with 19 yards on four attempts (RB Bernie Parmalee led the Dolphins with 73 yards on 18 carries).
“This is all team. You can't ever think about anything individually,” Don Shula said afterward. "My responsibility is this football team and Dave's responsibility is his football team. He does the best job he can and I try to do the best job I can. We were just the better team.”
“Once the game began, there was no thought that Dad was the opposing coach,” the younger Shula commented. “There were too many other things to think about.”
Cincinnati reached 0-8 before finally winning two straight games. The Bengals again ended up at 3-13 to place third in the AFC Central. David Shula was retained as head coach and the club improved to 7-9 in ’95, including a second meeting against the Dolphins and Don Shula that Miami won by a much closer (26-23) score. However, following a 1-6 start in 1996 he was replaced by offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet. His overall record ended up at 19-52.
The Dolphins went on to finish atop the AFC East in 1994 with a 10-6 record, winning in the Wild Card round of the postseason but losing by one point (22-21) to San Diego at the Divisional level. Following a disappointing 9-7 season and earlier exit from the playoffs in 1995, Don Shula was forced into retirement by owner Wayne Huizenga in favor of Jimmy Johnson, formerly of the Univ. of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys. He ended up with 347 career wins (328 regular season, 19 postseason) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.