The death of Don Shula has the football world remembering the famous coach’s hall of fame career. The Super Bowl titles, all the wins, that perfect season by the Miami Dolphins in 1972.
One of the biggest Shula fans lives in Minnesota: Bob Lurtsema, the former Vikings’ defensive lineman who appeared in two Super Bowls with the team. Lurtsema was playing for the Vikings early in the 1972 season against the Dolphins at the old Met.
The Vikings led 14-6 late. The Dolphins cut it to 14-9 on a 51-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian with 4:15 left.
After a Vikings three-and-out the Dolphins got the ball back. On second-and-8 at their 43-yard line, Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese threw incomplete over the middle to tight end Marv Fleming.
Here’s how Lurtsema recalls it: “I turned and watched the ball over of the middle,” he said Monday. “Then I kind of backed into Griese.”
The contact was, Lurtsema maintains, almost negligent.
“When I saw the yellow flag I thought, ‘Well, they finally got their guy for holding me,’ ” Lurtsema said. “No, they got me. [Hall of Fame Vikings coach] Bud Grant said it was a bad call. [Griese] did a beautiful acting job of falling down.”
The Dolphins got a first down at the Vikings’ 42. Griese hit Jim Mandich with just over a minute left in the game with a 3-yard TD pass to give the Dolphins a 16-14 win.
They never lost that year.
Lurtsema and Griese and many of his players from that time have joked about it during the year. At a golf tournament in Florida, Nick Buoniconti told Lurtsema he was as important as anybody for that undefeated season. Some Dolphins used to send Lurtsema Christmas cards every year.
Still, Lurtsema was saddened by the news Monday because he credits Shula for kick-starting his career.
“I owe everything to Shula,” he said.
Lurtsema was undrafted out of Western Michigan. But he was signed by the Baltimore Colts — then coached by Shula — as a free agent. Ultimately he was cut, but then re-signed to the practice squad.
The following year Lurtsema thought he’d have a great chance of making the team. That was until the Colts drafted defensive lineman Bubba Smith with the first overall pick in the 1967 draft. Lurtsema went and talked to Shula. Cut me, he said, maybe I can catch on somewhere.
Instead, Shula asked Lurtsema where he wanted to go. New York, coming off a one-win season, he suggested. Shula quickly arranged the trade. Lurtsema went to the Giants, made the team, and began a career that totaled 144 games.
“He basically set up my whole career,” Lurtsema said. “I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Lurtsema remembers being told good luck by Shula minutes before Super Bowl VIII between the Vikings and Dolphins.
“I can honestly say I loved the man,” Lurtsema said.