NAPLES — Legendary NFL coaches Mike Ditka and Don Shula got together for dinner in Naples on Wednesday.
The duo invited 100 people, drank wine, ate steak, and chewed the fat about the world of pigskin.
The occasion was the Legends of Wine Dinner at Shula’s Steak House, located in the Naples Hilton.
Since retiring from the Miami Dolphins after the 1995 season, Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, has been in the restaurant business for the past 13 years. Ditka, the Hall of Fame former Chicago Bears coach and tight end — and current ESPN analyst — relaunched his line of wines, which are now offered among the 478 selections at Shula’s, in 2012.
The idea behind the dinner was to promote Ditka’s wines by pairing them with Shula’s steaks and let “Da Coach” and “The Coach” talk football.
A number of topics came up, such as the NFL’s decision on Wednesday to penalize crown-of-the-helmet hits, a rule which will affect running backs the most.
Both Ditka and Shula, who was also a defensive back from 1951 to 1957 with three teams including the Baltimore Colts, said they were in favor of any measures that protects the players’ health.
“But they shouldn’t legislate the football out of football,” said Ditka, who led the Bears to a Super Bowl title in 1986.
And it was that season, on a Monday night in December, when the coaches had their most memorable meeting.
Coming into that game, Chicago was 12-0 and was threatening to become the only team besides Shula’s 1972 Dolphins to go through a season undefeated. The Dolphins, 8-4 at the time, were led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
The Bears’ renowned “46” defense in 1985 had allowed just 10 points or fewer in nine of its 12 games. Stunningly, Marino picked the Bears apart, and Miami scored 31 points before halftime on its way to a 38-24 victory, preserving the Dolphins as the only undefeated team.
“I always referred to that as the best first half of football that I’ve ever been around in my whole coaching career,” Shula said. “We had 31 points at halftime — against that defense.”
And what happens when he brings up the game with Ditka?
“He leaves,” joked Shula, who attends Dolphins games still but has little input in team affairs.
With good reason, apparently, after Ditka tells his side.
“They kicked our butts,” Ditka said. “That simple. People ask me all the time. I tell them two things happened. They outplayed us. They out-coached us.
“The one thing about that game is it caused us to refocus, and that’s why we got back on track and went on to win the Super Bowl.”