Legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula passed away last Monday, May 4. If you are a football fan, and/or live in South Florida, you know why I say “legendary”: Winning-est coach in NFL history. Coach of the only NFL team to go undefeated. A hotel and restaurants with his name on them. He even has an expressway named after him.
He is quite literally a household name in South Florida, and probably many other places. Beyond all that he apparently was also a very generous person, giving a great deal of time, energy and money to a number of charitable and benevolent organizations.
I met Coach Shula one time. (I’ll pause to give you a moment to be very, very impressed … OK? Welcome back.) My good friend Joe Oliver, who was head of FCA here in Miami at the time, gave me the privilege of doing the invocation prayer at an FCA event at Shula’s hotel in Miami Lakes.
(Joe is in heaven now, helping God keep the place under control. “You three over there! Shut up and pay attention while the worship service is going on.”
“Joe! That’s Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! You can’t talk to them like that.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize who you were. Now: Shut up and pay attention while the worship service is going on – please.”)
Where was I … oh yes: the FCA event at Shula’s hotel. This was in healthier days, so I was seated on the platform next to Joe, who was seated next to Coach Shula. I got to say hello to The Man, shake his hand and then went back and sat down till Joe called me up to the podium to pray. I did, and as I turned to my left to go back to my seat, Coach Shula leaned back, tilted his head toward me and out of the corner of his mouth said, “Nice prayer.”
I stopped, looked him in the eyes and said: “Hey! I don’t tell you how to coach. Don’t tell me how to pray.”
If you believe that, I’ve a got a gorgeous luxury time-share in beautiful downtown Wuhan, China I’d like to tell you about.
I did stop, quite surprised he said that to me, and mumbled, “Thanks, Coach,” in a voice that probably sounded like a teenage boy the first time he asks a girl out on a date. Not that I have any point of reference for that or anything ….
I went back to my seat and sat there thinking, “Don Shula just gave me a compliment.” I had heard from former players of his he didn’t pass those out like stickers at a pediatrician’s office, so I really appreciated it. Obviously. That was over 25 years ago and I still remember it very clearly.
I thought about that incident as soon as I heard Coach Shula had passed away. It was just a brief encounter, only few seconds at most, but I remembered the surprise, and the feeling of … I don’t know … affirmation? … approval? … I had when he said that.
I can’t even begin to fathom how I’m going to feel when I hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant …” (Matthew 25:21, 23) from my heavenly Father some day. That will be a brush with Greatness and a smile of approval that will last forever.
Listen to The Afters’ “Well Done”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X29hPMgKUyM