TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — An old buddy from the National Football League called Ray Perkins when Perkins was named coach at the University of Alabama.
"Congratulations," the caller said.
"Thank you," Perkins said.
The friend mentioned that he had a son, Michael was his name, and, well, come to think of it, he played quarterback for his high school team and not a bad team at that.
And, by gosh, he was a senior who would just be ecstatic to play for a major college team, say, oh, somewhere in the South. A few schools already had begun to recruit him and, gee, where did you say you're coaching now?
"Well, maybe I'll take a look at him," Perkins said.
Perkins dispatched offensive coordinator George Henshaw to Miami for a look-see at the left-handed quarterback.
Henshaw came back impressed. "He was definitely a guy I wanted," Henshaw said.
Perkins, who still was unpacking his X's and O's, decided to see for himself. He got to Miami just in time to watch the quarterback play basketball, of all things. He only had seen the quarterback on film, but that was enough.
"Come to Alabama," said Perkins, offering a precious scholarship.
And Michael Shula, son of Don, the old friend who used to coach Perkins during their years with the Baltimore Colts and who now coaches the Miami Dolphins, happily accepted.
Three years later, he is the starting quarterback of an 8-2-1 team with reservations against USC in the Aloha Bowl Saturday at Honolulu.
Alabama is the nation's 15th-ranked team, and Shula led the nation in passing efficiency for most of the season.
Shula could claim responsibility--but he won't--for helping lead Alabama past Georgia, Texas A&M and arch-rival Auburn this season. Two of those games, Georgia and Auburn, were in doubt until the final minute.
These days, you can find Shula's likeness on the Alabama football media guide or on one of several posters available in the school's sports information office. After the season-ending win over Auburn, you even could see Shula's name written in soap on several cars on campus.
All this from a quarterback who runs a 40-yard sprint as if anvils have been taped to his ankles, who often is accused of having a weak throwing arm and who came close to being named Most Likely to Waste a Free Ride when he arrived on the Alabama campus.
When Shula showed up for fall workouts his freshman season, Perkins might have thought he had viewed the wrong game film, that the kid should have stuck with basketball.
But pedigree is pedigree, and Shula was little different from his father, a career overachiever, or even his older brother, David, who turned marginal athletic skills into a productive stay at Dartmouth, a year in the NFL as a player and an assistant coaching position with the Dolphins and who is now under consideration for head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The youngest Shula persisted, too, and now finds himself with a considerable and loyal fan club.
"If he were to walk into a bonfire, those other 10 guys would walk in there with him," Perkins said."
Alabama fans would settle for annual trips to the Sugar Bowl and a return to No. 1. Human sacrifice isn't necessary. A championship will do fine, thank you.
Shula has one season left to do his part. Considering that about three years ago he had no part, bit or otherwise, his success is a pleasant but welcome surprise. "That first week we looked at him as being a marginal prospect," Perkins said. "But look at where he is now."
Shula overcome not only the burden of the family name but also several physical obstacles, little things like lack of speed, brawn and quickness. Of course, it's tough to time intelligence and the need to win, some popular inherent traits of the Shulas.
Oh, Shula has shown he can play the game, but it hasn't been easy. He also has constructed little mental walls, but nothing that can't be scaled by a particularly persistent jab or critic.
Speaking of his sons from the Dolphin facilities, Don Shula said: "They realize that the name has gotten them in some areas that they might not normally get in. They've also had some tough times because of (the Shula name). They became targets for cheap shots. There are unpleasant things that go along with it, some negatives. I've tried to tell them that."
Said Mike Shula: "My senior year in high school, (opposing) players would come up and say, 'Oh, we're going to get Mike Shula.' "
Sometimes, maybe it would be best if Shula went by the name given to him by the photographer of Alabama's football players. There, in black and white, is a 5 by 7 glossy of the quarterback, forced grin and all. Typed under the photograph is, Mike Schula .
Schula . Poof, go some of the problems. No more like-father-like-son comparisons. But Shula understands. He could have chosen a less conspicuous playing position or school and spared himself some of the abuse. He didn't and that's that.