Don Shula is the best No. 1 draft pick since Sergeant York of World War I heroics.
That is what it cost Joe Robbie of the Dolphins to keep his coach after the Baltimore Colts charged Miami with tampering.
Shula lost the first Super Bowl game with the Dolphins to the Dallas Cowboys, then won two straight, over Minnesota on a day when Larry Csonka was resurrecting comparisons with fabled Bronko Nagurski and on a day when George Allen's Redskins were the foil.
That was when Shula achieved an unbeatn season all the way through that 14-7 conquest of Washington.
The memory of Shula's 17-0 record, the despair of subsequent challengers and the rebound from his only losing season, 6-8, to be able to rub shoulders again with the elite this late in the season are reason enough for the respect rivals have for Shula.
Shula did survive the Titanic, or call it the World Football League, if you will, the tragedy that took away Csonka, Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick.
After that, the Dolphins had more injuries than a small-town hospital, and even lost a couple of regulars to a prison warden.
Now the Dolphins have bounced back. They will carry an 8-3 record into their Monday night encounter with the Colts. Baltimore leads the AFC East with a 9-2 record.
When someone mentioned an item that said Edward Bennett Williams would want Shula if he couldn't work out a contract with Redskin coach George Allen. Shula dismssed it with a chuckle.
"They just had me going to Notre Dame," he said of a recent report, "and Dartmouth."
Having been the center of controversy when Miami was penalized a No. 1 draft choice for tampering, although Shula asked permission of the Colts to talk to the Dolphins, the coach was frank when asked if there just might have been some official contact with the Redskins.
He said he has not asked permission to talk t anyone, nor has anyone asked permission of Miami to talk with him.
"I have three years to go on my present contract," Shula said, "and I intend to honor them. When that is finished, I will make a decision on what I want to do with the rest of my career.
"I've had a few unpleasant incidents in Miami (before he signed his current contract), but on the whole I've liked it with the Dolphins. I've had more fun than ever with this year's team."
Because the players are so young and inexperienced and present a teaching challenge?
"No, because they are so enthusiastic. We had a couple guys last year who didn't want to play."