In the presence of greatness

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In my many years as a journalist, I've interviewed or met a fair number of celebrities, although I always try to remain professional, calm and unaffected in the presence of these powerful and charismatic people.

I had lunch in Miami last week with legendary football coach Don Shula and his son David. The two of them operate Don Shula's Restaurants, a franchising organization with 27 units, all in hotels. For once, I was awed to be in the company of a man like Coach Shula, but not because of his fame as the winningest coach in NFL history. Rather, what struck me was his genuinely warm nature and a charm that was almost boyish.

While his son David (also a former coach but now an extremely astute and articulate CEO) fielded most of my questions, Coach Shula bantered informally with many of the servers and other workers in the restaurant (Shula's Steak 2 in the Don Shula Hotel in Miami Lakes, FL). He also graciously chatted with and signed autographs for a number of diners in the restaurant.

Most of my conversation with Coach centered around Cleveland, my hometown. Don grew up near Cleveland, went to college there and even played cornerback for the Cleveland Browns before starting his coaching career. It was near the end of the meal that I caught a glimpse of how Coach Shula has remained unaffected by fame and adulation, despite nearly 50 years in the spotlight.

He asked me if Chuck Heaton, a famous Cleveland sportswriter, is still working for the Plain Dealer. Heaton, who's been retired from the PD for a number of years, covered Shula as a college player, pro player and a coach, and the two became friends over the years. Coach Shula asked me if I ever see Chuck to ask him to send Don an autographed photo of Heaton's daughter, TV actress Patricia Heaton. "I really like that girl," said Shula. "She's a great actress," showing that even he can be impressed by celebrity, just not his own.

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