Yesterday, I was invited to attend the press conference for the grand opening of the new Shula's Bar & Grill at the Jacksonville Airport. Well, those things aren't always that exciting, but I thought, OK, maybe I'll go. But then the email said that namesake of the restaurant was going to be there. Now that was a whole different ballgame, no pun intended. Yeah, you may have heard of him....Don Shula. You know the legendary coach that led his Miami Dolphins to that undefeated 17-0 season forty years ago. The NFL icon and sports commentator. A man who is synonymous with the word "success". Yeah, that Don Shula. Do you think I was going to pass up that opportunity? Heck NO!
When I got there, there was The Coach seated at a table outside the new restaurant, surrounded by lots of folks. There were the "suits" involved in the business and the airport, some media types, employees from the airport and fans who just happened to be on Concourse A and wondered what all the hub-bub was about. They all wanted their picture taken with The Coach. Cellphones were being handed to perfect strangers to try to capture their owner's moment with The Coach. And they brought him all kinds of things to autograph as a souvenir of just being there. Mr. Shula was gracious with each and every one of them. He even got into checking out the photos of him and his fans on their phones. After all, how many times do you get to chat with a living legend? It was fun to see all those smiles.
We had the usual little speeches from the airport management, the restaurant management company, David Shula who is running his father's restaurant chain, and then, Mr. Shula said a few words. He was quick witted, joking, smiling often, and it appeared genuinely glad to be there and opening this new eatery. Then it was time to cut the ribbon. They pulled out this huge pair of scissors to get the job done. And once it was over, everyone went into the restaurant to sample the menu.
As it was all settling down, The Coach was seated at a table in the back of the restaurant, surveying the crowd. I asked David if it would be possible to just snap a portrait of him and his father. He left the folks he was talking with, walked over to his dad, and told him I'd like to get a picture of the two of them. Don joked about the size of my lens. I told him it's a special lens to take ten years off of folks. They struck this pose and I squeezed off two shots. No special lighting, no posing or coaching. It was obvious that both father and son were comfortable doing this. And I am quite proud of this portrait. I think it displays the relationship of the two of them quite well.
OK, so I didn't actually eat lunch with Don Shula. But I have preserved some memories with these photographs. And I think that's just as good.