Charitable donations and online guest books are the few ways fans can honor Don Shula until the pandemic risk dissipates.
Outside the main entrance to Hard Rock Stadium sit two candles and two bouquets, one in Dolphins aqua and orange.
At the entrance to the steakhouse and golf course bearing Don Shula’s name in Miami Lakes, two black ribbons flutter in the breeze.
And that’s about it.
This is no way for South Florida to say farewell to Don Shula.
At least for now, it’s virtually the only way.
The coronavirus did not claim another victim when Shula peacefully died in his sleep at home Monday at age 90. But the pandemic is claiming the right of every South Floridian wishing to pay respects.
In a perfect world, the Shula statue at Hard Rock Stadium would be engulfed in flowers now. Fans would be taping up personal messages, recounting the time they got his autograph when they were much younger and thinner, or perhaps the time they ran into the coach in a restaurant and found him to be far more pleasant than his players did when he was administering his infamous tough love.
For now, all South Floridians have are message boards and causes the family requests that fans support in Shula’s honor. Shula’s family is planning a very small, private service at a time and location that will not be publicized. Van Orsdel Funeral Chapels, which has multiple locations in Miami-Dade County, is handling arrangements.
“We’re going to try to make it like his football — perfect,” Donald Van Orsdel, president of the funeral home, said Tuesday.
At Hard Rock Stadium, the Dolphins flags have been lowered to half-staff. A video board bears Shula’s profile — his famous jaw in full splendor — with the words “IN MEMORIAM/DON SHULA/1930-2020,” plus the team logo.
There can be no question the Dolphins will go above and beyond to honor the legacy of the winningest coach in pro football history and the only coach to lead his team to a perfect season. Once things settle down, plans will be drawn up to honor him on players’ uniforms, a process requiring league approval.
Shula already has the statue at the stadium, plus a mural and his name on the Dolphins’ Honor Roll, but should anyone come up with other inspired suggestions, rest assured the club would act.
“We will be doing more when it’s safe,” said Jason Jenkins, the Dolphins’ senior vice president.
A public memorial/celebration of life at the stadium, obviously, is what everyone wants. When and how — that’s the question. Given that contingency plans for games this season could cap attendance at 15,000 or, worse, no fans at all, one must hope that the appropriate time for a public service for Shula comes sooner rather than later.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Van Orsdel said of a public opportunity to grieve and remember. “This is somebody they looked up to. He was an icon. He was a legend. Throughout professional football he epitomized the best ever, and people need to say goodbye.”
Van Orsdel knows because he’s one of them. He recalled attending games in the Orange Bowl and seeing Flipper fetch balls after extra points from the above-ground tank set up beyond the east end zone. Van Orsdel is, too, among those who once dropped into the Shula Burger in Pinecrest and ran into the coach.
“He was super nice,” Van Orsdel said.
Van Orsdel relayed family wishes: Instead of flowers, contributions can be made to two causes: the Don Shula Breast Research Cancer Fund at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and Schott Communities, an adult special-needs facility in Cooper City. Shula’s first wife, Dorothy, died of breast cancer.
Fans can visit vanorsdel.com to sign a guest book or light a virtual candle. Fans also can share memories at miamidolphins.com.
Unfortunately, virtual condolences aren’t the same as thousands gathering to support Shula and his family. They’re different from the private service Van Orsdel is planning.
They’re not all Don Shula deserves.
They’re not perfect.
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