Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Coach Don Shula and the Sports-Dim Food Editor

September 7th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Anyone who knows me, but particularly former Palm Beach Post sports copy editor wizard Tom Sears, will tell you I know so little about football it’s almost sinful to call myself Southern. I just didn’t get the pigskin rooting gene, I suppose.

I last paid attention to football during my high school’s vital playoff — the Flying L’s of Fort Lauderdale High vs. our arch-nemesis, Stranahan High. I liked one of the band guys, so went to the games. We won the big game in the last 3 seconds, and went to the state championships with the help of a fabulous quarterback, Al Alvarez. No clue what he’s up to now, but I remember baking a chocolate sheet cake and decorating it like a football field for the after-party. My baking had early roots.

My parents were huge Dolphin fans about the same time, and of course, delighted in the Dolphins’ perfect season. I had no interest in it, but was amused by the fanaticism of my parents, the neighbors and pretty much all of Florida. I would have paid more attention had I known it would make history.

I did watch the game against the Bears; my favorite part was the kicker, Garo Yepremian,

Garo Yepremian

Garo Yepremian

running for all he was worth the wrong way.  It didn’t matter, of course, we had already whipped their butts. Still, the crowd was screaming, “Wrong way!!!” and it makes me laugh to think of it now.

The food beat would, however, afford me an opportunity of a lifetime: to interview Don Shula. He opened a steakhouse at the PGA Resort (it’s now closed and Ironwood Grill replaces it). I was one of the “media” invited to the opening dinner.

Profit op missed

I could have sold my seat for a few hundred bucks to a couple of jocks in the office. They were really cheesed off because I got to go, along with a bunch of sports guys and business writers — some from our paper — who wouldn’t miss this for their lives.

Only one other food writer showed up — Skippy Harwood, the former food editor of the Palm Beach Daily News. She and I sat across from Shula; the other men were positioned around us. We chatted briefly before the interview-dinner; she wasn’t a huge football fan either, so I had some relief in my ignorance at the table. My business writer was ribbing me because he knew how dumb about football I was. “Guess you’re here to cover the meat and potatoes, eh?” he laughed.

We all had chances to ask the coach whatever we liked…the business guys were talking about his business ventures, and the sports guys asking what he would do now that he was retired and throwing out questions about Marino, this season’s team, etc. etc.

Don Shula

Don Shula

All well and good. Skippy and I dutifully quizzed him about the food and the steaks — that’s obviously why we had been invited. Shula admitted he knew nothing about it and deferred all the food questions to his wife and son Paul, who was running the restaurants.

I still wasn’t hearing anything I didn’t know (I did my research before coming) so I took the tack I do when an interviewee either stonewalls me, or can’t really think of anything to say other than what the PR person has fed them.

“A good question!”

So I fessed up and told him I knew nothing about football. He said it was OK — he knew nothing about food but was dragged there anyway. Then I asked him: “If you hadn’t been a football coach, what would you really have wanted to do?”

The room went quiet – I thought — uh, oh, I’ve done it now. Maybe it’s a failed career he’s talked about and I don’t anything about it.

 Shula thought a minute, and said, “Wow. I don’t think anyone’s asked me that. But you know — I would have wanted to coach baseball, actually. Yes, I would have wanted to coach baseball. For the Yankees.”

The guys at the end were scribbling for all they were worth. I felt pretty good after that, and started breathing again. That’s about the time the waiter finally burst through the door, and dropped a plate of steaks right behind my chair. I don’t think his name was Garo.


Tags: Food People

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 fsutoby // Sep 8, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Now THAT’S a great story….Classic !

  • 2 danobeerguy // Sep 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I used to cover Shula and the phins when I worked at TV 12. He was not the most pleasant football coach to deal with…ok, understatement. He could vaporize you with lazors from his eyes if he didn’t like the question you asked. He would also end group interviews without any notice and often during mid-question from a reporter when his internal clock went off. That said, he was much nicer and actually friendly when approached at charity golf events and the like.

  • 3 ksteinhoff // Sep 8, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    I sent a young lab tech turned photographer to a fancy Palm Beach function (better him than me).

    When he came back, he told us of his encounter with the Rich and Famous To Themselves.

    “I took a picture of this woman and walked up to ask her name,” he said. “She just kind of sniffed at me, raised her nose in the air and said, ‘You don’t KNOW who I am?'”

    “No, mam, I don’t. That’s why I asked.”

    “I’m Estee Lauder.”

    “How do you spell that?”

    The only thing I chewed him out for was not getting a picture of her when he delivered THAT line.

  • 4 life coach // Feb 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    While we are discussing about topics relevant to Coach Don Shula and the Sports-Dim Food Editor, Your coach should be a teacher to you, capable of inspiring and motivating you all the time to correctly understand yourself and improve yourself.

  • 5 mike // Jul 8, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    It sounds interesting!

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