Mourning the loss of two personal favorites

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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Raised by a father who frowned on rock-and-roll music and who was a Washington Redskins fan, I totally was on the opposite end of the spectrum.

My diverse tastes in music growing up included many different genres….blues, rock, Motown, country, southern rock, and even some jazz.

And, in the NFL, I was a diehard fan of the Baltimore Colts.

So, with that in mind, you can see that last week wasn’t a good one, at least for two of my heroes.

Don Shula, former coach of the Colts, and Little Richard passed away five days apart….Coach Shula, at age 90, on May 4 and Richard Wayne Penniman (aka Little Richard) on May 9 at the age of 87.

I grew up listening to Little Richard on AM radio from faraway stations in New York and Chicago. At night those stations would come in “wall-to-wall and treetop tall” on my transistor radio. I would purposely have to lower the volume in an effort not to make daddy mad that I was listening to what he defined as “garbage.”

Songs like “Tutti Frutti” (“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”) “Long Tall Sally” and “Lucille” still resonate in my head today.

It’s little wonder that Little Richard was among the inductees of the inaugural class (1986) of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was part of a very elite group of inductees that included giants of rock and roll: Elvis Presley, James Brown, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

While his sexuality and drug use often made the headlines, Little Richard eventually returned to his A.M.E. religious roots and became an ordained minister.

Love him or hate him, you have to respect the fact that Don Shula is the winningest coach in the history of the National Football League. Over a span of 33 seasons roaming the sidelines, Coach Shula won 347 games.

I became a Colts fan at the age of 10 (which would have been the 1963 NFL season). Ironically, that marked Shula’s first year as Baltimore’s head coach and he promptly led the Colts to an 8-6 record (not bad considering they had three consecutive losing seasons prior to that).

With now legendary names such as quarterback Johnny Unitas, wide receiver Raymond Berry, running back Lenny Moore, tight end John Mackey, and Gino Marchetti leading the defense, Shula flashed coaching greatness on the sideline. He won 71 games in his seven seasons in Baltimore, but it was a bitter loss to the New York Jets, led by a cocky quarterback named Joe Namath, in Super Bowl III (1968) that ended his run with the Colts one year later.

I remember my heart breaking when the news came down after the 1969 season that the Colts had fired Shula. But a coach of that caliber doesn’t remain unemployed very long. Shula was hired by a new team in 1970 and I followed him to Miami where the Dolphins became my favorite NFL team. They still are today.

Those early years in Miami were magical…..a pair of Super Bowl titles; a perfect season (17-0) in 1972 (a record that still stands today); and the continuation of coaching greatness despite the fact that the Dolphins haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

Super Bowl VII still ranks as my greatest sporting moment. Myself and Stuart Hall (formerly of Rich Square, now residing in King, NC) were the only Dolphin fans among a crowd of Washington faithful gathered in Woodland on Jan. 14, 1973. We were greeted by signs of “Fish Stink” and “Dead Dolphins” at the home of the now late, great Donnie Joyner. We were forced to eat last and make all the “beer runs”, but in the end, we prevailed 14-7 over the Redskins.

It’s memories like that which last a lifetime.


Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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