By Jim Berry

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Don Shula became the NFL’s gold standard for coaching.

But he didn’t just win games. He won over fans.

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For years, Debbie Gallagher Beans ran the Dolphins Booster Club. In it’s heyday, Shula often appeared at their events, helping them raise money for charity.

And when the club went on road trips, Shula noticed, like when they turned out enmasse once in New Orleans.

Gallagher Beans recalls the coach came over to their section behind the end zone to greet them, leaving Saints fans around them speechless.

“He’s like God to us,” she recalls the Saints fans saying.

Shula the NFL icon was the good neighbor in South Florida. The coach with the iron chin had a soft spot for the fans. His son David remembers that his dad was “always gracious with the fans.”

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“Sometimes we would be out at dinner, and he was about to take a bite of food, and a fan would come over and ask him to sign an autograph, and he would do it.  He understood how important the fans were to the game,” he said.

Shula made sure his players felt the same community connection he did. Former Dolphin Nat Moore said that Shula was a big catalyst for their community outreach.

“When United Way came asking for donations, Shula was the first one to write the check. He really cared about South Florida,” Moore said.

And South Florida reciprocated. The Dolphins Booster Club donated money to Shula’s foundation, which was established after his first wife Dorothy died of breast cancer.

Some Dolphins Booster Club members who had grown close to the Shula family attended her funeral.

Now, all of the fans, whom Shula made feel special, get to honor him once more on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

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“He definitely is a man who should be honored, not just this one day but continually,” Gallagher-Beans said. “His legacy will live forever in South Florida. “

Jim Berry