LONGSHOTS: Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
by Dave Long
Back in the day I really liked the 1972 Dolphins. Even though I was a Giants fan then, I wanted to see them to go undefeated as the wins started to mount. More than any team, they reminded of the Super Bowl-winning Patriots. They were called the No-Name Defense for being without apparent stars, rarely beat themselves, epitomized the word “team” and like the Patriots they were smart, tough and clutch.
The one thing apparently missing, at least for some, is graciousness. That doesn’t include Bob Griese, tight end Jim Mandich and Earl Morrill. All were very complimentary after the Patriots finished a perfect 16-0. Don Shula had some nice things to say. But in saying “if” the Patriots finish this off, he’d be the first to call the coach and congratulate them, they seemed backhanded. Since Shula won more games than any pro football coach in history and two Super Bowls, he knows how hard it is to go through the regular season without a loss. So even if the Patriots don’t finish this off, why wouldn’t he call Bill Belichick at the proper time to offer congratulations anyway for doing what no other team has ever done in going undefeated in a 16-game season?
Instead, the more these grumpy old men chirp away, the more they sound like Norma Desmond desperately trying to hold on to her past in Sunset Boulevard. Take five-time All-Pro Bob Kuechenberg (please!, as Heni Youngman used to say). He said after the spectacular game with the football Giants, “They’ve done a heck of a job thus far but now the exhibition season is over and the real season begins. Obviously, if they can win their first playoff game, beat an even more dangerous Colts team, and then Brett Favre or the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, I will be the first to take my hat off to them. If they can pull it off, they will have earned it.”
Aside from the “exhibition season” crack, which I’ll get to in a minute, that sounds nice enough. However, he added, “But my heart is dead set against it. The ’72 team is uniquely immortal in American sports and I don’t want us to lose that special place” That’s a long way from Hank Aaron after Barry Bonds broke his home run record. And then there is the non-stop flood of tripe from one Eugene Mercury Morris. His mouth seems far quicker than his feet once were — which is saying something. Can anyone tell me what planet he comes from? Although maybe that’s where he got the nickname.
And while I’ll be the first to tell you things can seem different in print than actually intended, I don’t think that’s the case here. I think the Miami Norma Desmonds are praying the Patriots don’t do it and don’t care how small they sound in the process. It reminds me of when I lost the Yanks as my favorite team after I couldn’t stand George Steinbrenner’s abhorrent ways any longer. And since, like Popeye right before he goes for the spinach, “that’s all I can standz, I can’t standz no more,” I’m dropping the Dolphins from my inventory of favorite teams.
And in the spirit of the political season, where if you’re not with me you stink, let me point out a few things that make the great Dolphins season not nearly as great as they remember it. First of all, Bob, get a grip. It wasn’t even the best feat of the YEAR, let alone “uniquely immortal in American sports.” The 1971-72 Lakers completed their streak of 33 straight wins in a row that same year. That’s one shy of DOUBLING up the fish. They also won a then-NBA-record 69 games and the title. I also hate to say (well not really) that UCLA was working on its 88-game winning streak that lasted two years after the Ds lost as they were winning SEVEN straight national basketball titles. So, while it is one of a kind for the NFL from where I sit, it was only the third best accomplishment of 1972!
Next comes the “exhibition season” crack. It makes it seem like the Patriots are playoff neophytes. Three is more than two — right? Belichick’s Patriots ALREADY have won more Super Bowls (and probably aren’t done) than Shula’s Dolphins. And historically they’ll be judged superior as well in part because they’re 3-0 in the big game, while the 1971 Dolphins got smoked by Roger Staubach and the Cowboys 24-3. They’ve also topped Miami’s 17 straight wins twice! They won 22 in a row as they won Super Bowl two and three and currently have a 19-game regular-season streak going. Given the clear superiority it’s galling hearing the old folks talk down to a better team.
Then let’s take a look at who they beat. It’s true you can only beat who’s on the schedule, but the Dolphins had a spectacularly easy one. In the regular season they faced no playoff teams, and only Kansas City and the Giants had winning records at 8-6 apiece. Their opponents were a horrible 70-124-4. The Patriots played six playoff teams, seven teams over .500, and their opponents were 108-99. To their credit the Dolphins won 11 times with Earl Morrill subbing for Griese at QB. It’s hard seeing the Pats doing that with Matt Cassel in Brady’s place. And the playoff road wasn’t that tough either. They beat the mediocre Browns, the up and coming 11-3 Steelers, who got to round two only by the grace of Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception, and George Allen’s boring but effective Redskins.
If you’re from the lunatic fringe in Miami and want to get into who’d beat who head to head: with Miami averaging 253 along their lines and the Patriots 309, does anyone seriously think, no matter how good they were, Miami wouldn’t get worn down at the least? But enough of the personal attacks. Even with all this, what the Dolphins did was great and it made them champs.
It’s just too bad some of them aren’t able to act that way 35 years later.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.