Thursday, January 24, 2008

America's Long-Winded Reminiscences' Team

If you quickly go around the house, close the blinds, shut off the lights, and remain crouched below the window line until Super Bowl XLII, you have a fighting chance of avoiding football anecdotes told by a member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Just don't open the door!

There are some plot lines that can't be avoided. Joe Namath guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III. Did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit? Rest assured, the surviving members of the only undefeated team in NFL history will be asked, often, about the only team in history with a chance to match that feat, the 2007 Patriots. Just a hunch, mind you, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are rooting for the Giants.

Shouldn't snark. There are a great many football fans in all 31 other NFL cities who cannot abide the Dolphins' reverence for their own legend, the champagne ritual, etc. Doesn't bother me. Athletes are proud and competitive people. If they've done something nobody else has, naturally they would like to keep the feat exclusive. Sir Edmund Hillary couldn't have cared for seeing the top of Mt. Everest become a tourist destination over the decades.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their public relations stunt diminishes their team's stature rather than enhancing it. By drawing so much attention to their supreme accomplishment, the Dolphins let folks forget it wasn't their only one.

Miami went 14-0 in the regular season, and except for their opening win in Kansas City, they played nobody. This fact has been cited ever since as proof the Dolphins' perfect record wasn't such a much. It was cited DURING the perfect season. The '72 Dolphins were underdogs in Super Bowl VII. Only 3-point 'dogs, but still, that's pretty insulting.

Take wider angle lens to the Dolphins of the early '70s, and the picture gets clearer. They were one of the NFL's legitimate dynastic powers, and that would be true if they'd been 16-1 in 1972. In fact, if they had been, maybe more fans would give the Dolphins their due.

Coach Don Shula and six players on that 1972 team (Griese, Csonka, Warfield, Langer, Little, Buonoconti) are in the Hall of Fame, a dynasty-worthy number. For my money, Jake Scott or Dick Anderson could be, but that's another post. It's difficult for a center like Langer to make Canton off of one season, even if it was perfect.

In 1971, the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Cowboys. In 1973, they repeated as champions, beating the Vikings. Three consecutive Super Bowls. Back to back NFL titles. Can't disrespect that.

In those three seasons, Miami's overall record, playoffs included, was 44-6-1. Not too shabby. Throw in 1970, when the team first made the playoffs, and 1974, when they were eliminated by the Raiders in their three-peat bid, and the irritating boys of yesteryear went 65-16-1 in a five year period. That's an .813 winning percentage. The Dolphins dominated their time as well as any other NFL dynasty ever did.

That time, however, was relatively short, only five seasons, which is one of the reasons the Dolphins don't get quite the historical position they deserve. They also had the misfortune to be immediately succeeded by the far more engrossing (and better) Steeler dynasty of the rest of the '70s. Interregnum periods make dynasties look better in retrospect.

The other main reason the Dolphins are forced to toot their own horn is stylistic. There's no gentle way to put this. Those Dolphins were the dullest great football team, perhaps the dullest great sports team, ever to make one long for a commercial break.

Play a word association game with the NFL's other legendary teams. For Lombardi's Packers, "execution" comes to mind. For the Steelers, it's "violence," "precision for Joe Montana and 49ers and so on. For the Patriots, I'd pick either "resourcefulness" or "versatility." When I think of the Dolphins as I watched them "methodical" pops right to the tip of my tongue.

Methodical. There's a compliment, huh? It's pro football as an episode of "This Old House." I hate myself for thinking it. It is, however, the truth. God, Miami was boring.

Super Bowls VI, VII, and VIII were without doubt the dullest, most unmemorable Super Bowls of them all, utterly lacking in entertainment value. I've attended my share of Super blowouts, but at least in those games, one side is putting on a show. 24-3, 14-7, 24-7. The SCORES are boring.

It drives the old Dolphins crazy that all anyone remembers of the final win of their perfect season is Garo Ypremian's slapstick attempt to pass. They should count themselves lucky. Otherwise, nobody would remember the game at all. It was, and remains, the only Super Bowl I did not watch from start to finish. At halftime, I went for a walk in the foothills around Pikes Peak with a young lady I admired, and didn't get back until there were 1o minutes left in the fourth quarter. I have never regretted this decision, and after reviewing the videotape of that tilt, realize I could have left before kickoff without missing anything. Clear mountain blue skies and deep mountain blue eyes beat the hell out of another 8 yard square out to Jim Mandich.

Football historian Bill Belichick sneers at the idea of style points, and he's right. But there's real history and there's popular history, and popular history always wins their arguments. Football fans were happy the Miami dynasty was replaced by Pittsburgh because the Steelers were more entertaining to get beat by.

In all likelihood, the old Dolphins will watch the clock run down in Super Bowl LXII knowing their title is now, "only undefeated team in NFL history until February 3, 2008." They shouldn't brood on the loss. Just as Hank Aaron spurred a revival of interest in Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds one in Aaron in turn, having a peer in perfection will add to their historic image, not erase it.

Besides, they also stand to make a bundle off selling their pixeled images to whatever video game designer is hard at work writing the code for "72 Dolphins vs. '08 Pats," coming soon to an XBox near you.


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