|35 years later, '72 Dolphins still stand alone|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 17 November 2007 06:01|
With the record 10-0 after a win over the New York Jets, Kuechenberg and teammate Jim Langer worked out at the team's dilapidated complex.
``We were lifting weights in the bathroom they called a weight room,'' Kuechenberg said with a laugh. ``It really was that small. We had to put our feet on the wall to do the bench press.
``I told Langer, `Obviously we're going to have to lose a game.'
```I suppose,' he said.
```When?' I said.
```Not this week,' was the only answer.''
For the '72 Dolphins, that was the answer every week. By beating Washington 14-7 to win the Super Bowl, the Dolphins finished 17-0 and became the first NFL team to complete a season undefeated and untied.
Their achievement still stands alone. The '72 Dolphins are divided as to whether the '07 New England Patriots pose a significant threat to eclipse the accomplishment by going 19-0. But there's no debating that in this era of the Internet, talk radio and cable sports channels, perfect-season hype starts much earlier.
With more than half the season to be played, the Patriots (9-0) are already touted for their chances of finishing undefeated.
``We never talked about it,'' '72 quarterback Earl Morrall said. ``It was like a baseball pitcher who was throwing a no-hitter. You never said anything.''
``Because it had never been done before, it was never thought possible,'' he said.
While the Dolphins surprised even themselves by going undefeated, at first glance they weren't as dominating as this year's New England team. The Dolphins won regular-season games by one, two and four points, and their only blowout was a 52-0 win against - how times have changed - New England.
But the rules were different then, with bump-and-run coverage making it difficult to throw downfield. Quarterback Bob Griese and receiver Paul Warfield are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the Dolphins threw a total of only 40 passes in their three postseason games, winning them by a combined 17 points.
Coach Don Shula instead relied on a grinding ground attack led by fullback Larry Csonka and halfbacks Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick. The Dolphins broke the 36-year-old NFL record for yards rushing, and with Csonka and Morris, they became the first team to have two 1,000-yard rushers.
``Our whole thing was to be second-and-6,'' Kuechenberg said. ``If we got a play that gained more than 10 yards, it was a miracle. But you were not going to stop us from getting at least 4 yards. We were second-and-6, third-and-2, first-and-10 all year long.''
Remarkably, the Dolphins kept winning even when Griese missed 11 starts with a broken leg. Morrall proved equally efficient at running the offense.
``We called 75 percent of the plays from the line of scrimmage,'' said Norm Evans, a Pro Bowl tackle. ``We could even call the snap count from the line. It was a lot of fun. You would go up there with Bob or Earl, and they would look at where the defense was lined up and run where they weren't. We would just pick them apart.''
The ball-control attack was the ideal complement to Miami's ``No-Name Defense.'' The monicker was a bit misleading because the unit had plenty of stars, with safeties Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, end Bill Stanfill and linebacker Nick Buoniconti making the Pro Bowl that season. But Buoniconti is in the only Dolphins defender in the Hall of Fame.
Still, Shula's team was no fluke. The '71 Dolphins reached the Super Bowl before losing, and in '73 they went 15-2 and repeated as champions.
The '72 Dolphins concede they weren't the biggest, strongest or fastest team. But they were smart, knew their assignments, rarely made mistakes and shared an uncommon confidence.
``My fondest memory doesn't really involve all the hoopla,'' Csonka said. ``I was a power running back. And when you are in the huddle and it's goal-to-go and your number is called, and you look across the huddle and your five linemen are looking at you, and every one of them is pointing to himself and telling you, `Follow me' - when you've got guys that sure of themselves, that's got to be the best feeling any running back ever had.
``That's my fondest memory.''
Not all of the memories are so sweet. Ironically, the play for which the '72 Dolphins are best remembered ranks among the NFL's all-time bloopers.
Leading the Redskins 14-0 late in the Super Bowl, Garo Yepremian had a field-goal attempt blocked, and when he tried to throw the ball, he fumbled and the Redskins ran the ball back for a touchdown.
``Every airport you go to, people point to you and say, `Here's the guy who screwed up in the Super Bowl,''' Yepremian said. ``After a while it bothers you. If it was anybody else he would go crazy, but fortunately I'm a happy-go-lucky guy.''
That play aside, the Dolphins finished the season perfect. But they're not always atop the standings when the NFL's greatest teams are discussed.
One recent book ranked the Dolphins as the second-most overrated Super Bowl champion, ahead of only the 1985 Chicago Bears.
``I don't think they were the best team ever,'' said receiver Charlie Taylor, who played for the '72 Redskins against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. ``They did something that had never been done. But in my eyes they were not the best team. Come on.
``I would put them in the top 10.''
But the Redskins' quarterback, Billy Kilmer, said the Dolphins deserve consideration as the best ever.
``The overall team has been not given their due as to how good they really were,'' Kilmer said. ``They played all phases of the game so well. They played together. People always mention the Steelers teams and the 49ers teams in the '80s, but those early '70s Dolphins were as great.
``They didn't beat you by a big score. They didn't try to be flashy. All they did was go out and win.''
They did it every week, and they remain the only team able to make such a claim. To Csonka, that settles any debate regarding the best team of all time.
``No matter what the year of the team, what the rules were then, the thing you can't argue with is: Did you win them all? That's the last argument in the presentation before it goes to jury,'' Csonka said.
``I don't have a problem defending our team against the '78 Steelers or '85 Bears. I love it, because I know we're going to win.''
After 35 years, the '72 Dolphins remain unbeatable.