Perfect reasoning: Shula says his '72 Dolphins were NFL's best team ever Print
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Saturday, 17 November 2007 06:01
NFL Headline News

 MIAMI (AP) -Don Shula stands on his back patio overlooking Biscayne Bay and soaks up the luxurious setting. He points out the tiled hot tub and the mansion under construction next door, then looks over toward his powerboat moored by the shoreline.
``I don't drive it,'' Shula says. ``The kids and grandkids like to go out on it when they come over.''
Shula spent enough time at the controls: Shula was an NFL head coach for 33 years and won a record 347 games. That includes 17 victories in 1972, when his Miami Dolphins achieved the league's lone perfect season. Seven members of that team went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Shula, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, fullback Larry Csonka, quarterback Bob Griese, center Jim Langer, guard Larry Little and receiver Paul Warfield.
The NFL season is two games longer now, and with the New England Patriots looking unbeatable at 9-0, there's already speculation they'll finish 19-0 and eclipse the '72 Dolphins. But for the moment, Shula says, his perfect-season team remains the best ever.
He spoke with The Associated Press about the Boys of '72.
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AP: It has been 35 years. How has the passage of time changed the way you think about the '72 team?
Shula: What made them special was that not only did they have great athletic ability, but they were all very, very smart guys. It was a very intelligent football team. We just never beat ourselves with mental errors and missed assignments and penalties. We were the least-penalized team in the league. And we were the No. 1 offensive team in the league and the No. 1 defensive team in the league. And the emphasis we put on special teams helped us win a lot of games. The biggest thing was they took so much pride in knowing what to do and not making a mistake and being in the best shape they could be in to get the most out of their ability.
AP: The story of the '72 team actually begins with your 24-3 loss to Dallas in the Super Bowl the previous season, right?
Shula: Yeah, we had a great year and then played Dallas in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. When the game's over the (media) only go to one locker room - the winning locker room. The losing coach might get a token interview outside the locker room. That's about all the attention paid to the loser in the Super Bowl.
We were the loser, and I wanted to make sure our players realized that after having such a great season, not winning the game took away all of the accomplishment. So the next year our objective wasn't to get to the Super Bowl, it was to win the Super Bowl. That was all we talked about from Day 1. Then when we realized somewhere along the line that we had a chance to do what no other team had done, that became important to us.
But it wasn't as important as getting to the Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl. If we had lost a game along the way and been 16-1, it would have been a great year. But if we had won 16 games in a row and lost the Super Bowl, it would have been a disaster, especially for me. That would have been my third Super Bowl loss. I was 0-2 in Super Bowls and people always seemed to bring that up: ``You can't win the big one.''
AP: You say the '72 Dolphins were a very intelligent team. Aside from that, how would you describe their makeup?
Shula: We had all kinds of personalities. Csonka is a guy I enjoyed coaching as much or more than any other player. He kept things loose and light and had something going all the time, ragging me or doing something to keep me loose.
AP: Tell us about the time Csonka put an alligator in your shower.
Shula: Csonka, Manny Fernandez and Jim Kiick decided they wanted to do something clever to get my attention. After one hot muggy day at practice, I couldn't wait to get into the shower. So I get undressed and open the shower door and there's an alligator this big (holds hands three feet apart) looking up at me. I go running out past my secretary into the locker room and they're all waiting for me with big grins. Csonka says, ``What's the matter, coach, can't you take a joke?'' I said, ``A joke? There's a live alligator in my shower.'' He said, ``We took a vote and you only passed by one as to whether we would tape up the mouth of the alligator.''
But then on gameday, Csonka was always the one who got everybody ready to play. He was a great competitor. You never had to worry about third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, or whether to go for a touchdown or a field goal. With Csonka, you knew you were going to get the first down or the touchdown.
AP: One amazing aspect of the '72 season is that you lost your Hall of Fame quarterback for much of the season.
Shula: Bob Griese was a master at play-calling and the play-action pass and when to do it. He studied the game as hard as the coaches or harder, so we let him call the majority of his plays. I had so much confidence in him. Then he got hurt in the fifth game, and Earl Morrall came on. Earl had bailed me out in Baltimore when Johnny Unitas went down, and he took us to the Super Bowl. So when Bob went down, Earl stepped in like nothing happened, and we just won all the games. Then Griese was healthy for the AFC championship game against Pittsburgh, and I put Bob in the second half and he helped us come from behind and win the game.
Then I had a decision to make, which to me has always been the toughest decision I've ever had to make - who to start in the Super Bowl. Earl had done such a great job to get me there, but Bob was my quarterback going into the season, and he was my quarterback of the future. So I figured as long as Bob was healthy and ready to go, I was going back to Bob.
So I've always said Unitas, Griese and Dan Marino are in the Hall of Fame, and Earl is in my own personal Hall of Fame.
AP: You beat Washington 14-7 in the Super Bowl, but the play many people remember best is the Redskins' score. They blocked a field-goal attempt, and when your kicker, Garo Yepremian, tried to throw the ball, he fumbled and the Redskins ran it back for a touchdown.
Shula: We were ahead 14-0 with 2 minutes to go, and I thought, ``Boy, this will be great if Garo kicks this field goal and we go ahead 17-0 in a 17-0 season. What a great way that would be to remember the game.'' And then Garo did what he did, and it's 14-7 with still a couple of minutes to go. I'm looking for Garo, and I'm ready to kill Garo, and I couldn't find him. He went down to one end of the bench, and I haven't seen him since.
AP: When you think back to the Super Bowl, what stands out aside from Garo's mishap?
Shula: We dominated. Larry Brown was the running back for the Redskins, and nobody was able to stop him all season. He had a great year, and he couldn't get back to the line of scrimmage against us. Manny Fernandez was unbelievable. He had 17 tackles. Jake Scott got the MVP, but Manny could have been MVP. The Redskins weren't in the game. It was just complete control of the game until Garo made it close.
AP: The book on your team was that if you scored first, the game was over.
Shula: Yeah, ball control. Time of possession ... there were games where it was almost 40 minutes to 20 minutes. That helped our defense. We'd get the first possession: a long drive and a touchdown. They'd go three and out. We'd get the ball: a long drive and another touchdown, and we're ahead 14-0, and we're deep into the second quarter. That happened time and again. That was a great characteristic we had.
AP: The day you won the Super Bowl, did you realize the historic significance of finishing 17-0?
Shula: Not really, because that wasn't our big thought. Our thought was to win that Super Bowl. Boy, for me to get that monkey off my back, that was great. And to do it in a season when we won all the games made it that much more meaningful. It hadn't happened for 50 years before we did it, and it hasn't happened in the 35 years since we've done it. It was just a great football team.
AP: Was it the best team ever?
Shula: Until somebody beats 17-0, how else do you judge? That's why you keep score, to see who wins the games. And then at the end of the year, you have records, right? And the team with the best record is recognized as the best team.
AP: Would the '72 team's achievement be diminished if somebody goes 19-0?
Shula: I don't think so. I think it will always be recognized. But if New England goes 19-0, that's better than 17-0, and you have to acknowledge that. They have a good chance. The way they've been winning - they're strong in every area.
AP: Because of New England's spying scandal, would 19-0 by the Patriots deserve an asterisk?
Shula: That's not for me to say. ... They had a No. 1 draft choice taken away and (coach Bill) Belichick was fined and the team was fined. That was after the first game. Since then they've been playing within the rules, and their accomplishments should be recognized. But if there was something that happened to diminish what they've accomplished, then that has been noted. ...
If somebody betters our record, we're going to be the first ones to congratulate them. But we're also proud to have had our record for so long.
 

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