Swinging around end in their bright new blue-and-white uniforms laced with orange trim, the Miami Dolphins actually did give an impression of tropical water surging around a reef—which was highly gratifying to the owners of the American Football League's newest team, because they had hoped for some such effect out of the color scheme. Then, suddenly, a tall linebacker wearing the number 50 on his shirt lowered his shoulder and barged directly into the current. Down went blockers, defenders, the ballcarrier, an equipment manager and an assistant coach, and in an instant all that blue-white-and-orange wave looked like a collapsed Howard Johnson's. The sight of several tons of humanity being violently redistributed around the playing field would have been alarming except that most of the observers happened to have a personal interest in the Miami Dolphins, which made the spectacle absolutely entrancing. Since coaches attempt to restrain themselves during the first week of preseason scrimmage, no one quite broke into a cheer, but it took a considerable amount of face screwing to maintain a posture of professional boredom.
No. 50, the man responsible for putting the Dolphin coaches in this predicament, was Thomas Franklin Emanuel (see cover), former linebacker for the University of Tennessee, All-America and a 230-pound draft pick who had cost the Miami owners considerable time, worry, energy and cash—something near $400,000. Naturally, certain things were expected in return. Hence the inner exaltation the other day when Emanuel gave strong indications that he can help bring Miami into the AFL with a dolphin-size splash.
The Dolphins will need him, for Miami is a city that believes in spectaculars. It has a history of yawning in the face of all but the most incredible feats of showmanship, press agentry and professional pizzazz, and while the idea of a big league football team is interesting, the town is fully prepared to head for the beaches instead of the bleachers if the Dolphins show signs of sinking toward the bottom of the AFL.
Well aware of this, the Dolphins not only spent a fortune for Emanuel, they went after every other big name in sight. They signed the man they considered to be the best college quarterback last year, Rick Norton of Kentucky, who has been known to deliver a football to a receiver 70 yards downfield. They also got the most productive end college football has ever produced in Howard Twilley. At 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds Twilley looks like a student manager pressed into uniform, but he caught 134 passes last year and set eight NCAA records.
August 7, 1966
Equally important, the Dolphins got more than just baitfish in their draft of players from other AFL teams. The league did not want a football version of the Mets in Miami and arranged things so that the Dolphins ended up with a chance at 19 starters from other teams. They got Dave Kocourek, the San Diego Chargers' tight end. Buffalo sent Bo Roberson, a very swift and able flanker, and Billy Joe, a 235-pound fullback. And from the Boston Patriots came Billy Neighbors, who was an AFL All-Star.
The very existence of the Miami Dolphins is something of an accident. Joseph Robbie, attorney, father of 11, former state senator from South Dakota and a man who can squeeze more words into a split second than a tape recorder set on super fast, was in Miami by pure chance a year ago February when he received a call from a client asking if he would make preliminary inquiries about getting an AFL franchise—in Philadelphia. As Robbie was a close friend of Joe Foss, then the AFL commissioner, he was qualified for the assignment. However, Foss told Robbie that Philly was out. "If you want a franchise," said the commissioner, "make it Miami." Robbie got the message, but it presented a problem. The client said you don't spell Philadelphia with an M, and forget it. Still, Robbie was intrigued. If Foss said, "Try Miami," why not? The problem was money, so Robbie called an old friend who had lots of it, Actor and TV Producer Danny Thomas. The question was put bluntly. "Danny, are you interested in owning an AFL football team in Miami?" "Yes," said Thomas, who has not packaged million-dollar productions like the Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith shows by dawdling over decisions.
From then on, events moved quickly—if not smoothly. Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the charter members of the AFL, told Robbie that other cities were ahead of Miami and gave some solid reasons why. As a resort area, Hunt argued, there would be little civic enthusiasm for pro football, and the Orange Bowl did not have a reputation for being receptive to overtures by pro teams.
Robbie listened to Hunt respectfully, disagreed and went after some facts to bolster his case. The biggest one he found was that the Orange Bowl averaged 31,000 people for pro football exhibitions and was willing to lower its rent for a Miami team.
Then Robbie got lucky. Atlanta, first in the hearts of the AFL expansion committee, was stolen away by the NFL, and New Orleans had a problem with the treatment of Negroes during the AFL All-Star Game. So, last August, Miami was voted in.
Robbie went to Miami, where he now was president of a football team, had a $7 million franchise, a tiny two-room office in the Dupont Plaza, a battery of telephones and nothing else. His first move was to hire a girl to answer the calls from people seeking such modest posts as that of head coach. Among the applicants was a hotel clerk with "a gift for organization," a trash collector from Pittsburgh who had not missed a Steelers game in seven years and an unaffiliated evangelist who explained how he knew from past experience that the pure of heart never lose.
There was also an application from Joe Thomas, the man who in 1961 had put the Minnesota Vikings together from scratch. He wanted to be Miami's Director of Player Personnel. Robbie, who could not have hoped for more, hired Thomas and it was Thomas who had to weed the quick from the dead on the list of players the Dolphins picked from the other AFL teams. The college draft was even harder to sort out. "The young players are the ones who will make us or break us in three years," said Thomas. "They have to be good, and they have to have glitter." With that in mind, Thomas drafted Norton, Jim Grabowski, the big Illinois fullback, and Emanuel—"the first two to make things go," says Thomas now, "and the other to make things stop." Norton constituted a risk because a leg injury had required an operation near the end of last season. But the operation was a success, and Norton quickly picked the Dolphins over the NFL Browns because "my chances of making it with a new team seemed better."
Grabowski, however, gave Thomas a jolt by signing with Green Bay. "You think getting Emanuel wasn't important then?" asks Thomas, and the successful chase was launched. Meanwhile, on the image-building front, Robbie pulled what may be the biggest upset of the season by talking Charlie Callahan, for 20 years the publicity genius at Notre Dame, into leaving South Bend and taking on the job of making the Miami team immortal. And on the team-building front he hired a head coach who was neither a hotel clerk nor an evangelist—George Wilson, late of the Detroit Lions. Wilson had 29 years in pro football, eight of them as head coach of the Lions. "He has experience," says Robbie, "and he has been a winner. Besides that, I like him."
The team still had no name, so a contest was launched that would help get the community into the spirit of things. A computer was used to tabulate results, and the answer spelled out by the machine was fortunate indeed: Dolphins. Robbie had taken an instant liking to the name and if, say, Alligators or Beachcombers had gained favor with the majority of Miamians, there is a strong possibility that the name still would have come out Dolphins.
Now that he had something to sell, Robbie went to Julian Cole, a short, round little man who used to be the press agent for Sally Rand. Cole, they say, could make Phyllis Diller the favorite in a Miss America contest, and he immediately began making a favorite out of the Dolphins. Soon paper Dolphins were leaping out from behind canned-goods displays and cartons of milk and—if you left your car untended for an instant—right out of your gas tank. Cole made deals with northern travel bureaus and now, for only slightly more than you can afford, you can be burned a fetching salmon, catch a sailfish, be wowed by Sammy Davis Jr. and get a good seat at a Dolphin game all in the same package. At present he is working on the possibility of having a real dolphin in a pool at the south end of the Orange Bowl. The dolphin would retrieve extra-point kicks that happen to land there and would leap out of the water with a flip every time the Dolphins score. Several candidates have tried out for the job, but the one Cole wants is Flipper, no less, star of network TV, who conceivably could bring in more goodwill with a single leap than a whole stadium full of baton twirlers.
"It'll be just our luck to get this solved and have the Dolphins go scoreless for about four games," said Cole recently.
"Oh, come on," said Notre Dame man Callahan, "surely we can win one for the Flipper."
The Dolphins began their summer training a month ago in St. Petersburg Beach, which is in an area known as the winter home of the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets and year-round home of the very aged. Local officials say this last is a bum rap, and it may be, for there seems to be ample opportunity for sun and fun—which is not conducive to pro football training. Wilson had some answers for that: "When I get through with them," he said, "the only thing they'll crave is bed." Six old pros were 10 minutes late for the 11 p.m. curfew one night and Wilson gave them a choice of crab-walking the length of the field backward on their hands and toes, somersaulting 100 yards or paying $100 fines. They all paid.
It was after the Dolphins' first morning workout last month that Frank Emanuel arrived for a few days of shaking hands all around and a quick scrimmage before leaving for Chicago and the All-Star Game. Emanuel was assigned to his room, where he was greeted by Rick Casares, the former Chicago Bear fullback who is giving pro ball one more try. "You've arrived, eh, kid," said Casares. "Welcome aboard."
Emanuel did not come to professional football by any easy route. Growing up in Newport News, Virginia, he was scrawny. At 9 he caught rheumatic fever and later an attack of polio briefly paralyzed his left leg. "I got awfully tired of being the smallest kid on the block," he says, "so when I was 12 I started working on a set of weights I got for Christmas. I mean working." By the time Emanuel was ready to graduate from high school he weighed 212 pounds and he threw his substantial bulk around the football field with the kind of passion that attracts college scouts—lots of them. He chose Tennessee.
"He was quick and he was tough," said one of his early Tennessee coaches, "and he wanted to be where the action was more than any player I can remember." Coaches tend to refer to such devotion as "desire," but in Emanuel's case it was something more. "Nothing," he says, "gives me greater satisfaction than a head-on tackle." He smiles when he says it, and the smile proves his point, for he suffers from linebacker's mouth. Where his front teeth should be there are souvenirs. Two gaps for Alabama, one for LSU and another for Ole Miss.
When Coach Doug Dickey came to Tennessee two years ago he scrapped the team's old single-wing attack. While his offense was learning the T formation, his only hope for something less than a disastrous season was a stout defense. Dickey got it, as Emanuel and Tom Fisher (who was later killed in an automobile accident) came on to establish themselves as two of the best and, some insist, meanest linebackers ever to disrupt the Southeastern Conference. In that first year, 1964, Tennessee managed to win four of its games and tie favored LSU.
So inspirational was that tie that in Dickey's office there is a photograph of players sprawled over the field and the caption: "Goal Line Stand, Baton Rouge, La. Oct. 24, 1964. Tennessee 3, LSU 3." Twice LSU tried to get into the end zone from one foot away and twice the LSU ballcarrier ran headlong into Emanuel and Fisher.
Another goal line stand—Tennessee seemed to be playing inside its own 20 all that season—came against Alabama and, while it was successful, it was far less gratifying for Emanuel. Three times Alabama attempted to score from the one-yard line, with the last try being made by Joe Namath. Emanuel not only stopped Namath, he tried to push his face into the turf. "Hey, No. 50," said Namath, "you don't have to do that."
"This is a rough game, All-America," said Emanuel.
"Right you are, No. 50," said Namath. "Take a look at the scoreboard and you'll see just how rough it is." Alabama was leading 19 to 0.
Tennessee ended that season by losing to Vanderbilt, which was one it should not have lost. Emanuel and two other Tennessee players spent the evening at the Mad Mouse, a local college bistro, feeling low of spirit and mean of mind. On the way home a earful of high school kids began playing bumper tag with the Tennessee trio. Shortly Emanuel and his friends were responding with fists. The fight brought the police, and became a cause cél√®bre.
When Dickey heard of the affair he called Emanuel into his office and told him: "You're through. As of now you are no longer on the squad." Since Emanuel was on a full football scholarship and without any financial reserve to see him through such emergencies, he also was out of school.
"I was sick," says Emanuel. "Everything I had worked for, everything I had to look forward to was gone. In five lousy minutes I had chucked it all away."
Emanuel left school feeling depressed, humiliated and aimless. "Football was my life," he says. "Without it I didn't know which way to turn." He went to Florida and got in touch with a few semipro clubs but mostly did nothing. Then a Knoxville businessman called him and urged him to come back to town and get a job there.
Emanuel spent the rest of the winter in Knoxville working for a construction firm, exercising at the YMCA and minding his manners. His performance pleased Dickey, who called him one day and told him he could try out for the squad in the spring. "That was it," said Emanuel. "I had my chance, and you can bet by golly I was going to make it pay off." Which is another way of saying spring practice was a crusade. Emanuel brought so much zest to each practice session that it began to rub off on everybody. With Emanuel and Fisher on defense and a new ability to score from time to time Tennessee became an SEC power.
As for Emanuel himself, the term most often used to describe him was "intense." By Thursday before a game he was no more talkative than the two turtles he kept as pets. A ringing phone, a slamming door or just the mention of his name would send him leaping out of his chair. "They used to call me Punchy," says Emanuel, "and I guess they had good reason. The guys would tease me by coming up behind me and clapping their hands. Boy, I'd really jump. It was just that I was thinking so hard about the coming game I'd get lost in myself, and I'd trained myself so hard to react quickly that any little thing could set me jumping."
His preparations for a game were as consuming as the playing of it. A nightly session with game films was not just a casual study of the situation but a period of deep concentration. "I was looking for anything that would give me a clue," says Emanuel. "You'd be surprised how many players have little mannerisms that give them away."
Once Emanuel spotted a guard at Kentucky who had the habit of lining up with either his left or right leg pulled slightly back, depending on where the play was going. Emanuel watched that leg and made 26 tackles, 17 of them unassisted. Four came in a row at the goal line when the score was tied in the third quarter. The next time Kentucky got the ball Emanuel intercepted a pass, and Tennessee went on to score the winning touchdown. "It was right there," said one pro scout a few months later, "that I got the feeling Emanuel could solve all of our linebacking problems for the next 10 years."
It will all be a lot easier for the Miami Dolphins if that pro scout was right about Frank Emanuel.