For a time it seemed like a press agent's opium dream. All week long the upcoming Baltimore Colts-Miami Dolphins game was the cynosure of speculation, conjecture, theory and fantasy—and bold, bright headlines. The casual visitor to the grimy workingman's town called Baltimore might have been excused for wondering whether Miami was going to play its star, Joe Robbie, 54 years old, 5'10", 185 pounds, out of the University of South Dakota, and if so, whether Baltimore would counter with swivel-hipped Carroll Rosenbloom, 61, 5'11½", 170, out of the University of Pennsylvania. Students of international relations and comparative theology fairly salivated at the prospect. Dolphin boss Robbie, a Horatio Alger type, of Arabic ancestry, versus Colt owner Rosenbloom, a onetime industrialist (manufacturer of Army fatigues in World War II), of Jewish ancestry. Could Robbie throw from the pocket? Could Rosenbloom scramble? Both could; both did. By week's end, the two front officers were still playing their own personal game with joyful abandon, while thousands cheered and a few yawned. Almost as an afterthought, like a Peewee hockey game after the big-leaguers have gone to the dressing room, Rosen-bloom's Colts met Robbie's Dolphins on the old-fashioned green grass of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, the Colts winning 35-0.
The war between the two owners broke out last winter. With Rosenbloom 10,000 miles away in the Orient, the slick Robbie tempted Baltimore Coach Don Shula with offers of wine, frankincense, peeled grapes and about $750,000, and before Rosenbloom could dial Commissioner Pete Rozelle's private telephone number the deal was consummated.
"Tampering!" Rosenbloom cried, and Rozelle responded by awarding Baltimore the Dolphins' No. 1 draft choice for 1971. Rosenbloom, a package of vindictiveness, generosity, sensitivity, bluntness and sagacity, remained vaguely discontented. When Robbie telephoned him and opened up with, "Carroll? This is Joe Robbie," Rosenbloom snapped, "I don't want to talk to you about anything," and hung up.
At the NFL owners' meeting in Honolulu last spring Rosenbloom saw Shula hustling toward him with a smile and a ready hand. When Shula was a few feet away, Rosenbloom did an about-face and presented the back of his $300 suit. Not long afterward the two were accidentally juxtaposed in the men's room of a New York hotel. "Hi, Carroll," said Shula with a broad smile. Rosenbloom turned coolly to a third party, issued a remark about Shula that must be rated GP (parental guidance advised) and stalked out.
"It's like this," Rosenbloom explained during the height of last week's son et lumi√®re in Baltimore. "I have not talked to Robbie or Shula since this happened. I will not talk to Robbie or Shula ever again. One stole something from me. The other allowed himself to be stolen." Fueled by a succession of such volatilities, the Robbie-Rosenbloom feud waxed all week. Baltimore newspapers chose sides, with The News American coming close to comparing Robbie and Shula to Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Sun-papers frantically trying to remind their readers that a crucial football game was going to take place, HOW ROSENBLOOM FLEECED COLT FANS, a News American subhead blared, and a column by Bert Bell Jr., himself a former Colt official, accused Rosenbloom of "a long series of front-office faux pas." Bell wrote that the Baltimore executives had pointed "the finger of suspicion at everyone but the guilty ones—themselves" and charged Rosenbloom with running "a smear campaign."
"The facts speak for themselves," Rosenbloom said. "I don't have to run a smear campaign. If Miami didn't tamper with Shula, why'd we wind up with their No. 1 draft choice? They got off easy. I would like to discuss it further, but Commissioner Rozelle called me and told me, 'Carroll, I wish you'd bring this to an end.' "
But while he was halfheartedly heeding Rozelle's request, Rosenbloom's actions were speaking bombastically. There was, for example, the case of "the Phantom Dolphin," which involved a highly imaginative young high school football coach who had been running around Everly, Iowa bragging that he was a weekend kick return specialist for Shula's new team. When a straight-faced story about the coach popped up in the Des Moines papers, the annoyed Dolphin ownership took the hoax with utmost seriousness, and Rosenbloom sallied into the opening that fate had provided him. "I can understand Joe Robbie's position because he hasn't any sense of humor," Rosenbloom announced. "Robbie was probably afraid the high school coach was getting into Dolphin games without paying." He followed this reference to Robbie's well-known nickel-watching with paeans to the young Iowa impostor, lauding him for bringing color to pro football and for proving once again that we are all dreamers, of which fact no one who lived in Baltimore last week needed reminding.
When Rosenbloom learned that a Florida sportswriter had been denied permission to travel on the Dolphins' plane after twitting Robbie publicly, he offered to fly the reporter to the Miami-Baltimore game at the Colts' expense. Robbie had already slipped the word to various members of his entourage that any representatives of the hated Baltimore Colts' organization were not persona grata. "A Miami sportscaster was talking to me," said Baltimore Assistant Coach John Idzik, "and all of a sudden he jumps and he says, 'Here comes Robbie, I can't be seen talking to you,' and he's gone."
Toward week's end came the unkindest cut from Robbie's stiletto. Prodded by Rosenbloom's enemies in Baltimore and encouraged by Dolphin operatives, a Colt fan club blandly announced that it wanted to make an award to Shula before the opening kickoff Sunday. "How stupid can people get?" asked a Colt official. "Can you imagine the scene on the field? If Shula goes out to accept the award and gets a five-minute standing ovation, we're embarrassed, and if he goes out there and gets booed for five minutes, he's embarrassed. So who can possibly benefit? We told the fan club to stuff it." Colt Assistant Trainer Dick Spassoff, a Bulgarian by trade, suggested, "Eef they want geev geeft to Shula, let 'em geev eet een locker room." As it happened, on Saturday a handsome color portrait of the prodigal coach was quietly conveyed to Shula in an empty ballroom of his downtown Baltimore hotel. Sixteen Colt fans were in attendance, crying, "Welcome home," and, "Good luck to you, but not on Sunday." And the new Miami coach and vice-president thanked them graciously and told them he would never have accepted the Dolphins' money if he had known the move would cause so much trouble. (Laughter.)
Shula, a former NFL defensive back who looks more like a battered house dick than a pearl of priceless worth, is not in the least reluctant to pop off at friend or foe, but he has chosen not to join in the tag-team match between the front offices. Indeed, Shula has implored Robbie not to answer Rosenbloom. When Shula left Baltimore, having shucked a self-perpetuating five-year contract in favor of "a tremendous opportunity for me to continue to coach and become active in ownership," he bowed orientally to all points of the compass, thanking the Baltimore fans for "the great moments and the disappointing ones that life presented to us here" and thanking Rosenbloom for releasing him from his commitment and "giving us the opportunity...." Then he called his new colleagues together in Miami and sketched the same kind of tough blueprint that had brought both championships and internal strife to the Colts.
The previous Miami coach, George Wilson, had been more like a pal to his players, "their favorite drinking buddy," as one Miami official put it. "Nobody mistakes Shula for a drinking buddy. He's a tight disciplinarian—he's a super-achiever. He's going to super-achieve some of us right into the coronary ward." To begin his building program, Shula sat down with the game films and rated every Miami player on every play of the dismal 1969 season. When he had finished, he informed some of the Dolphin veterans that their services would no longer be required. He reminded Joe Robbie of the bread-upon-the-waters parable, and Robbie started spending money and improving the team. More coaches were brought in. The Dolphins joined a scouting syndicate and stars like Center Bob DeMarco and Tight End Marv Fleming were signed to augment the great pass catcher, Paul Warfield, already obtained by Robbie in the off season (at Shula's insistence, according to certain cynics).
"The Dolphins bought themselves into contention in the Eastern Division," Oakland's Al Davis lamented, not without justification, although more than hard cash was involved in the transmogrification of the Dolphins. Don Shula, like him or dislike him, gives his employers full measure, and he expects the same of his fellow workers. When new Coaches Bill Arnsparger and Howard Schnellenberger arrived in Miami to begin house-hunting, Shula clotheslined them and within 30 minutes had them staring at game films. "They're the only guys I ever knew," said the Miami official, "that had to look for houses from midnight to 3 a.m." The numerous restaurants near the Miami front offices are all but unknown to the coaching staff. "It's always the same," one of them complained half-jokingly. "Don'll say, 'Let's send out for sandwiches and keep on working.' So we'll send out for sandwiches and keep on working."
When the players' strike ended, Shula rubbed his hands gleefully and began three-and four-a-day workouts. The activities began at 7:30 a.m. with "the 12-minute run." All hands had to run as far as they could in 12 minutes, while Shula stood by with his complex rating charts. More heads fell. Then he initiated "Gassers"—wind sprints back and forth across the field after practice. "Everybody runs," Shula barked. Garo Yepremian, a placekicker, was amusing himself by watching his teammates huffing and puffing when Shula snapped at him, "Why aren't you running?" and instructed the Cypriot to get a certain part of his anatomy in motion. "You'll notice you don't see Dorothy Shula out here at the workouts," said a Miami sportswriter. "That's because she knows he'd make her run the Gassers." Shula, in fact, sometimes runs them himself.
The new coach's dedication to winning had helped bring the Miami Dolphins to a 4-2 record by last week, second to Baltimore in the beefed-up AFL East, but such fiendish devotion is no guarantee of popularity, nor is it a team pleaser to chew players out in front of other players, a Shula habit. "Everything's cool right now and I think it'll stay cool," says Paul Warfield, who has been nearly as important as Shula in retreading the Miami club. "It might be different if we started to lose."
Warfield's diagnosis rings familiarly back in the Baltimore dressing room, where there is a unanimity of opinion that Shula was a sunshine soldier who crumbled and panicked after the 1969 Super Bowl loss to New York. "Winning has a way of curing its own ills," said the old philosopher and necromancer, Jimmy Orr. "What's bad doesn't seem quite so bad when you're winning."
"Last year when we started losing," said Defensive End Bubba Smith, "Shula went crazy. He had this thing about Vince Lombardi. He wanted to be better than Lombardi. So he did a lot of screaming."
"It started in the Super Bowl," said Tight End John Mackey. "We panicked and so did Shula. We couldn't do anything right. It carried over into the next season. He became more and more of a dictator. He started sending in most of the plays to John Unitas. To John Unitas!"
Said Unitas: "Don made a lot of enemies among the players. He was a good coach, always a good coach. But the way he handled some players left a lot of bad taste around here. I never let him bother me. I told him if he didn't like my job, put the other fellow in. But I guess a player who's uptight all the time, probably he couldn't get his job done."
"Maybe everybody hated Shula and maybe that's what he wanted," said Linebacker Mike Curtis. "Maybe he felt it would translate into making a close team, pulling us together because we hated him. It was a bad situation."
Defensive End Roy Hilton was asked, "What can you tell us about Shula?"
"Who's Shula?" Hilton said. "I didn't play for him. I was just on the team. I never came into direct contact with Shula, but he'd find a way to chew you out one way or the other. No matter what you did, it wasn't enough."
If football's strange science of opposites dictates that the easy-riding Miami team needed an ambitious martinet like Don Shula, it also dictates that the sore-oppressed Baltimore players needed a Spockian coach like Don McCafferty, who stepped into Shula's shoes after 11 years in the shadows. The towering, soft-spoken McCafferty does not knock Shula, and vice versa; the two are mutual admirers. But they are as different as Joe Robbie's stiletto and Carroll Rosenbloom's air-to-air rockets.
"I never did like to scream," McCafferty said. "I never liked to be yelled at when I was a player. If you treat players like men, they'll perform like men. If they don't, then get rid of them. Sometimes you'll lose anyway, but there's no sense dwelling on it. As I said after we lost to Kansas City, 'There's no use looking up a dead horse's butt.' People are human beings, not machines. Far as working long hours is concerned, I have a sign somewhere that says, 'It's not how many hours you put in, but what you put in your hours.' "
When Baltimore lost to Kansas City 44-24 early this season McCafferty said, "We stunk out the joint; it was a real team effort," and closed the book on the subject. He intended to ignore the game film entirely, but compromised with other members of the coaching staff by running it without comment.
"How can you not love a guy like that?" said Bubba Smith, who said last year that he was tired of being "yelled at just for the sake of being yelled at." Said Smith, "I'm down to 264 from 280. It's the lightest I've weighed in years and as a result I'm moving better. That's because a guy like Don McCafferty makes you want to play for him. Why, the first thing he did when he was named coach, he called the ballplayers in one by one and talked to them. Me he asked, 'Bubba, why is it in training camp all the black ballplayers sit at one table and the whites at another?' He's been worried about things like that, working on them, and as a result we're getting our thing together, blacks and whites, all of us. Why, Billy Ray Smith, he's my roommate and he's from Arkansas and Billy Ray's about as Southern white as you can get. You know what I mean? But, man, when I say something to Billy Ray now he says, 'Right on, baby,' he says, 'Right on, brother.' I don't say Billy Ray's seen the whole truth yet, but he's trying, he's trying."
Football teams respond to a number of stimuli, and strychnine to one is ambrosia to another. By the time the insulted and overworked Dolphins had made regular-season contact with the relaxed and freewheeling Colts on Sunday, the game had become a battle for first place in the AFC East, and while the front offices were trying to sink harpoons into each other the players were trying hard to concentrate on the important task at hand. "It'll be like playing against ourselves," said Mike Curtis just before the game. "With Shula, Miami's our mirror image." "They use the same plays," said Billy Ray Smith. "Two-thirds of the time they run on first down. Second and short, they're going to run. They throw only when it's obvious."
"I know one thing," team leader John Mackey warned. "They'll come in here ready to knock us off for one simple reason: because he's coaching them. He'll have them higher than the clouds. Hell, I didn't always get along with Shula either, but I also know that when I line up to play Sunday I can't worry about him. If we go in there uptight and thinking we're going to whip on Shula's ass, we're going to miss the whole point. This isn't the front office playing the front office, man."
But for all the skills displayed in the first half, it might as well have been Robbie vs. Rosenbloom. While a plane circled overhead pulling a DON SHULA HELLO AGAIN banner, the Colts and the Dolphins seemed to be playing in one of those poker games where the pot goes to the worst hand. Perhaps it was tension, but both teams performed as though Pat Palenka was playing every position. Bubba Smith was so eager to get to Quarterback Bob Griese, he was blowing in like an Olympic sprint champion and, given a boost in the wrong direction by double-team blocking, running right past Griese, who stepped up into the pocket, waited for the wind to subside and fired his passes straight into the butterfingers of Marv Fleming and Paul Warfield, who dropped them. A high pass from center snuffed out one Baltimore field-goal attempt, and the Colts flubbed another by taking too long to line up. A Miami player hit Baltimore's Ron Gardin after he called for a fair catch, and somehow Don Shula never changed expression as the official marked off 15 yards.
Ineptness followed ineptness. Griese tried an end-around to Warfield and, harried by a blitz, bumped into one of his own men before making the hand-off. Baltimore Back Norm Bulaich dropped a short pass, and two plays later was running in the clear when the ball squirted out of his hands for no visible reason, nullifying a splendid John Unitas call and an 18-yard gain. The only offensive punch was provided by Gardin, who took a punt on the dead run and scooted 80 yards for a touchdown. Later the flustered Griese threw his second interception and Unitas cashed in on one of his patented two-minute drills for a 14-0 halftime lead.
With 17 seconds gone in the third quarter, the ball game ended. Baltimore's Jim Duncan took a Garo Yepremian kickoff 99 yards, making the score 21-0 and forcing Miami out of its bread-and-butter running game and into a world it had never known—throwing passes into the Colts' zone, which features a three-man pass rush (if you count Bubba Smith as a single man), four linebackers and four deep backs. The result was predictable. Baltimore, tranquilized by its three-touchdown advantage, settled down to crisp efficiency, and the desperate Dolphins floundered to the 35-0 loss. "Well, we knew it would be a bodybuilder," said Miami Assistant Coach Monte Clark. Said McCafferty, "We're getting better every game."
In three weeks the two teams meet again in the Orange Bowl, where Miami won its exhibition encounter with Baltimore 20-13. It has been suggested that Robbie and Rosenbloom engage in a punt-pass-kick competition between the halves. The point spread has not yet been established.