It is still too early to know for sure, but it now appears that the city of Miami will be saved by Bob Griese's four eyes—and not by legalized gambling or nude beaches or Anita Bryant. A Dolphin promotion called "Explo '77," a campaign that sounds as if it was the brainstorm of the same ad guy who sent Lucky Strike green to war, was launched last Sunday afternoon when the Houston Oilers visited the Orange Bowl, and the National Football League's first bespectacled quarterback exploded all over the place in the first 15 minutes to lead the utterly surprising Dolphins to a quick 21-0 lead and start them on the way to a 27-7 victory, the third straight for the undefeated Miamians.
Because Miami had slumped to a 6-8 record last season and had not won its first three games since the Super Bowl year of 1972 (17 straight), one has to assume that Griese's eyeglasses have had as much to do with the comeback as all of Coach Don Shula's rebuilding efforts. Griese was nothing short of deadly against the Oilers, who were just as unbeaten as the Dolphins entering the game. When Griese put those 21 points on the board in the first quarter, it was the first time the Dolphins had done such a thing in seven years. He hit seven of his first eight passes, and did not throw a bad ball on the one he missed. One of the seven went for a touchdown to Duriel Harris, who did some of the spectacular things that Nat Moore had done for Miami the previous Sunday against San Francisco.
The Houston game, however, was not really over until the early moments of the fourth quarter when the Miami defense, not Griese, held the Oilers for five downs after Houston had moved to a first-and-goal at the Dolphin three-yard line. A touchdown would have brought the Oilers to within seven points of the Dolphins at 21-14. But employing some of the most curious play selection since the hideout and the flying wedge, Houston tried to hammer the ball into Miami's end zone on basically straight-ahead ground attacks, and when it was all over, the Oilers were still at the three-yard line—and Miami had the football.
Houston had scored its touchdown in the second quarter when Dan Pastorini, executing a fake handoff on which he almost had his right arm removed from his shoulder, trotted around left end more or less unnoticed. That was about it for Pastorini. This was Griese's day. Even when he suffered his first interception in 54 pass attempts this season, it came after the ball hit his tight end, Andre Tillman, in the chest.
October 9, 1977
Before the game Griese was leading the AFC's passers with a "rating" of 94.1, whatever that means. No one understands the system except a computer. But Griese probably did not do too much damage to his stats by completing 13 out of 20 for 195 yards. These are relatively new Dolphins, of course, and Griese has had to become more of a thrower than he was during the championship days when his most agonizing decision was whether he should hand the ball to Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris or Jim Kiick after Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Little. Norm Evans and Jim Langer knocked everybody down. During that era, Griese was generally regarded as a mechanic rather than a Johnny Unitas. He was Shula's Bart Starr.
Now Griese is in charge of the "Explo" Dolphins, the big-play team that the normally conservative-minded Shula has been forced to develop since the breakup—through injuries, retirements and defections—of the crew that dominated pro football in the early '70s. Miami has gone from a grind-it-out team to a "get the ball into the hands of Nat Moore or Duriel Harris or Freddie Solomon if you don't mind" type of franchise. And Griese, who is still a good mechanic, has had to keep his arm limber. Strangely, this change has come about at the same time as Griese's need for glasses.
"I've always had a weak eye and a strong one," Griese said after accepting the game ball last Sunday. "Last season I started to notice some double-vision and dizziness. I figured, well, I'd go to contacts. For me, though, contacts weren't the answer because of the prisms. I just had to put on glasses."
Griese tried contact lenses during an exhibition game in mid-August, but after missing an extra-point kick in his role as replacement for the injured Garo Yepremian, he switched to regular glasses for the second half and booted two extra points. He has worn the glasses since that time.
You would think that glasses beneath a helmet and behind a face mask would have some effect on a quarterback's ability to gaze around the field for his receivers. Harris and Moore and Solomon, for example, are not exactly turtles when it comes to running patterns. And Griese certainly could see them just fine against Houston. He connected with six different receivers, but for some reason did not throw to Moore, who had begun to look like his favorite. Moore had done everything but inflate the ball in the 49ers game, catching three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This time Griese displayed a distinct partiality for Harris, who was frequently running free in the Oilers' secondary. Harris caught five, including one that he dived for and snagged on the right edge of the end zone for Miami's second touchdown.
"I just don't think they're going to bother me," Griese said of the glasses. "They haven't fogged up yet. Even in Buffalo in the rain, although I had to keep cleaning them, I was never unable to see. Sometimes I had to throw through the bubbles, but I could see."
One question has occurred to everyone, of course. What would Griese do in a heavy rainstorm? The quarterback answered it on Shula's television show. He appeared wearing huge, round specs with battery-powered wipers—a good gag for a man who is not particularly noted for his humor.
The Oilers found nothing humorous in Griese's performance. Two of Miami's scoring drives in the first quarter were close to perfection. Griese took the Dolphins 80 yards in nine plays, and then 82 yards in eight plays by mixing Benny Malone's running, both nifty and powerful, and his own expert passing. Griese even threw in one of the things he surely must lead the NFL in, and always has—cadence. Nobody can lure the opposition offside like Griese.
In the Dolphins' first scoring drive, the 80-yarder following the opening kickoff, Griese ran Malone in one direction, then threw to the opposite side. He twice passed on first down, something that would have happened in the old days only if he had suffered a concussion. The biggest play was a 21-yard, second-and-eight pass to Harris that got the Dolphins close enough—one yard—for Norm Bulaich to barge in on the next play.
Griese also began the 82-yard drive with Malone. He ran Malone twice for a total of 22 yards, and then on a second and one, Griese tricked the Oilers with a 27-yard pass to Harris. Two plays later he went to the ubiquitous Harris for 23 more yards. Perhaps just to show Houston that Harris wasn't his only receiver, Griese then hit Tillman, the tight end, over the middle for 11 yards, and very quickly Malone scored to give the Dolphins their 21-0 lead.
"People used to complain because we were dull, even when we were winning," Griese said. "This is a totally different kind of team. We're a good team, better than anyone thought. We've got explosiveness but we'll make mistakes. You can tell how different we are by the enthusiasm we have. We didn't used to yell and jump around in the dressing room like this."
As for all of that "Explo '77" business, it is actually a sales campaign to get the citizens of Miami interested in the Dolphins again. It was dreamed up by management to combat what a good many people, owner Joe Robbie excepted, felt was a rather dreary October schedule. Houston led it off but coming up soon in the Orange Bowl will be such pillars of the NFL community as the New York Jets, the Seattle Seahawks and the San Diego Chargers. While the Jets and Chargers stunned the world last Sunday, not to mention New England and Cincinnati, respectively, it remains to be seen how stunning they will continue to be. Miami is going ahead with its aggressive promotion to lure back the dropouts from the 74,000 people who used to buy season tickets. The number has dwindled to 35,000. and last year's 6-8 record, the first losing season Shula ever experienced, was hardly a selling point.
Shula has so rebuilt the Dolphins that only 10 of 22 starters remain from the team that won the AFC East in 1974. The new "No Name" defense for the Dolphins includes such luminaries as Kim Bokamper, Bob Baumhower, A.J. Duhe and Norris Thomas—or is it Thomas Norris?—but Shula had no complaints about their work against the Oilers.
"I like the people we have now," he said. "When you think about us in terms of those Super Bowl teams, you see some of the same faces, some of the important ones, like Griese and four-fifths of the offensive line. We don't have a Mercury Morris, but Malone is more powerful. We don't have Paul Warfield, but Nat Moore and Harris and Solomon can do more things. Maybe I put too much hope in some of our injured players the past two years. This year I said a player had to show me on the practice field that he could do it before he made the team. We haven't lost our zest around here. We work as hard as we ever did. Losing hasn't been easy to take, but it was a little easier because we had won. I think I'm as hungry as ever to win. I think we can win with these people."
Shula's most important statement concerned Griese, however: "He's absolutely better than he ever was."
Griese certainly was on Sunday. That's why the Dolphins awarded him the game lens.