I'LL TELL YOU WHY DON Shula's twin vintage Super Bowl Dolphin
teams were among my favorites ever. They played quick games. They
ran the ball a lot. Bob Griese didn't throw many incompletes. You
didn't have to worry about deadlines when you covered a Miami game.
The Dolphins disposed of the Washington Redskins in two hours and
40 minutes in Super Bowl VII -- they would set an alltime record a
year later when they beat the Vikings in 2:29. Seems incredible now,
doesn't it? A Super Bowl played in less than 2 1/2 hours. Even the
national anthems were fast at those two games -- 1:11 by the Little
Angels of the Holy Angels School of Chicago in Supe VII, 1:13 by
Charley Pride the following year. Yes, I time anthems at football
games; that's my thing.
We all know that the 1972 Dolphins were undefeated. At the time, I
used to argue ferociously when people repeated the NFL propaganda
about them being the only pro team in history to go 14-0 in the
regular season. Paul Brown's 1948 All-America Football Conference
Cleveland Browns had done the same thing, but the NFL had a very
hoity-toity attitude about the old AAFC back then.
The '72 Dolphins were very close to perfection as an offensive
unit. They set an NFL season rushing record (2,960 yards) and
averaged more than 211 yards on the ground, a mark that fell to
Buffalo with O.J. Simpson and The Electric Company a year later. The
Dolphins had perfect balance in the backfield: Larry Csonka and Jim
Kiick for muscle, Mercury Morris for flash, Kiick for third-down
receptions out of the backfield. Their middle three on the offensive
line -- guards Larry Little and Bob Kuechenberg and center Jim Langer
-- were the best I've ever seen. Their wideouts were the classic
matching pair, Paul Warfield deep and Howard Twilley as the
possession receiver. They had the old Packer, Marv Fleming, as the
blocking tight end and Jim Mandich as the catcher. And in Griese they
had a mechanically precise quarterback who wouldn't let ego get in
the way of the offense.
The Redskins had something else. A nickname. Coach George Allen's
Over The Hill Gang. Their blood ran hottest against Dallas. They had
left a trail of broken bodies when they marched over the Cowboys 26-3
in the NFC title game. The question was, would they have enough left
over for Miami?
The speculation about the near-perfection of the Dolphins against
Allen's gang of roughnecks gave way around midweek as Allen himself
became the news, what with his phobia about ''distractions'' --
locker facilities, transportation, the angle of the late afternoon
January sun in the Los Angeles Coliseum, etc.
''He worried about distractions so much that he became a
distraction,'' said Redskins guard John Wilbur.
I had seized on the idea of interviewing each coach and asking him
to capsulize himself in one paragraph -- how he wanted to be
remembered for all eternity. I expected them to tell me to get lost,
but no, each one gave the question careful thought.
''Always fair,'' Don Shula said. ''Never screwed anybody. His
teams traveled first class.''
''I want to be remembered,'' Allen said, ''as a guy who wanted to
win so badly that he'd give a year of his life to be a winner.''
''How about two years?'' an onlooker said. ''A winner in this
game, or a winner overall?'' said another.
''Just a winner,'' Allen said.
Oddly enough, his Redskins came up flat on Super Sunday. I have
never covered a 14-7 game that was so one-sided. The Redskins stuck
their noses over the 50 only once in the first half, to the Miami 48,
and they got intercepted on the next play. The Dolphins led 14-0 at
the half. Washington had gained 72 yards. The only thing that made
the score close was Garo Yepremian's botched pass off a deflected
field goal, but it came with 2:07 left.
Writers around me howled when Garo tried that fish-armed throw,
and everyone had a surefire sidebar, but I felt sorry for little Garo
because he was one of the nicest people in the game. Someone once
asked him what college he went to and he said, ''Bald State.'' He was
in the tie-making business in those days, and he gave me a tie as a
''friendship present.'' A nice blue one with moons and stars on it,
100% silk (it's still one of my best ties), but it was twice the size
of a normal tie, and Garo must have spent more on the material than
he could ever sell it for. I was not surprised when I heard that Garo
got out of the tie business.
They blew it on the MVP award again. Miami free safety Jake Scott
won it for his two interceptions, but the popular choice in the press
box was defensive left tackle Manny Fernandez, who had 10 tackles or
assists, a sack, and numerous hurries and flurries. Years later, at a
party in Hawaii, I heard John Wilbur introduced as the player who won
the MVP in Super Bowl VII. Wilbur was the Redskins guard who had the
responsibility of blocking Fernandez much of the time in that game.
''What do you mean? He didn't win it,'' I said.
''Yeah,'' the guy said. ''He won it for Manny Fernandez.''