Dolphins of 1972 would gladly put cheese on a toast

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Linda Robertson/McClatchy Newspapers
Monday, December 12, 2011
— The champagne is not on ice. Dick Anderson, Nick Buoniconti and their 1972 Miami Dolphins teammates are not itching to pop the cork. None of them owns an Aaron Rodgers voodoo doll. And they do not plan to be perched, vulture-like, in front of the TV on Sunday, waiting to see if the Green Bay Packers’ winning streak dies.

The 1972 Dolphins are serene. Their place in history is secure. They were the first and so far only team in 90 years of pro football to complete a perfect season when they went 17-0 and beat the Washington Redskins for the Super Bowl title.

The 13-0 Packers have a chance at matching that perfection. But they’ve got to win six more games to do it.

If they don’t, the Dolphins will continue their tradition of toasting another year of being unique.

Don Shula, the Hall of Fame coach who led the iconic Dolphins, said the Packers can go 19-0 if prolific quarterback Rodgers peaks during the playoffs.

“They got pushed to the limit by the Giants last week and figured out a way to win,” Shula said. “If they keep playing at this level, I don’t see anybody knocking them off.”

The Packers have won 18 in a row dating to last season, when they were Super Bowl champions. They play Oakland on Sunday, then at Kansas City, against Chicago and against Detroit. After a likely first-round bye, they’d have to win two playoff games before going to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

“I think their chances are very good,” former Dolphins running back Larry Csonka said. “But each game that 800-pound gorilla gains another 50 pounds. They’re being forced to pay attention to the undefeated record more than they want to. At the end of the season, everyone is fighting for his life and for his job and things can turn on you.”

At the other end of the NFL spectrum are the Indianapolis Colts, who could match the record for imperfection. The Peyton Manning-less Colts are 0-12 with games remaining at Baltimore, against Tennessee and Houston and at Jacksonville.

The 1972 Dolphins — many of whom reunited last week to commemorate the late Jim Mandich — are keeping their eyes on the Packers. But nearly 40 years after their feat, they are not obsessed with preserving it.

“I’m not sitting here like an angry old guy hoping they’ll lose — as we have been depicted,” said Shula, 81. “I don’t think Joe DiMaggio was pulling for anybody to break his 56-game hitting streak record. So we’d like to keep it, but if somebody breaks it we will call and congratulate them.”

The Dolphins’ goal in 1972 was not to go undefeated. It was to redeem themselves in Super Bowl VII after losing 24-3 to Dallas in Super Bowl VI.

“I was 0-2 in Super Bowls, and when you’re 0-2 people say bad things about you,” Shula said. “They say you can’t win the big one.”

Shula replayed a tape of the loss to Dallas on the first day of training camp.

“He said, ’See how sick and sorry you feel? Think about how sick and sorry you’ll feel if you don’t get back there and win it,’ “ running back Mercury Morris recalled. “That was our agenda, and he never let us forget it.”

Former Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese said the Packers need the same tunnel vision the Dolphins had, even if their motivation is different as defending Super Bowl champs.

“I don’t think perfection is in the forefront of your mind when you’re in the 12th, 13th, 14th game,” he said. “We just didn’t want to lose. The fear of losing is stronger than the will to win. It was never, ’Let’s keep the streak going.’ It was, ’We’ve got unfinished business. We’ve got to get back to the Super Bowl.’ “

The Dolphins did it even though Griese went down with a dislocated ankle in the fifth game. Earl Morrall, 38, started the next 11 games.

“I’d picked up Earl as an insurance policy,” Shula said. “I had to talk Joe Robbie into doing it because Earl was making $90,000. I wanted to claim him off waivers and Robbie said, ’Paying $90,000 for a backup — are you out of your mind?’ “

Griese, 66, said he’s impressed by Rodgers, who has surpassed Drew Brees and Tom Brady as the league’s supreme quarterback. He’s not so confident of the Packers’ defense but thinks the team will capitalize on their home-field advantage during the playoffs — an advantage the 15-0 Dolphins didn’t have when they played at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. Griese, coming back from the injury, directed two touchdown drives, and Buoniconti intercepted Terry Bradshaw to seal the 21-17 win.

“We want to finish like last season when we got hot at the right time and carried it into the playoffs,” Rodgers said. “We want to get that first-round bye and some rest. We need to be playing the right way once we get into January.”

Said coach Mike McCarthy of his Packers: “I feel they’re special. And greatness is really calculated by, did you win the Super Bowl?”

The team that has come closest to another perfect season was the 2007 Patriots, who went undefeated through the regular season, matching the feat of the 1972 Dolphins and 1934 and 1942 Bears. The Patriots won two playoff games to go to 18-0 before being upset by the Giants in a Super Bowl thriller.

“When Eli Manning threw that last touchdown pass, I immediately got emails, my cell phone started ringing, my home phone started ringing,” Griese said. “I said, ’Wait, Tom Brady still has a minute left to throw a 60-yarder and get within field-goal range.’ But they couldn’t do it and I’ve been a big Giants fan since.”

Morris disagrees with the idea that a 19-0 team under the NFL’s expanded schedule would be better than the 17-0 Dolphins. Just as Sir Edmund Hilary was the first to climb Mount Everest, the Dolphins were the first to go undefeated.

“I remember Keyshawn Johnson said if the Patriots go 19-0 we’d be second best,” said Morris, 64. “I call that simpleton math. Besides, he wasn’t born until 1972. No, we were the team who won every single game for the first time in history. The Packers have a chance to repeat it.”

In 2009, the Saints went 13-0 and the Colts 14-0 before losing. They met in the Super Bowl in Miami, where New Orleans won 31-17.

Anderson doesn’t think the Packers would do what the Colts did in 2009, when they pulled Manning in the third quarter of Game 15 and lost to the Jets.

“The Super Bowl is your ultimate goal but you could see the frustration on Manning’s face because they had a chance to run the table,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the Dolphins didn’t give much thought to their record being matched until 1985, when the Chicago Bears went 12-0 before losing to the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. The Bears, led by Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and Mike Singletary, finished 18-1 after winning Super Bowl XX.

The champagne-toasting began several years later. But Anderson, 65, said the portrayal of the Dolphins as aging ex-jocks who are clinging to and gloating over their record has been exaggerated.

“It’s nice to create a myth,” Anderson said. “We set the record. No one else has it. So why would we be grumpy?”

Said Griese: “We figured somebody else would go undefeated. But when those great Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys teams couldn’t do it, then we said, ’Hey, this is pretty amazing.’ “

After the Dolphins — two-point underdogs — beat the Redskins 14-7 on Jan. 14, 1973, Morris went to a nightclub in Los Angeles where he was introduced to Frank Sinatra.

“Frank says, ’Kid, you made a lot of money for me. What fool bets against a team that has won every game? Thanks, kid,’ “ Morris said. “If the Packers get to the Super Bowl, I would bet on them because I respect them so much.

“If they win, the champagne is on us.”

Last updated: 7:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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