Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Super Bowl pick, but first: The greatest NFL team nobody talks about

It's time to make my 2014 Super Bowl prediction, but first ...

A look back at the 40-year anniversary of my favorite team of all time, a team that also is one of the most overlooked in sports history:

The 1973 Miami Dolphins.

"What?" you're no doubt saying. "Every time a team goes 5-0 or 7-0 or 10-0, all anybody talks about are the undefeated Dolphins. They are legendary."

Well, I'm not talking about those Dolphins. The 17-0 team was the 1972 model, capping the season with victory in the '73 Super Bowl.

I'm talking about the following season's team, which went 15-2 and repeated as champs.

What a lot of people don't know is that the '72 Dolphins had an incredibly easy schedule and still struggled to win several of their games. They had to rally to beat a mediocre Minnesota team, squeaked out a one-point victory over a Buffalo squad that would finish 4-9-1, and barely got past both the Jets and Giants, neither of whom made the playoffs. Some of the "struggles" -- if one can say an unbeaten team struggled -- came about because QB Bob Griese was lost in the fifth game with a broken ankle. Although Earl Morrall played superbly in his place, he wasn't Griese.

In the postseason, the Dolphins hung on to beat an OK Cleveland team, used a 37-yard run on a fake punt to get past Pittsburgh and needed to stop a potential game-tying drive by Washington in the Super Bowl. (Don Shula benched Morrall in favor of Griese at halftime against the Steelers with the score tied at 7; Morrall had thrown a TD pass in the first half. How many coaches would have the cajones to do that?)

Hey, I don't mean to tear down the accomplishments of those '72 Dolphins. They did go 17-0, after all, and no team before or since in the history of North American major pro sports has been able to get through an entire season unbeaten and untied.

Plus, it was that team that captured the heart of a 12-year-old kid from Connecticut who was just starting to become a big-time sports fan. (Like many kids, I chose to root for a winner.) So believe me, I loved the '72 Dolphins and respect them to this day.

Still, I needed to discuss how they went 17-0 to put things in perspective.

Confident, skilled and healthy, the following season's Dolphins were a steamroller. Yes, they lost their second game 12-7 to Oakland, but they avenged that defeat in the playoffs by crushing the Raiders. They also lost their next-to-last regular-season game when Shula chose to rest most of his stars. In their 12 regular-season victories, the Dolphins were never seriously challenged.

My aunt and uncle, who lived in Miami, regularly mailed me newspaper clippings so I could keep up with my team. (Note to parents: Please explain to your kids what a newspaper was and what mail was.) I cut out pictures of my favorite players and taped them all over my walls. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

The Dolphins began the playoffs with an 18-point rout of the Bengals at the Orange Bowl -- a game witnessed by a sellout crowd that included yours truly. I was visiting my aunt and uncle, and they knew linebacker Nick Buoniconti's secretary, and she delivered a game ticket for me -- one of my all-time thrills as a sports fan. That was followed by a 17-point beatdown of the hated Raiders for the AFC title.

And then came the almost anticlimactic 24-7 thrashing of the Vikings in the Super Bowl. The Dolphins led 24-0 before the Vikings knew what hit them and my all-time favorite pro athlete, Larry Csonka, rushed for a then-record 145 yards. The Dolphins so dominated the line of scrimmage that Griese only needed to throw 7 passes all game.

What a team. Csonka, Griese, Buoniconti, Paul Warfield, Mercury Morris, Jim Kiick, Bill Stanfill, Manny Fernandez, Jake Scott, Dick Anderson, one of the great offensive lines ever assembled (Wayne Moore, Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Langer, Larry Little, Norm Evans), Garo Yepremian, Larry Seiple and, of course, Shula.

Before the 1972 season, the Dolphins were still called the No Names. By the end of 1973, every football follower everywhere knew who they were: two-time champions.

They could have made it three straight but they were seriously distracted in 1974 after Csonka, Warfield and Kiick decided to play out their contracts and leave for the fledgling World Football League. Still, the Dolphins went 11-3 before falling in the final minute to the Raiders in a game regarded as one of the best ever. By '75, with Csonka & Co. gone, the Dolphins no longer were among the elite.

I remained a Dolphins fan for about two more decades. I was energized in 1979 after Csonka returned for one more season. They went 10-6, including lopsided victories over Chicago and Green Bay -- which were important for my ego as a Marquette student surrounded by Bears and Packers fans.

In 1983, the football gods delivered Dan Marino, who somehow went undrafted until Shula grabbed him with the No. 27 pick. I loved watching Marino pass the football so flawlessly and accurately. With a flick of his wrist, the ball would go 50 yards into the arms of Mark Clayton or Mark Duper. I was living in Madison, Wis., at the time and on Oct. 30 of that season, I took my new bride Roberta to the garden spot of Rockford. Why? Because the Dolphins-Rams game wasn't on TV in Madison but was in Rockford. The Dolphins won, with Marino passing for 2 TDs and even running for one. (Poor Roberta had little choice but to be a Dolphins fan, and my kids would be, too, at least for awhile.)

In 1985, I went to Minneapolis to be AP's sportswriter there and, over time, I became less of a fan of the teams I had followed in my youth. I gradually dropped my allegiance to the Yankees, Knicks and Rangers, but it took quite a bit longer to get the Dolphins out of my system. When Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga forced out Shula so he could hire Jimmy Johnson after the 1995 season, I lost most interest in the team. When Marino retired after the '99 season, I was officially done with the Dolphins.

These days, I could give a flyin' hoot if the Dolphins win or lose. I'm a Panthers fan! But I will never forget the thrills I had watching Csonka and the rest of them -- my first "sports crush."

And I honestly do believe that the 1973 Dolphins were better than their undefeated predecessors.


OK, that was one long introduction to my prediction for tomorrow's big game.

Seattle will control both lines of scrimmage and will make things difficult for Peyton Manning. He will end up with better stats than Russell Wilson, but Wilson will be named MVP after having led an efficient attack and having made a couple of big scoring plays.

Although I like Manning and won't mind being wrong about this, he hasn't seen a defense quite like Seattle's all season.

Seahawks 24, Broncos 19.

See, now wasn't it worth getting through all that stuff about the 1973 Dolphins and my history as a fan?

Now go call your bookie and get rich.

You're welcome!


  1. I know you'll be stunned to discover that I approve of this prediction. The more the week has gone on, the more I see people leaning the Hawks way, most with the caveat that the heart is leaning towards Denver while the brain tells them Seattle.

    This will either be my greatest sports day ever, or most crushing. Can't sleep the night before, shocking I know.


  2. I'm happy for you and my other Seattle friends, Scott.

    Not to toot the old horn, but what the heck ...

    I was right about Seattle beating the spread, right about them winning the game, right about Manning having better stats but Wilson leading an efficient attack while contributing a couple of scoring plays.

    I was wrong about Wilson being MVP, but this was such a complete team victory that any number of Seahawks could have won the award. I would have given it to Percy Harvin, but I have no problem with LB Malcolm Smith winning it. He was more a right-place-right-time guy than a dominant player, but it was fitting that the Seattle defense be represented in the MVP vote.

    Two of the guys at our Super Bowl party picked the Broncos, including one who said they'd win by 20. Twenty! Next time, he might want to read TBT first!!

    Talk to you soon,