By Guest Contributor Lary Coppola
1972 Miami Dolphins
“17 and O – That’s Perfectly Super” read the headline of the Miami Herald the morning after Super Bowl VII. Yes, it was…
As a young man of 22, who grew up in South Florida in the 60’s, and just beginning to understand the real ins, outs, and strategies used in professional football, the 1972 NFL season was a magical time.
The Miami Dolphins were our team, and we were the original 12s — all 72,319 of us who made the trek to Little Havana, gladly paying $10 to 20 bucks in 1972 dollars to park on someone’s front lawn and walk a mile or so in 80+ degree heat to jam-pack the sold out Orange Bowl every Sunday.
It was the first time Florida had its own NFL franchise to root for — there were no Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or Jacksonville Jaguars until decades later. Until then, we only had the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators, and for those in the Florida Panhandle – which is in another time zone — it was the Florida State Seminoles or the Crimson Tide of Alabama. The nearest NFL team was the Atlanta Falcons — 10 hours by car and almost 700 miles away.
Because of the massive migration from the Northeast to South Florida that started in the mid-1960s, the New York Jets — led by “Broadway Joe” Namath, and the Boston Patriots — pre-Brady and Belichick — were our natural rivals. Every game day was a lot like when the Seahawks play the Forty Whiners – only way louder.
Dolphin’s owner Joe Robbie pulled off the deal of the century when he signed a young Head Coach named Don Shula, stealing him away from the Baltimore Colts and celebrated QB Johnny Unitas, when his contract was up. The NFL fined Robbie a bunch of money and the Fins first round draft pick after the Colt’s ownership whined about the unfairness of it all. Imagine that, signing a guy whose contract was up. How low could you go? All Robbie said to the media — with a wink of his eye and big smile when the fine was announced, “It was worth it.” And worth it he was.
But it was the team Shula put together — starting with All-American QB Bob Griese, the number 4 pick in the 1967 draft out of Purdue, and now a Hall of Famer. Then there was Larry Csonka, who has to be the most punishing runner to ever carry a football and is the original “Beast Mode.” Csonka was guaranteed to fall down five yards every time he touched the pumpkin — even when everyone on the field, sidelines, and in the stands knew he was getting the ball. His sidekicks, running backs Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris were the perfect compliment to the “The Zonk” as he was known.
His O-Line included the likes of Larry Little and Bob Kuenchenberg at Guard, Norm Evans at Tackle, and Jim Langer, at Center. Marv Fleming and Jim Mandich were often Griese’s main targets along with legendary wide receiver Paul Warfield — who was grace in motion.
Shula also traded with his old nemesis, the Colts, for Griese’s insurance policy — getting 38-year old QB Earl Morrall, who could double as a kicker when needed. It was a good thing he did because Griese broke his ankle when he was sacked in Game 5 against the San Diego Chargers by Deacon Jones and Ron East. It was like when Russell Wilson went down last year — everyone knew the season might be over.
However, Morrall stepped up, carrying the team to victory the rest of the season until Griese was able to take the helm back in the last game of the year. But he didn’t replace Morrall until part way through the AFC Championship game against the Steelers.
And let’s not forget the infamous “No Name Defense” as they were tagged by longtime Cowboys Head Coach, the illustrious Tom Landry. Led by Linebacker Nick Buoniconti, it featured Defensive End Bill Stanfill, Manny Fernandez at Tackle, Lloyd Mumford and Curtis Johnson at the Corners, plus Jake Scott, Dick Anderson and Charlie Babb at Safety. That crew was the original “Legion of Boom” long before Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman were even born.
That year, nine players — Csonka, Morris, Warfield, Little, Evans, Buoniconti, Stanfill, Anderson and Scott — were all named to the Pro Bowl, with Morrall, Stanfill and Anderson named 1st team All-Pro.
The Dolphins’ magical 1972 season was only the team’s seventh year — and its third in the NFL. They are the only NFL team to ever win the Super Bowl with a perfect season — going 14–0 and winning all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins.
Yes… it was a magical time in South Florida… A time when athletes respected our flag, and were role models for kids. Before steroids and marginal players being signed for millions for a single season. Back when player jerseys didn’t cost more than a C-note.
Yes, 17-0 was perfectly super — and for guys like me, the original 12s rooting for the Fins in the early days — it always will be…