As we tick the days off to the season opener against the Patriots on Sept. 7, each day we highlight the players who wore that particular jersey number during their tenure in Miami. In some cases, the player and jersey number are synonymous. In other cases, the jersey number represents sustained greatness at a particular position. Whatever the case may be, jersey numbers are an important part of the fabric of professional football.
This jersey number produced only three starters, and perhaps none of the trio got the credit they deserved. The first starter was defensive tackle Bob Heinz (1969-77). Heinz was drafted in the second round of the 1969 draft by the Dolphins right behind first round selection Bill Stanfill, and the two would go on to play a significant role in the great “No-Name” defense of the 1970s. But while Stanfill became an immediate starter at defensive end, Heinz found himself playing behind Manny Fernandez at left defensive tackle his first two years in the league. Shifted to right defensive tackle in 1971, he carved out a starting career there the next four years, including eight starts in 1972 and 13 starts the following season, both Super Bowl championship years for Miami. Despite playing at a high level, he was overshadowed by his fellow defensive linemen (Stanfill, Fernandez, and Vern Den Herder), who all posted more gaudy statistics. Like Tim Bowens and a few others, Heinz remains one of the most underrated Dolphin defenders in team history. The next starter to wear this jersey, Ronnie Lee (1984-89), also never fully received his due. Beginning with the 1979 season when he broke in with the Dolphins at a tight end, Lee wore #86 for four years until he was moved to offensive tackle, where he played the rest of his career wearing #72. It took him a few years to claim a starting spot at right tackle, and because he was initially viewed as a tight end, his blocking skill didn’t get the respect it deserved. But he played well when he finally broke into the starting lineup, including the 1988 season when he started every game and was part of an offensive line that allowed Dan Marino to be sacked only six times all year. The final member of the starting trio to ever wear #72 was Miami native Vernon Carey (2004-11), who was a stalwart at right tackle for most of his Dolphins career. Carey was the team’s first round draft pick in 2004 coming out of the University of Miami (and Miami Northwestern High School before that), and because of that draft status, coupled with being a local product , he joined the Dolphins with great expectations. Carey proved to be both durable and versatile during his Dolphins career. He started all but seven games from 2005-11, including 87 in a row in 2005-10, the eighth longest starting streak by any Dolphin and the fourth longest by any Miami offensive lineman. In addition to all his starts at right tackle, he also started all 16 games at left tackle in 2007 and 15 games at right guard in 2011. Despite that, Carey never seemed to get the respect he deserved.
The complete list of Dolphins who have worn #72 includes Whit Canale (1966); Bill Keating (1967); Rudy Barber (1968); Bob Heinz (1969-77); Mike Fultz (1981); Richard Bishop (1982); Ronnie Lee (1984-87); *Steve Jacobson (1987); Ronnie Lee (1987-89); Karl Wilson (1993); Tom McHale (1995); Barron Tanner (1997-98); Vernon Carey (2004-11) and Will Yeatman (2012-13).
Tomorrow: Who was the only solid starter in Dolphins history to wear # 71? (Hint: A starting offensive lineman, he helped Dolphins running backs rush for 1,000 or more yards three of his four seasons with the team.) Bonus question
: What Dolphins player who wore this jersey would have been the team’s No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft if Dan Marino wasn’t still available?
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