The critics say these are a bunch of sixty-something men who simply can’t let go of the past. But I say: Why should they let go? Why should they ever lose touch of such an amazing accomplishment?
If it weren’t something special, something really special, wouldn’t another team have matched it by now?
Wouldn’t the Patriots have not lost the Super Bowl after winning all 16 regular season games in the 2007 season? Or how about the 1985 Chicago Bears? As great as they were, they still couldn’t beat the Dolphins on that wild Monday night in the Orange Bowl, leaving them with one unforgettable blemish on their record.
The 1972 Dolphins are being honored at Sunday’s game along with defensive guru Bill Arnsparger, whose name will be added to the team’s prestigious Honor Roll. The ’72 team is being honored because the calendar says it has been 40 years since 17-0.
But more important than the calendar, more significant than simply holding a reunion for a bunch of guys who refused to lose, is the fact that this is a record that has passed the test of time.
I covered every game of Dan Marino’s incredible 1984 season when he re-wrote the record books. I honestly believed at the time that I would never see Marino’s records broken. But they have been broken and they will continue to be broken because this is a different era when passing is the name of the game.
Well, several eras have passed since the 1972 Dolphins. The game has changed over and over again. Great players have come and gone. Great teams have stood proud and tall. But the one thing that remains timeless is a group of players who simply took a season one game at a time until they won them all.
That is worthy of a celebration and that’s what makes this 40-year anniversary so special. Somebody, some team, step forward and do what these men did and then maybe we can question the validity of an anniversary party. But until that happens, until another team finds that elusive formula for perfection, then these men – Griese, Csonka, Warfield, Kiick, all of them – deserve their time in the spotlight.
The Dolphins have a proud tradition. But nothing can serve as a source of pride quite like what these players and coaches accomplished 40 years ago.
You’ll see them Sunday on the Sun Life Stadium field. You’ll see pot bellies and bald heads and, sadly, more than a few of them walking with a limp. You’ll look at them and wonder how they could have been football players 40 years ago.
But, at that precise moment, you need to close your eyes for a minute. You need to imagine them in those aqua and orange uniforms. You need to envision them back in a packed Orange Bowl in the prime of their football lives. You need to drift back to a different time when big meant 260 pounds and when Don Shula, with jet black hair and the meanest of jaws, turned them into an unstoppable machine.
That was a special time and these were such special men. They are all grown up now, but what a legacy they share.
See, the 1972 Dolphins didn’t only have the best talent in the league; they also had the best teachers. They were as prepared for each game, for every challenge, as a team could possibly be.
This is why it only seems fitting to honor Arnsparger on the same day as this 40-year salute.
I remember that defense well. They weren’t the biggest, weren’t the fastest and didn’t wow you with incredible athletic plays. But when it came to smarts, when it came to being in the right position at the most crucial of moments, no defense was better. Not then. Maybe not now.
Shula let Arnsparger run the defensive show and that says volumes about Shula. Arnsparger was the mad scientist, staying late in his office each night concocting ways of using his players as if they were chess pieces. Turn Bob Matheson into a pass rusher. Keep moving around Nick Buoniconti. Mix up coverages with the two smartest safeties in the league, Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
They were No-Names who went out and made a name for themselves.
While you look at some of those ’72 players and wonder whether they could have played in today’s NFL, there is no doubt that Arnsparger would have been a perfect fit in just about any era. Would have loved to have seen what he could have done with a Jason Taylor. Or a Zach Thomas. Or certainly a
Arnsparger was the master of finding a weakness in an offense and exploiting it. He would utilize the cerebral advantage of his players in so many ways, in so many different ways. His players adored him; his opponents were perplexed by him. You don’t find many coaches these days out of the mold of a Bill Arnsparger.
So yes, it’s only fitting that Arnspager’s name goes up on that stadium wall on the same day we honor many of the players he coached.
Forty years. Hard to believe the years have flown by so quickly. How young were we then? How important was that team, those players, to all of South Florida? They were more than just perfect; they were ours.
And now we salute them once again, honoring a group of men whose accomplishment has undeniably passed the test of time.
The 1972 Dolphins still stand alone. And you’ve got to wonder now, after 40 years, whether they will ever be asked to share that mountain top with another team?