Forty years of memories, untold stories and unique insight into the only Perfect Season in NFL history will be condensed into a one-hour television special airing for the first time this weekend in South Florida.
Miami Dolphins All-Access: 1972 Miami Dolphins – A Perfect Season presented by South Florida Cadillac Dealers will air first this Saturday night at 7 on WFOR and then it will re-air on WBFS and on SUN/FSN and segments of the show will make their way onto Dolphins.com.
When television viewers tune in to watch what amounts to 44 minutes of in-depth interviews with key actors from the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 season paired with archived game and practice footage, they will have no idea what landed on the cutting room floor. In fact, the behind-the-scenes work put in by the team’s video and programming division over a 15-month span rivals the sweat and effort that goes into a regular football season.
“This actually dates back to last spring of 2011, right around the NFL Draft and shortly before Jim Mandich passed,” said Jeff Griffith, Senior Director of Programming and Production for the Miami Dolphins. “We knew of course it was the 40th anniversary of the ’72 season coming up and then we got with sponsorship, (Senior Vice President-Chief Revenue Officer) Jim Rushton’s group and we mapped out the year based on our plan to do the television show.”
Like any plan, adjustments have to be made as circumstances arise that call for some quick thinking and foresight. Once Griffith and his crew finalized the list of 12 former players from that team, Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Don Shula and two members of the media – Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope and former Dolphins radio announcer Hank Goldberg, the logistics as far as conducting the interviews had to be figured out and scheduled.
Mandich lost his battle with bile duct cancer on April 26th, 2011, two days before the NFL Draft, and his passing set in motion a set of events that would be integral to the making of this special. It didn’t take long for key decision makers to reach a consensus that “Mad Dog” deserved to go up onto the Dolphin Honor Roll at Sun Life Stadium right away. The December 4th home game against the Oakland Raiders, one of the chief rivals of those 1970s teams, was selected and former Dolphins wide receiver now Senior Vice President/Special Advisor Nat Moore helped schedule a party in Mandich’s honor the night before on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
“They had scheduled all of the ’72 guys to come in for that event at the Sheraton and we pulled off around five of those guys one at a time that night,” Griffith recalled. “So we were a year out at that point and we had a studio set up in a hotel room and with Nat’s help and Harvey Greene and his crew’s help we sat them down for around 20-25 minutes. They were gracious with their time because they were at a party but they were happy to tell their stories.”
The final list besides Shula, Pope and Goldberg consisted of Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Nick Buoniconti, Paul Warfield, Jim Langer, Bob Kuechenberg, Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill, Garo Yepremian, Larry Little, Larry Seiple and Manny Fernandez. Six of them are Hall-of-Famers (Csonka, Griese, Buoniconti, Warfield, Langer and Little) and Csonka, Warfield, Scott, Stanfill and Seiple did their interviews that night.
With that many subjects being interviewed, travel to different locations was inevitable and something that Griffith and videographers Matt Bergbauer, Claudia Castillo, Ryan Himmel, Jason Su, Jared Nieto and former Dolphins videographer Kevin Brebner had to take into account when choosing the backdrops on the makeshift sets. That’s another detail the viewer will never even think about while watching but something that was important to the final product.
“We knew we would be traveling all over the place with these guys so we went with a plain Jane white backdrop,” Griffith explained. “So it didn’t matter if we were in my office, a hotel room, a banquet hall, a studio or camp, wherever, it looked the same. That was just something artistically we agreed on and it all worked out fine with the guys we were interviewing. This wasn’t an aggravation to them, or at least if it was they didn’t express that to us and that was a blessing for us. They gave up more than just their time, they gave up personal stories and even things that we didn’t ask for.”
Had the party for Mandich not happened, there was a slight possibility that Griffith’s screw might have had to travel as far as Alaska because that’s where Csonka lives. But as it turned out, the furthest they ended up going was New Jersey where Yepremian, Griese, Buoniconti, Langer and Fernandez were doing an autograph signing.
After sifting through all of the interviews and identifying the best and most important parts, Griffith and his crew figured out the most appropriate way to produce the show. They concluded that chronologically was the way to go, starting with Miami’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI following the 1971 season.
“None of them really said it, but they kind of hinted around the fact that the most defining moment in the team’s history is losing to the Cowboys,” Griffith said. “After that they went into the locker room and Coach Shula gave a speech there, which we don’t have on film, but we have the guys talking about that speech. Then for the show we go into training camp and how they’re going to be tougher, stronger and faster and do whatever it takes to not just get back to the Super Bowl but to win it this time.”
From there, knowing how quickly 44 minutes of film can fill up, there had to be some more tough decisions made as far as which games to highlight. Not all 17 wins could make the final cut, so the season opener at Kansas City was the first one chosen. It was the grand opening of Arrowhead Stadium in 120-degree heat against a Chiefs team the Dolphins beat the year before in the AFC Championship.
Other games that were featured included the Week 3 win at Minnesota that had the closest final score (16-14), the Week 5 win over San Diego when Griese broke his leg and gave way to Earl Morrall for the remainder of the season up until halftime of the AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh, and of course the Super Bowl against the Washington Redskins in Los Angeles.
“We have over three terabytes worth of footage just on this show, which will end up being 300 megabytes,” Griffith said. “I don’t know how many hours we have but each interview is close to a half an hour and we had to sift through them for the best clips. What we got from Edwin Pope and Hank Goldberg was invaluable because they were able to provide a different perspective. We laid down a rough cut in the offseason but we still needed to interview guys and we changed the story a few times.
“NFL Films has been phenomenal in supplying footage and it’s just been a fun project. Without that planning we never would have gotten it because coming to these guys two months out, no way, not with their schedules. So it all worked out with proper planning and with lots of help from so many different people, but we worked on it right up until the last minute. It’s like a painting. You don’t think you’re ever done with it so at one point we just had to say we’re finished.
11/10 – 4:00 pm - WBFS MY 33
11/10 – 7:00 pm - WFOR CBS 4
11/15 – 7:00pm - FOX Sports Florida
11/17 – 6:30pm - Sun Sports
11/18 – 2:00 pm - WBFS MY 33
11/20 – 7:00pm - FOX Sports Florida
11/22 – 7:00pm - FOX Sports Florida
11/23 – 10:00pm – Sun Sports
11/24 – 2:00 pm - WBFS MY 33
11/ 26 – 10:00pm - FOX Sports Florida
11/ 27 – 11:00pm - FOX Sports Florida
11/29 – 12:00pm - Sun Sports