Special movie evokes fond memories for fans, players and coaches.
As soon as the lights inside the historic Olympia Theater were dimmed and the iconic moving image of Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Don Shula appeared on the giant screen, the packed theater was transported back in time 40 years.
Saturday night’s premiere screening of “More Than Perfect. One Team, One Town. The Untold Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins,” brought together the likes of Shula, Hall-of-Famers Bob Griese, Larry Little Nick Buoniconti and almost all of that legendary team. They were joined by some of the most ardent fans and treated to a unique look inside the impact that unbeaten season had on the city of Miami.
By the time the 45-minute film was over and narrator Roy Firestone began calling out the names of those former Dolphins players and coaches and inviting them onstage, the emotions evoked by the film were visible and telling. This wasn’t just another NFL highlight film, but a production that weaved football memories with never-before-seen footage of a then-burgeoning young city connecting with its only professional sports team like no other city has.
“That’s a great film,” said Griese to the crowd after grilling Shula about why he only ran the gassers with the quarterbacks. “It depicts Miami and what Miami was in the 60s and going into the 70s and my question is, why can’t that be repeated? Why can’t we go back and dig up all the different faces of the community in Miami and why can’t they come together again and why can’t the team come together again?”
Throughout the screening it was hard to ignore the contrast between the images of a young and vibrant Mercury Morris or Bill Stanfill or Shula during any one of the 17 victories and their present-day look during their interviews. Four decades is a long time, but the passion and the personality never left these men, so as Morris admitted to Firestone that he was five seconds away from crying again just seeing so many of his teammates together, it resonated with the entire theater.
If there was one central theme that came out of the movie and the program put together before and after the screening it was just how far reaching that 1972 season really was. Shula and the others got to see and hear from Miamians as famous as Gloria Estefan and as unknown as Orange Bowl hot dog vendor Angel Caso share their special memories from that season, so Shula in typical Shula fashion had one endearing message for the critics out there that try to demean how he, the organization and the city choose to honor The Perfect Season.
“People might think that we celebrate too much but the hell with them,” Shula said before handing the microphone back to Firestone.
The legendary Howard Schnellenberger, who was Shula’s offensive coordinator and later went on to bring the University of Miami its first national championship in 1983, was not at all surprised by Shula’s candor. That’s how he remembers Shula being four decades ago.
“Well, Don will tell it like it is every time,” Schnellenberger said. “After he does, everybody understands why he did it. This felt like having a 40th year anniversary of a wedding and these are the children coming of that wedding coming back. It’s so grand to see how well they’ve all done and how healthy most of them still are and revisit the greatness of the year.”
Dolphins owner Steve Ross attended Miami Beach High School and remembered what those early Dolphins teams meant to the community. The movie further fueled his passion to create that type of connection between the Dolphins and South Florida.
“It was great and it can’t happen again soon enough,” Ross said. “Having lived here then it reminds me how long ago that was but this shows you what winning does for the community. That’s the reason to own a team and to bring a community together and to see those types of things happen. People want a winner and it really did a lot for Miami and I think today it’s because of this team that wherever we go people really love the Miami Dolphins. We have fans throughout the country and it really kind of emanates back from the ’72 team.”
Those players and coaches that are no longer with us like Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, Bob Matheson, Wayne Moore and Mo Scarry, also were remembered after the film. Mandich’s wife, Bonnie, and two of her sons, Mark and Nick, were in the audience as was Scarry’s son, Mike, and quarterback Earl Morrall received a standing ovation when he stood up to be recognized.
Jake Scott, the other part of the talented safety duo with Dick Anderson, traveled all the way from his him in Hawaii to be a part of the celebration and came away from the film enlightened. The scenes from the 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII were scenes he had watched many times before, but the other aspects of the movie touched Scott.
“It was really kind of inspiring is what it was because it wasn’t all about football, which was really good,” Scott said. “It was so well made and the comments from the players and the fans, they did a heck of a job capturing what the spirit was then and not just the football games. (The archived clips of practices) brought back memories of being tired because Shula worked us pretty hard. We were all in shape and we were in better shape than most teams because of the heat.”
Scott also smiled when reminded about how close the players were with the fans back then. Anderson reflected during the film how he and his teammates would talk with the fans in the parking lot of the Orange Bowl after the games as they tailgated.
“Mad Dog Mandich and I would take off for Mike’s Lounge and before the reporters even got inside we were over there having a cold beer,” said Scott with a laugh. “Going through the parking lot the fans might be handing you a beer, especially when you won, so that obviously was a much different time.”
Different in terms of number of years maybe, but not in terms of that important connection. That was the goal from the beginning when Dolphins CEO Mike Dee proposed the making of the movie.
"I hope everybody loved it and I thought to me it took you back in time,” Dee said. “If there was anything we wanted to accomplish with the film it was to be able to transplant you from 2012 back to 1972 and what it was like here in Miami. Most importantly, you can’t really understand the present without a full understanding and connecting to your past. Hopefully, for those who were here and those that will see this show both here locally on WFOR and on the NFL Network. it will mean a lot to those Dol-fans who have been with us for a long time and hopefully for those who haven’t been with us so long it will give them a perspective on their favorite team that they may not have had before.”