The Perfect Team has been selected as The Greatest Team.
Don Shula will turn 90 years old the first week of January.
Sounds like a good reason for a celebration, doesn't it?
The Dolphins certainly agree.
The 1972 Dolphins and Shula will be honored at halftime of Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Hard Rock Stadium. It's always special to honor greatness. It never gets old even though the players are getting up there in age, most of them now in their 70s, and as for Shula, you just knew he'd still be going strong at 90, only at a slightly slower pace.
Many of you were not around when the 1972 Dolphins achieved greatness or, for some of the even younger fans, when Shula last roamed the sidelines, now hard-to-believe 24 years ago.
Many of you have no first-hand knowledge of what this Dolphins' team meant to South Florida during a very turbulent time in the early 70's and what this head coach meant not only for the victories but for the class Shula exuded every step of his remarkable journey.
Trust me when I tell you it was a special team and a special time and the more you can learn about it, the more of an understanding you'll have of the powerful roots of this franchise.
But for the ones who do remember, who were there in the Orange Bowl during those crazy, white-hanky waving times and who savored every moment the way so many of us did, the ceremony at halftime will provide a chance to let your mind wander back to an absolutely perfect time and see many of the players and the head coach that made it all happen.
During that halftime ceremony, the Dolphins will present the each of the players from the '72 team with a personalized golden football. How fitting because that season was as golden as it can get and never tarnished by a single loss. A word of advice: Stay in your seats at halftime. You don't want to miss the players and the coach who meant and still mean so much to this franchise.
And then there's the game itself, a matchup between two teams in the Dolphins and Bengals both enduring difficult seasons, each searching for a late season feel good moment and something to build upon.
The Dolphins have lost two straight after winning three of the previous five. They have a mountain of issues to address, but that's for the offseason. What they want now is a strong, positive finish with some signs of improvement in, at the very least, the following five areas:
- The running game: It's certainly admirable that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the team in rushing, but unless the name is Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray it's never a good sign when that happens. More production from the running backs is essential for this team to have success over the last two games. It's got to start with better and more consistent blocking from the offensive line and continue with some broken tackles and prudent decisions by the backs. The Bengals are giving up over 158 yards a game on the ground. The opportunity is there.
- Protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick: The resiliency of this 37-year-old quarterback is impressive, but how much more of a pounding can he take? He has already been sacked 36 times this season and last week against the Giants was roughed up pretty good. The line, the tight ends, even the running backs need to do a better job keep him upright. It is no great secret that as Fitzpatrick goes so goes this offense.
- Some semblance of a pass rush: While protecting Fitzpatrick is a must, so is doing a better job getting to the opposing quarterback. In 14 games, the Dolphins have 18 sacks. That's a real concern. It isn't as if the Dolphins haven't tried a variety of blitzes and formations. Creativity hasn't been the problem; it's execution. Taco Charlton leads the team with five sacks. Linebacker Sam Eguavoen is next with 3 ½. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton isn't known for his running ability so this presents an opportunity for this pass rush to at least have some impact on the outcome.
- More cohesion in the secondary: With the exception of safeties Eric Rowe (2nd round) and Adrian Colbert (7th round), the entire group that played against the Giants last Sunday was comprised of undrafted rookies. The Dolphins are facing a veteran quarterback Sunday in Dalton who can certainly take advantage of that inexperience. It's tough to find consistency with so many young, relatively untested players. But Team Opportunity has created a chance for these players to prove they belong. The final two games should tell us plenty.
- Red Zone success: When they get close, they've got to get in. The Dolphins aren't talented or deep enough to continue to settle for field goals. The past two Sundays haven't been good for the red zone offense and that needs to change against the Bengals. The best two red zone receiving options are DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, both tall sure-handed players athletic enough to create mismatches close to the goal line. Much of the burden falls on Fitzpatrick and his ability to improvise. We've seen this offense drive the length of the field many times this season only to bog down in the red zone. What we need to see now is for that offense to finish what it starts.