Thirty-five years later, ‘72 Dolphins still stand alone
Patriots pose major threat
MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins were two months into the 1972 schedule before guard Bob Kuechenberg first discussed with anyone the possibility of a perfect season.
With the record 10-0 after a win over the New York Jets, Kuechenberg and teammate Jim Langer worked out at the team’s dilapidated complex.
“We were lifting weights in the bathroom they called a weight room,” Kuechenberg said with a laugh. “It really was that small. We had to put our feet on the wall to do the bench press.
“I told Langer, ‘Obviously we’re going to have to lose a game.’ “’I suppose,’ he said. “’When?’ I said. “’Not this week,’ was the only answer.”
For the ‘72 Dolphins, that was the answer every week. By beating Washington 14-7 to win the Super Bowl, the Dolphins finished 17-0 and became the first NFL team to complete a season undefeated and untied.
Their achievement still stands alone. The ‘72 Dolphins are divided as to whether the ‘07 New England Patriots pose a significant threat to eclipse the accomplishment by going 19-0. But there’s no debating that in this era of the Internet, talk radio and cable sports channels, perfect-season hype starts much earlier.
With more than half the season to be played, the Patriots (9-0) are already touted for their chances of finishing undefeated.
“We never talked about it,” ‘72 quarterback Earl Morrall said. “It was like a baseball pitcher who was throwing a nohitter. You never said anything.” Kuechenberg agreed. “Because it had never been done before, it was never thought possible,” he said.
While the Dolphins surprised even themselves by going undefeated, at first glance they weren’t as dominating as this year’s New England team. The Dolphins won regular-season games by one, two and four points, and their only blowout was a 52-0 win against — how times have changed — New England.
But the rules were different then, with bump-and-run coverage making it difficult to throw downfield. Quarterback Bob Griese and receiver Paul Warfield are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the Dolphins threw a total of only 40 passes in their three postseason games, winning them by a combined 17 points.
Coach Don Shula instead relied on a grinding ground attack led by fullback Larry Csonka and halfbacks Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick. The Dolphins broke the 36-year-old NFL record for yards rushing, and with Csonka and Morris, they became the first team to have two 1,000-yard rushers.
“Our whole thing was to be second-and-6,” Kuechenberg said. “If we got a play that gained more than 10 yards, it was a miracle. But you were not going to stop us from getting at least 4 yards. We were second-and-6, third-and-2, first-and-10 all year long.”
Remarkably, the Dolphins kept winning even when Griese missed 11 starts with a broken leg. Morrall proved equally efficient at running the offense.
“We called 75 percent of the plays from the line of scrimmage,” said Norm Evans, a Pro Bowl tackle. “We could even call the snap count from the line. It was a lot of fun. You would go up there with Bob or Earl, and they would look at where the defense was lined up and run where they weren’t. We would just pick them apart.”
The ball-control attack was the ideal complement to Miami’s “No-Name Defense.” The monicker was a bit misleading because the unit had plenty of stars, with safeties Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, end Bill Stanfill and linebacker Nick Buoniconti making the Pro Bowl that season. But Buoniconti is in the only Dolphins defender in the Hall of Fame.
Still, Shula’s team was no fluke. The ‘71 Dolphins reached the Super Bowl before losing, and in ‘73 they went 152 and repeated as champions.
The ‘72 Dolphins concede they weren’t the biggest, strongest or fastest team. But they were smart, knew their assignments, rarely made mistakes and shared confidence.