Dol­phins All-Pro guard part of ’72 per­fect team

Miami Herald - - SPORTS - BY DAVID J. NEAL [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Bob Kuechen­berg, who made six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams from 1970-83 with the Dol­phins, died Satur­day night at the age of 71, the team an­nounced Sun­day morn­ing.

Bob Kuechen­berg, an All-Pro guard on the Dol­phins’ Su­per Bowl of­fen­sive lines of the 1970s, died Satur­day night at the age of 71, the team an­nounced Sun­day.

Kuechen­berg came out of North­ern In­di­ana — born in the Chicagoland city of Gary, played at Ho­bart High School, then at Notre Dame. He signed with the Dol­phins as a free agent in 1970, the year Don Shula took the head-coach­ing job, after be­ing a Philadel­phia fourth-round pick in 1969 and quit­ting to play semipro foot­ball for a sea­son. He quickly be­came a key piece of one of the great of­fen­sive lines in NFL his­tory, as the Dol­phins pow­er­ful run­ning game led the team to three con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowls and two Su­per Bowl wins in Shula’s first four sea­sons.

Over a 15-sea­son ca­reer, Kuechen­berg started in the fran­chise’s first four Su­per Bowls, made the Pro Bowl six times and was first or sec­ond team All-Pro three times.

In a state­ment re­leased by the Dol­phins on Sun­day morn­ing, Shula called Kuechen­berg, “not only one of the best play­ers I coached, but one of the tough­est as well” and noted “Kooch” got called for hold­ing only 15 times in 14 sea­sons of play­ing. (Kuechen­berg’s fi­nal sea­son was spent on in­jured re­serve.) Shula also re­it­er­ated a call for Kuechen­berg to be hon­ored with the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in­duc­tion de­nied Kuechen­berg for the 29 years of his el­i­gi­bil­ity.

The 1970s Dol­phins of­fen­sive line was the first to the first to block for two 1,000-yard rush­ers in a sin­gle sea­son (Mer­cury Mor­ris and Larry Csonka on the 17-0 1972 Dol­phins Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons). The fol­low­ing sea­son, the line so com­pletely dom­i­nated in the 1973 play­offs, the Dol­phins threw only 13 passes com­bined while win­ning the AFC cham­pi­onship and Su­per Bowl, each by 17 points.

Kuechen­berg’s death came one day short of the 45th an­niver­sary of what’s ar­guably the great­est per­for­mance by an of­fen­sive line in a Su­per Bowl. Ex­actly 45 years be­fore Sun­day, the Dol­phins mauled the Min­nesota Vik­ings 24-7 in Su­per Bowl 8 with an over­whelm­ing rush­ing per­for­mance that re­quired quar­ter­back Bob Griese to throw only seven passes all day.

De­spite play­ing with a bro­ken arm, Kuechen­berg owned Vik­ings de­fen­sive tackle Alan Page, then con­sid­ered one of the NFL’s top two de­fen­sive tack­les along with Pitts­burgh’s “Mean Joe” Greene. Full­back Csonka trucked the Vik­ings for 145 yards. The Dol­phins took a 14-0 lead after two pos­ses­sions and rum­bled home.

In a nod to the Dol­phins’ of­fen­sive line’s per­for­mance, NFL Films of­fi­cial Su­per Bowl 8 high­light film ac­tu­ally fo­cused on the line’s block­ing schemes.

From that line, Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame se­lec­tors picked Lit­tle and Langer for in­duc­tion while re­peat­edly re­ject­ing Kuechen­berg at ei­ther the fi­nal­ist or semi­fi­nal­ist level. That be­came a source of hu­mor for some jour­nal­ists, grumpi­ness from Kuechen­berg and dis­gust from some for­mer team­mates and op­po­nents.

“Kooch, along with Larry Lit­tle and Jim Langer, were the three big­gest rea­sons for my de­vel­op­ment and many oth­ers as bet­ter play­ers,” for­mer Dol­phins nose tackle Bob Baumhower said. “They were ab­so­lutely the best in­te­rior of­fen­sive line in the NFL. Kooch was a tough, tal­ented and smart leader play­ing of­fen­sive guard. After prac­tic­ing against Kooch ev­ery day, play­ing in the games was a pic­nic.”

When long­time pro foot­ball writer Paul Zim­mer­man talked to sev­eral coaches and play­ers for a 1981 Sports Il­lus­trated story on still-ac­tive New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ guard John Han­nah pos­si­bly be­ing the best of­fen­sive line­man ever, he reached out to Shula:

“Don Shula, who coached [1950s Colts Hall of Famer Jim] Parker for five years and has coached against Han­nah for eight, gives Parker a slight edge, but then he whis­pers, ‘Don’t for­get about our own guy, Bob Kuechen­berg,’ ” Zim­mer­man said.

DAR­RYL DYCK AP

The Canucks’ Alexan­der Edler checks the Pan­thers’ Alek­sander Barkov as Barkov at­tempts a shot against Van­cou­ver goalie Ja­cob Mark­strom on Sun­day night.

JEF­FREY M. BOAN AP

Bob Kuechen­berg gives for­mer coach Don Shula, left, a hug and kiss on Shula’s 80th birth­day party on Jan. 2, 2010.

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