There are worse ways, I suppose, to elect members to the Hall of Fame than locking a few dozen voters in a room, letting them argue and then voting on the matter. You could, for instance, throw darts at a board. Or draw numbers from a hat.
Actually, my problem with the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting isn't just the manner it's voted on. It's that there's no true basis for electing in this game. Baseball has numbers. Basketball has numbers. Football? It's so subjective. Did the great receiver have a great quarterback? Was the running back made by the line? Was the defensive player a product of the system as much as his talent?
This is a roundabout way to say I'm mystified that Bob Kuechenberg isn't in the Hall. Talk to players on the '72 team (my credentials: I wrote a book on the '72 team) and they'll tell you he might have been their best lineman. Larry Little and Jim Langer, of course, are in the Hall. So that tells you where Kooch stands. But those great '72 teams weren't the end Kuechenberg's portfolio. It's just the beginning. It's one of the great stories of the Dolphins and, in fact, tells a story of the league.
But rather than cite chapter and verse again on why Kuechenberg belongs in the Hall, I'm going to reprint here a column I wrote before the Hall of Fame vote in 2004. Here it goes:
Let's start with the arm. It was broken. It had the bone marrow drilled out by doctors. It had a 10-inch alloy rod pounded in to straighten it. Then it was wrapped in a foam pad before the Super Bowl 30 years ago, and the pad was wrapped in a plaster cast, which was then beat to a powdery mush by halftime against Minnesota defensive tackle Alan Page.
"He did what?" asked New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had spent the previous 20 minutes discussing whether a calf injury would keep him from Sunday's game. The story of Bob Kuechenberg's arm was repeated.
"I've never heard anything like that," he said.
You figure you're getting old when you start thinking they don't make things like they used to. Morals. Movies. Music. Maybe even politicians.
But you can agree just by hearing what Kuechenberg did in the Dolphins' last Super Bowl win, in the previous Super Sunday in Houston, that they don't make football players like they used to. And that's only half his story lost in the cobwebs from that day.
They vote on Kuechenberg for the Hall of Fame again today, and you can take up the cause by noting only two Hall of Fame offensive linemen played longer, only three were involved in more wins and none played in more Super Bowls. You can mention his eight All-Pro seasons. You can say when the Dolphins needed a tackle, he moved from guard and became an All-Pro tackle, or when they needed a long-snapper he taught himself to do it.
You can re-hash the numbers like that, or even tell about the time he threw Mercury Morris' sound box out of the team bus because it was disturbing him or the game he threw rookie Ed Newman out of the huddle because he was missing assignments.
Or you can take the short-cut and just talk about his contribution to Super Bowl VIII.
There was the arm, which he had broken on the opening kickoff of the second-to-last game of the season. He left the game after the opening touchdown drive. Doctors said his season was done.
"I'm playing in the playoffs," he told them, "and it's up to you to figure how."
He inherited the toughness gene. His father was a champion bull-rider, a boxer with a 27-3 record and a human cannonball who once broke his neck in the family circus. His uncle then substituted for his father, though the cannon wasn't adjusted for the change in weight. So instead of flying into a net, the uncle smashed head-first into a Ferris wheel. His face was split open. Most every bone was broken. But he lived.
As much as what playing with that broken arm showed about Kuechenberg, what he discovered about Page offered more strategically to the win.Kuechenberg had a ritual. After practice, he would lift weights, grab a beer from the coaches' refrigerator and then watch film on his defensive opponent.
Page, a Hall of Famer, was in his prime, one year removed from becoming the first defensive player to be named the league's MVP. But Kuechenberg noticed, watching film, that whenever Page stunted to the inside his stance would put his left leg a fraction further back to get more leverage.
"An offensive lineman, guard or tackle, can't get beat to the inside. "But Page was so incredibly fast, if you stepped to the inside to stop that area he could beat you outside. If you played straight up, he'd beat you inside all day long."
He called offensive line coach Monte Clark to look. Clark wasn't as excited. He told Kuechenberg to block by the playbook. On the Dolphins' first drive 30 years ago, Kuechenberg noticed Page's left leg back but blocked straight up and got beat to the inside. Page nearly took the handoff from Griese. He threw Jim Kiick for a 5-yard loss.
"I said, `Screw it, I'm going to do what I know is right,'" Kuechenberg said.
That was the end of Page's day. He was involved in no more tackles and became so frustrated that he was ejected late in the game for a cheap shot on Griese. The Dolphins scored touchdowns on their first two drives. Two touchdowns run right over Kuechenberg. They held the ball for two-thirds of the game and won 24-7.
Then, a few weeks later, the doctors broke three instruments pulling the rod from Kuechenberg's arm. He kept it, stirring drinks with it for unsuspecting guests at his home. When asked where he got such an unusual drink-stirrer, he would look down at it and provide an answer that, as another Super Sunday arrives, shows how few things are like they once were:
"From my arm."