Seventeen little-known facts about 17-0 Dolphins, who won Super Bowl VII at Coliseum
Second in a series looking back at the seven Super Bowls held in the Los Angeles area. The Miami Dolphins completed the only undefeated season in the Super Bowl era, finishing 17-0 with a win in Super Bowl VII at the Coliseum:
On that day, the Dolphins not only beat Washington, 14-7, but also completed their 17-0 season and cemented themselves in NFL history as the only team in the Super Bowl era to win every game.
There were bumps along the path to perfection, though, and plenty of memorable stories.
In honor of those 17 wins, here are 17 notes, quotes and anecdotes from that fateful season (and beyond):
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To reach the Super Bowl, the Dolphins had to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game. People often wonder why Miami had to play on the road in the conference title game, seeing as the 15-0 Dolphins had a better record than the 12-3 Steelers. It’s because in those days, the NFL alternated championship sites by divisions, and it was the AFC Central’s turn.
The Dolphins lost quarterback Bob Griese to leg and ankle injuries in the fifth game of the season. Earl Morrall stepped in and helped the 4-0 team win its next 10 games. In the playoffs, Morrall directed the Dolphins to a win over Cleveland but was replaced by Griese after Miami fell behind to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. Miami wound up winning, of course, and coach Don Shula decided to start Griese in the Super Bowl.
“That probably had to be the toughest decision that I had to make in my coaching career…” Shula told The Times in 2014. “I called Earl and told him what my thoughts were, and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t agree with it. But I’ll be ready if and when you need me.’ That says it all about what kind of guy he was.”
It was Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry who described Miami’s defense as “a bunch of no-named guys.” That spawned the nickname “No-Name Defense,” for a unit composed of unheralded overachievers. Linebacker Nick Buoniconti was the only member of that defense to reach the Hall of Fame.
Miami was assigned the Rams’ practice facility, which was spacious and easily up to NFL standards. Shula didn’t like that there was a school overlooking the practice field, however, and was fearful that Washington coach George Allen would have someone spying on what the Dolphins were doing. So they used those locker rooms to change but rode a bus each day to a local community college to practice. Each day, Shula had a couple of Dolphins employees search the surrounding trees for spies.
Legendary L.A. Times columnist Jim Murray didn’t give the Dolphins a chance in the game. He felt Washington outclassed them and wrote: “The Redskins are sure to hand them their shoes and ask that they bring them back by morning shined and leave them outside the door.”
The most memorable play from the Super Bowl was a blooper. The Dolphins were leading, 14-0, with slightly more than two minutes to play when they lined up for a Garo Yepremian field goal. Recalled Shula, according to the Associated Press: “I thought, ‘Boy, this will be great if Garo kicks this field goal and we go ahead, 17-0, in a 17-0 season. What a great way that would be to remember the game.’ And then Garo did what he did.”
Washington’s Bill Brundige blocked the kick of the 5-foot-7 Yepremian, and the kicker tried to pick up the ball and throw it. The ball slipped out of his hands, and he tried to knock it out of bounds, accidentally batting it into the hands of defender Mike Bass, who ran 49 yards for a touchdown.
Even though the Dolphins won the game, Yepremian was so shaken by that experience, he didn’t leave his house for weeks. And it stuck with him for the rest of his life.
“Every airport you go to, people point to you and say, ‘Here’s the guy who screwed up in the Super Bowl,’ ” Yepremian told the Associated Press in 2007, eight years before his death. “Fortunately, I’m a happy-go-lucky guy.”
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Shula’s son David was a 13-year-old Dolphins ball boy at the time and said his dad used to playfully blame him for the Yepremian blunder.
“My dad used to joke that I was the reason he tried to throw that pass,” the younger Shula recalled. “Because I was out there at practice the whole week before, and kickers don’t do a lot during practice. So Garo and I played catch the entire week. So years after that, my dad would joke, ‘It’s your fault he threw that damn pass.’
“Garo was a great athlete, and he could throw the ball well. Obviously not in the heat of the moment like that.”
Jake Scott, who had two interceptions, was named the game’s most valuable player. Dick Schaap, then editor of Sport magazine, had the only vote and confessed later that he had stayed out late the night before. He was drowsy during the game and didn’t put a lot of thought into his vote. He overlooked the fact that defensive tackle Manny Fernandez had an astounding 17 tackles and probably should have gotten the award. Wrote teammate Buoniconti: “It was the game of his life — in fact, it was the most dominant game by a defensive lineman in the history of the game, and he would never be given much credit for it.”
Perfect game, meet the perfect crime. As Shula was being carried off the field on the shoulders of his players, someone swiped his watch. As the late Steve Sabol of NFL Films recalled to The Times in 2010: “We showed the film of that game to Shula, and we were looking at that shot. He said, ‘You know, I never said anything to anybody, but when I was being lifted out, somebody stole my watch. I could feel somebody grabbed my hand, and I wasn’t sure why they were trying to grab my hand. When I got back to the locker room, I realized my watch was gone. Somebody ripped it off!’ ”
The halftime show was called “Happiness Is” and starred Andy Williams and Woody Herman, backed up by the University of Michigan band, which played “Put on a Happy Face,” “Woodchopper’s Ball,” and “This Land Is Your Land.”
The whole concept of a “perfect season” wasn’t the focus of the 1972 Dolphins, and didn’t really surface until later. They wanted to win every game, of course, but their focus was to win a championship and not fall short the way they did the season before with their Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys.
“The undefeated element was never really talked about,” said team historian Harvey Greene, the club’s longtime head of public relations. “It wasn’t at the top of their mind like it is now. They didn’t think of it as all that special because they figured somebody else would come along and do it too.”
As the story goes, when he jogged off the Coliseum field with teammate Dick Anderson, Scott said: “You know, I think we just did something historic.”
Shula, with his impeccable hair and smoked sunglasses, was a pop-culture star who transcended football but never seemed to care. He was focused on the game. He had a cameo in the comedy “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” but years later acknowledged he’d never watched the movie.
In 1985, at the height of “Miami Vice,” one of the stars of that TV series stopped by the Dolphins locker room after a victory. He was introduced to Shula as “Don Johnson of ‘Miami Vice.’” Apparently, the coach had never heard of the show and thought Johnson was an actual police officer.
Stu Weinstein, the team’s longtime head of security, recalled in an interview with the Associated Press: “Coach Shula says, ‘Yeah, Don, you guys do a great job. Keep up the good work.”
You might say the Dolphins got some help from the Great Beyond in their undefeated season.
Before the opener against Kansas City, a woman brought a voodoo doll of Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson to Stratford’s, a bar in Hollywood, Fla., that was a regular hangout of Miami players and coaches. They pushed pins into the doll and the Dolphins won that week.
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Thus began a tradition, and each week the woman would bring in a doll made to resemble that week’s opposing quarterback — Dan Pastorini, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath …
“Half our starters would go in there and push pins in those dolls,” Fernandez said in 1998. “We’d have weigh-ins Thursday morning, then go put the weight back on at Stratford’s on Thursday nights.”
When the voodoo-doll streak was broken, so was the winning streak. In the second week of the 1973 season — the year after the Dolphins went undefeated — Shula opted to have his team fly to Oakland on Thursday afternoon in preparation for a game against the Raiders, breaking the pattern of Thursday nights at Stratford’s. Miami wound up losing, 12-7.
“I guarantee you,” Fernandez said, “we were all at that bar the next Thursday.”
Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t tradition for championship teams to visit the White House the way it is now. But in 2013, President Obama invited the 1972 Dolphins to be honored.
“I know this is a little unorthodox, four decades after the fact, but these guys never got their White House visit after winning Super Bowl VII,” Obama said at the time. “I know some of them are a little harder to recognize these days. They don’t have the Afros or the mutton chops or the Fu Manchus.
“And I know that some people may be asking why we’re doing this after all these years. And my answer is simple: I wanted to be the young guy up here for once.”
Homespun NFL coach Bum Phillips had a simple explanation of the greatness of the Miami coach.
“Don Shula can take his’n and beat your’n,” Phillips said. “Or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”
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