The 1972 Dolphins on the 2007 Patriots

Posted on January 28, 2008 
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Recently, several members of the 1972 Dolphins were part of a conference call with reporters who asked them their thoughts on the 2007 Patriots. Here are some of the unfiltered highlights:

Q. I was hoping to ask this of anyone who is on the conference call, given the parity in the NFL with the salary cap and how maybe the team is a little more equal than when you guys played, just talk about what the Patriots have done up to now and how impressed you guys are.
JIM KIICK: I don’t believe ?? I think there was more parity in our era because all of the teams were decent. Every team had a great quarterback. I think today after the first seven quarterbacks, there’s a big drop off. So I think there was more parity with the teams back then. Right now, it’s New England and it’s possibly Indianapolis, and everybody else is mediocrity.

Q. Does that speak to the parity or does that speak to how good Indianapolis and New England are?
JIM KIICK: No, I think it’s a combination of both. I think they are excellent football teams, yes, but I think the caliber of the other ones, like I said, not only are they mediocre; some are even very poor, like, unfortunately, the Dolphins.

Q. Do you think in the salary cap era that that adds something to what they have accomplished?
DICK ANDERSON: I definitely think it does. It just shows you how important the general manager is and the personnel director, as well as the coaches. The thing I am impressed with with New England is that their coaches are just like Bill Arnsbarger was. Our goal was not to ever make a mental error, and this is the only team in the NFL today, I think, that just doesn’t make errors. They are so very, very well coached.

Q. Dick, from a passing game standpoint, Brady and that receiving corps, how would you rate that passing game compared to the passing games that you faced as a secondary guy?
DICK ANDERSON: You can’t rate it because the rules are different. We could hit a receiver any place on the field as long as the ball was not in the air and they were between the quarterback and the defensive back.
LARRY CSONKA: I saw you hit them clear behind the bench, what are you talking about?
DICK ANDERSON: We made our living taking down receivers and disrupting their routes and today the receivers have a great ability, after five yards. They are free. So it’s a totally different game today than it was when we played defense.

Q. Was going undefeated a week?to?week talk among you guys and among the media back then or did you just kind of, okay, let’s win the next one?
BOB GRIESE: There was never any talk about going undefeated. The only problem ?? the only thing that we ever talked about was winning the next ballgame, and I think that’s what we’ve heard all year from the Patriots. And I think that’s a credit to Belichick that he’s got these guys thinking about the right thing at the right time. And I think that’s where Coach Shula was so good mentally. Each week, there was always something that would come up each week; we’ve never beaten this team on the road, we had never done this, we had never done that, no team had ever gone undefeated.

Injuries, after one injury, it was like, okay, so what, Griese gets hurt, the next man in, and Earl (Morrall) steps in and does a good job.

So I think Belichick has done a real good job and I think that’s one of the keys to Coach Shula back in ’72 that nothing really fazed him. He just accepted it, never talked about going undefeated. Only talked about trying to get back and winning the Super Bowl.

Q. If I could ask one of you, where do you think this places the Patriots in history if they do finish this out and go 19?0? Obviously they have passed your team’s record for an undefeated streak, but where do you think this places them historically?
DICK ANDERSON: If Mercury were here, he would say that we’re compared initially to the 1934 and 1942 Bears because they were the first team to go undefeated during the regular season, but then they lost in the playoff games. From our standpoint, we went undefeated all the games that were thrown against us, we played the Championship Game in Pittsburgh, and we were just fortunate to be the only team in the history of the NFL in 88 years to go undefeated. If New England does it, they will be the second team to go undefeated and I think they have a real good chance to do so.

Q. Usually when you have a season like you guys did, and certainly a great season, it always comes from adversity, and I want to talk you back to that Super Bowl against Dallas, January 15, 1972. How much of what you did came from that game, and I guess to Bob, as well, how sick are you of seeing that highlight of you being chased around the field in New Orleans by Bob Lilly on that play?
BOB GRIESE: I think that we’ll all tell you that that was the seed that was planted by Coach Shula right after we lost to Dallas in that Super Bowl was that was the seed that was planted for our season the following year, and he never let us forget that we lost an opportunity to win the championship and we’d have to come back the next year and then all of these games just to get back and have an opportunity to do what we were trying to do three or four hours before. So Coach Shula was always telling us and motivating us in that way. I couldn’t hear your second question; you were breaking up.

Q. The second part of the question was, how tired are you of looking at that highlight of Bob Lilly chasing you all over that field in New Orleans for the 26?yard loss?
BOB GRIESE: It wasn’t just Bob Lilly. I saw Bob Lilly over the weekend, as a matter of fact. I was talking to him about that and he said, yeah, there were a couple other guys. When I would try to go to the right, the defensive end was there, and when I reversed the other way and tried to go back to the left, there was another defensive end there. So there were three guys there, not one. You sound like Coach Shula, razzing me about this.

Q. Rightly or wrongly, you guys have been portrayed as a bunch of players 35 years in the making desperately trying to hold on to this undefeated record. If the Patriots do go 19?0, would you be upset, maybe don’t care if they join you as the only undefeated team in really the modern era?
MERCURY MORRIS: You mentioned the word desperately trying to hold onto. Let me set you straight. First of all, there’s nothing for us to hold on to because there’s nothing for us that belongs to us. It only belongs to the history of the National Football League. It’s been 35 years. This record is old enough to be president and nobody has done anything except almost make it. These guys are the first guys who have actually come close for real, and I take my hat off to them. So there’s no way that we could have stopped it. It could have happened in ’73, 74, ’75, 76. It’s been 1,290 tries.

Q. I’m curious, the Patriots are the favorite; do you guys remember, were you even favorites against the Redskins?
LARRY CSONKA: As I recall, we were underdogs in the Super Bowl. We were underdogs pretty much the whole season. That’s why we beat the spread so much. I think that comes back to what Griese was talking about.
MERCURY MORRIS: The Washington Redskins, the three teams they lost to that year were the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. We ironically beat the New England Patriots.

Q. Did you guys think at the time you were getting the respect you were deserved? The Patriots seem to be getting respect right and left as the greatest this, and greatest that.
MERCURY MORRIS: It had not been done before, so there was no criteria for you to make a judgment as to whether or not a team is going to try to go undefeated. This was new territory. In fact, the term perfect season only showed up on the scoreboard out in Los Angeles when after we won the games, it said, “The Dolphins are perfect, 17?0.”

Q. I’ve been looking into and comparing Super Bowl weeks from what you guys went through to what it’s like today, and there was a couple of themes from back then and if anybody wants to jump in on this is more than welcome to. One of them back then, there was a lot of talk about spying on the part of George Allen and how you guys changed practice fields to prevent that. Another theme was Shula trying to win the big one after losing a couple of times, and I also came across a couple references early in the week to when you guys had no curfew, you took full advantage of that. Anyone want to jump in on any of those?
DICK ANDERSON: I’ll answer the last question first. I was with (Larry) Csonka and Jim Kiick and (Jake) Scott and Jim Mandich the night that we did not have any curfew. I was the designated driver. We just had fun in L.A. and got back in the wee hours of the morning.

Q. I’ve got a totally different perspective, so many people I know are really in support, they feel that there was something magical about the ’72 Dolphins team and they don’t want to see anybody else do it. There’s another perspective here, there’s not just the Dolphins, players and Dolphins fans; there’s a lot of people outside of Miami who would like to see somebody do it. Would any of you like to pick up on that? Did other people realize there was something special about the legacy besides some of the players?
DICK ANDERSON: I think there’s certainly Dolphin fans that would like to see that record sustained. But you know, records are made to be broken and eventually it is going to happen and it has not happened yet, and they have a very good chance to do so. But we can’t do anything about it. All we can do is if they are undefeated through the season, congratulate them and say they are the second team to do it.

Q. Some people have made a lot of the Patriots stealing signals, and somebody thinks even an asterisk should go next to this. How do you guys look at that and do you think it besmirches their season at all?
MERCURY MORRIS: I don’t think it really does anything to them. It was one game, an event and I don’t think their season should be defined out of that mishap. Obviously if you got caught cheating, you got caught cheating. I think the intent was there to steal signals rather than to put themselves in a position where they would have an advantage as far as games are concerned as they soon realized they are so good they didn’t have to have that small advantage they tried to do get and eventually cost them a first round draft pick and it eventually did that.

Q. Is there any resentment when among you guys, the ’72 Dolphins were portrayed as grumpy old men that no other teams could be as great as them; that you have a bottle of champagne waiting when teams lose; is all of that stuff overblown and are you a little tired of hearing that stuff?
JIM KIICK: No. 1, I prefer Jack Daniels, I don’t like champagne, so we don’t sit around waiting with a bottle of champagne waiting for that last team to lose the game, and most importantly, what we are celebrating is our accomplishments, not the loss of the team. We are proud and obviously football is the ultimate team sport and as Dick alluded to, we were more concerned about winning football games than individual statistics.
So that’s what we are celebrating, our accomplishment that has not been done in 35 years and really has not been done prior to that. So we certainly are not celebrating the loss of any team but our accomplishments.

Q. Looking ahead to next Sunday’s game, the Giants and Patriots met four weeks ago, how difficult is it going to be for the Patriots to beat the Giants a second time?
MERCURY MORRIS: If I’m not mistaken, didn’t we play them (Redskins) in the preseason?
DICK ANDERSON: Preseason game, 27?24 loss. (Sonny) Jorgensen was the quarterback.
MERCURY MORRIS I think it’s different in that respect, because when you lose to a team, that gives you a momentum or impetus to play a little better or play with more tenacity because you know that what’s at stake is something that’s already happened once, and you don’t want that to happen again. We actually lost in 1973 to the Oakland Raiders which knocked our streak off at 18 games in a row, but then we came back and beat them in the AFC Championship Game. So I think that part of that is the fact that any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team. So you just never know.

Q. Bob, you had an injury [that year]; did you ever have photographers chasing you down to see if you had a boot on your foot or anything like that?
BOB GRIESE: That’s one of the ways things have changed in the 35 years, the paparazzi are chasing down athletes all over the place. I don’t know who the hot chicks were back then, the move?stars and the movie?actresses were back then we were supposed to be running around with. I had a boot on my leg but no paparazzi came around for me.

Q. You guys have seen a lot of teams come close and fall short of this perfect season so to speak. In this modern era where parity ceases to be kind of the normal with free agency and all that, did you think that a team eventually would do it?
BOB GRIESE: Free agency can run both ways. I think it can run away and spread throughout the teams and make them all equal, but then again, like New England this year, you can go out and get guys like a Stallworth, a Moss, a Wes Welker, or an Adalius Thomas, they were a good team without these guys. Then you can go out and it’s almost like an all?star team if the management, like Dick was saying a little bit earlier, if your general manager and player personnel guy can go out and pick up some free agents, and the right ones and get them for a fourth round pick, get them for a second round pick, and pick up a free agent, you know, it’s not ?? I would say it’s not surprising but you can certainly see why New England has gone undefeated with all of their additions offensively and their defense from the years past.

Q. What are your specific plans for Super Bowl Sunday? I’m sure you’ll all watch the game, but will you be in parts of the country where you won’t be able to watch it together?
DICK ANDERSON: We’ve never watched a game together.
MERCURY MORRIS: Never.
BOB GRIESE: We’ve never watched it together and there’s never any champagne. I don’t think any champagne or any champagne glasses have ever been clicked by any Dolphins. I think that was something that was mentioned in jest and I think the media ??
DICK ANDERSON: You were home when you started it, Bob.
MERCURY MORRIS: If you look back at my [pictures] You had Dick Anderson, Mercury Morris, Larry Little, Jim Kiick, Nick Buoniconti and Don Shula. Nick is spreading the champagne all over the place and Shula is sitting there with a toast and he looks at a picture and goes, “Hey, I said I don’t do that. But unfortunately, it’s there. We just had fun with it.”
DICK ANDERSON: That happened a month later. (Laughter).

Q. Did you ever think you would see the day when a team was one win from doing what your Dolphins did in ’72?
DON SHULA: You know, it’s hard to say because there were some teams that went 13?0 one year, and I guess 11?0, but to see somebody now 18?0, you’ve got to feel that this is a great football team that’s got a chance to do something no other team has done; that’s go 19?0 and have a perfect season. So it’s interesting and it should be a great Super Bowl.

Q. Do you think it’s more difficult these days with the salary cap and free agency to do that?
DON SHULA: You know, you talk about the salary cap and free agency, but you know, when we did it, we had to beat the best that was out there. And the Patriots, if they do it, they have got to beat the best that’s out there. The thing that happened to us, if we would have had free agency, we would have been better off, after the perfect season, Csonka, Kiick and (Paul) Warfield took off and we couldn’t sign anybody to come in and take their place. It’s a situation where you deal with what you’re confronted with, and if you win, you’re the best.

Q. Who on your ’72 team would you compare to Wes Welker on this year’s Patriots?
DON SHULA: You know, Paul Warfield was our deep threat and probably one of the greatest athletes that ever played the game. And we had Howard Twilley, more of a possession type of receiver on the other side, and we had Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris for the situation substitutions that we used. The thing people don’t realize is that in ’72, Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the season and our backup quarterback took us to the Championship Game. Then Bob Griese came back in the second half and helped us win the Super Bowl. So we went through that perfect season, the majority of it, with a backup quarterback.

Q. Can you put into words just how incredibly difficult it is to make it through an entire NFL season without losing a game?
DON SHULA: Well, when you think about the 50 years before we did it in ’72, and the 35 years since we’ve done it, that tells you how difficult it is to do because, you know, the league is so highly competitive, and all of the rules in the league are designed for competitive balance. And it’s tougher to stay on top than the struggle to get to the top because the team that finishes last gets the best draft pick, they get the first place on the waivers. Everything is done to keep the team from having a dynasty and staying on top, and that’s why it’s so remarkable when a team does stay on top for a period of time. New England, winning three out of the last six Super Bowls, I think that’s remarkable.

Q. Do you think that this is a dynasty, the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Yeah, I think they are on the verge right now. As I mentioned, three out of the last six Super Bowls, and if they win this one, you have to consider them a team that would be a dynasty like the Yankees were in baseball over a long period of time. You know, we had those two great years, ’72 and ‘73, 17?0 and 15?2; 32?2 in a two?year period; that doesn’t qualify as a dynasty, but that’s a record we are pretty proud of.

Q. When you were in the booth for the Patriots game in Baltimore, were you rooting for the Ravens?
DON SHULA: You know, I spent a lot of years in Baltimore. I spent four years as a player and seven years as a coach in Baltimore. So I would have to say that I was rooting for the Ravens, yes.

Q. Was too much made about your comment of an asterisk and do you stand behind that?
DON SHULA: You know, I’m probably not the guy that should have said it, and I think a lot of people, when I said it, received it as being, you know, just helping yourself. I think that the fact that ?? as I mentioned, I didn’t fine them, I didn’t take away the draft choice, I wasn’t the one that coined the term “Spygate.” All of those things happened and all I did was refer to them. Now, somebody else probably should have done it instead of me, because people thought it was self?serving when I did it.

Q. What do you think about the Super Bowl. Is it going to be close?
DON SHULA: The way I feel about it is the Giants have done a great job. They were 0?2 to start the year and everybody counted them out and everybody wanted to fire the coach. And all of a sudden at the end of the year they get it together, Eli Manning comes on strong and the coach then becomes a genius again. And so this team is really on the rise and you really ?? I mean, you shouldn’t count them out because they keep bouncing back. You know, Dallas beat them twice during the regular season and then they beat Dallas in the playoffs. Eli Manning just keeps getting better. So I think that this is a team that’s capable of giving New England a good game. And what I want to see more than anything else is a good, hard?fought Super Bowl, and then let the best team win. You know, if New England doesn’t lose, you know, you just give them credit for 19?0 and something nobody else has ever done.

Q. Did you guys ever talk about going undefeated or a perfect season during the ’72 season?
DON SHULA: No. When we had the 17?0 record, we got beat the year before in the Super Bowl. Our whole emphasis was not to get to the Super Bowl, but to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And if somewhere along the line we would have lost a game or two games and won the Super Bowl, it would have been a great success. But if we would have gone 16?0 and then lost the Super Bowl, that season would have been a complete failure as far as we were concerned. So I think that’s where New England is right now. They are 18?0, and the thing that’s really going to make their season is if they can win that last game and do something else nobody has done, 19?0.

Q. If you were coaching, how would you go about trying to beat the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Well, what you’ve got to do ?? you mentioned earlier that I was at the game up in Baltimore, the Ravens game, and I thought the Ravens had a great game plan against them where they got the running game going and they made some first downs and had some long drives. That’s what you’ve got to do. Anything that you can do to keep the ball away from (Tom) Brady for any period of time, you’ve got to try to do, because Brady is so dynamic, and the guy is just a great football player. He just finds a way to score no matter what the score is. The Patriots always believe that they can pull it out and win at the end. So anything that you can do when you’re setting up a game plan is try to control the ball and keep it out of Brady’s hand.

Q. You mentioned going into the Super Bowl being underdogs; how do you think it’s different for the Patriots being the favorites with the weight of history kind of looming around them?
DON SHULA: I think the way that Bill Belichick handles things, and how all his players talk the same way; they sound like they are Bill Belichick talking when they say the only thing that’s important is the next game. And I think Bill has done a done a great job of selling that to his team. They don’t care about what’s happened in the past and they don’t care about what’s going to happen two or three weeks down the road. They put all of their energy and emphasis on preparing for the next game, and that’s prepared beautifully for them and they have all bought into what Bill teaches, and I think that’s why they have been so successful.

Q. What similarities do you see between your ’72 Dolphins and this season’s Patriots?
DON SHULA: I think the similarities are we were a team that just didn’t make many mistakes, as I said earlier, and we didn’t beat ourselves. When you look at the Patriots, they are a team that just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. I don’t think they ever have been accused of beating themselves or not being prepared. They do a great job. I think they are a much more wide?open football team with (Tom) Brady as the quarterback than we were with Griese and (Earl) Morrall. We played more of a ball?control style of offense, and they are wide open. Brady will just let it fly. Against Jacksonville, he was 26 out of 28 with one dropped ball. A lot of them were just short passes, but that’s what Jacksonville was giving him and Brady had the intelligence and the patience to sit back there and just take what they were giving him and methodically move down the field and to not make any mistakes.

Q. You’ve coached against some of the great quarterbacks and coached some of the greatest quarterbacks; how good is Brady in terms of history of the game?
DON SHULA: Well, you look at what he’s done, you know, they have won three out of the last five Super Bowls, and they are on the verge of winning another Super Bowl. And Brady this year, he’s broken all the passing records and he’s just been unbelievable as far as what he’s been able to do. You know, when you think about what the Patriots have done, they went out and got (Donte) Stallworth and Randy Moss and got (Wes) Welker, three new receivers for Brady that they didn’t have the year before; and that’s a real credit to their scouting department and coaching staff for bringing in new receivers and then putting them on the same page with Brady, and then going out and accomplishing what they have accomplished.

Q. How elated will you be if you’re sitting in your living room Super Bowl Sunday and the Giants do pull the upset and the Patriots don’t draw even with you.
DON SHULA: I’m going to be at the game. I’ll be jumping up and down. (Laughter).

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