In 1971, the
City of Miami was little more than a sleepy beach town. Kendall was considered
to be in the boondocks then, the place where one went for a Sunday drive to pick
tomatoes, green beans, and strawberries. The highest building in the city at
that time was the federal courthouse. You could still see Biscayne Bay from
Brickell Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard. Fresh fish could be bought on the docks
I did most of
my growing up in the Roads section of the city, a mere 10 minute drive from the
famous Orange Bowl. The Miami Dolphins were the only major pro team in town
then, and they were on the way up.
took me to my first Dolphins game on November 21, 1971 versus Johnny Unitas and
the Baltimore Colts. We sat on the 30 yard line, Section Q. I remember it being
a bright day and being amazed at how big the place was in person. I understood
the basic tenets of football then, but I was more interested in watching
Flipper jump in his east end zone tank.
Little did I
know…could anyone know, really…that the 1971 season was the beginning of what
would be three straight Super Bowl appearances for the Dolphins and the launch
point for one of the greatest franchises in sports history. For me, that year
was the start of a 40 year love affair that continues today.
season, the Dolphins would reach their first Super Bowl by surviving the
longest game in NFL history (Christmas Day 1971, with my family packed around
our black and white TV), and then shutting out the Colts 21-0. Even though the
Dolphins lost Super Bowl VI to the Dallas Cowboys, watched by me at family
friend’s home on their new color TV, there was this new chatter about the
hometown team that seemed to come up at every family gathering.
Every boy had
a #12, #42, #21, or #39 Miami Dolphins jersey then. I had a Paul Warfield #42
jersey. At school, we would fight over who would be “the Dolphins” during our
flag football games at Coral Way Elementary.
attend any of the games during the 1972 Perfect Season, but I remember being at
my uncle’s home to watch Super Bowl VII. There was a lot of hooting and
hollering and it seemed like nothing would stand in the way of a win. I left
the room to play with my cousins, only to soon notice the mood in the TV room
turn quickly somber. That was the moment when kicker Garo Yepremian had tried
to pick up the ball after a blocked field goal but flubbed it into the hands of
Redskins DB Mike Bass, who returned it for a TD. The Dolphins held on for the
win, and soon the street outside was filled with honking horns and cheering
neighbors. It was 17-0. It was history! Even kids understood it.
would win Super Bowl VIII the following season, which I watched from the home of a family friend. We
all knew the Dolphins would pound the Vikings, so I don’t recall there being
the level of anxiety of previous years. It was great being a kid who was a fan
of the Super Bowl Champs!
By 1982 we
had moved to South Miami. The city was expanding and I was in high school. In
the previous years I had met many of my childhood Dolphin heroes, mostly at
“father-son” banquets my dad took me and my brother to. I still have the signed
glossy photos: Bob Griese, Bob Kuechenberg, Nat Moore, Jim Langer, and Don
Shula among many others.
By then my
Warfield jersey had been replaced with a #12 Griese jersey, though my favorite
Dolphin was Moore (still is!). The Dolphins were good again, with a “Killer B” defense
that powered them deep into the playoffs, earning a berth in the 1982 AFC
Championship game versus Richard Todd and the NY Jets. Because my uncle was
busy that day, I got his ticket to that game (once again, Section Q).
It had been
raining hard that weekend, and my mother urged me to take a poncho to the game.
We had a couple of keepsake Dolphins ponchos, offered as gifts by a local bank
in 1974 to commemorate the team’s back-to-back world titles. I took one with
me, for good luck.
The field that
day was a mess, soft and muddy. This served to negate the superior speed the
Jets had on offense. Some thought Shula ordered the ground crew to leave the
tarp off during the heavy rains. The resultant defensive battle was won by LB A.J.
Duhe and the Killer Bs, with Duhe sealing the 14-0 win with a 35 yard
interception for a TD. On the way home, those honking horns were back again on
Coral Way as I stopped by our church and waved at passersby. We were back in
the big game, and the feeling was indescribable!
Super Bowl XVII from home. For three quarters the Dolphins led the game before
the slow poison of Washington’s ground game and Miami’s offensive ineptitude
began to take hold. Washington won 27-17. I was bitterly disappointed
afterwards, inconsolable really, wishing Shula had not waited so long to change
from ineffective starting QB David Woodley to Don Strock.
summer, my dad and I made a trip to Dolphins training camp. I'll always
remember that summer day in 1983. The heat was sweltering, the humidity heavy;
a typical Miami summer afternoon.
My Dad and I
were headed for St. Thomas University, at the time the team’s practice
facility. The air conditioner in my Dad's car was broken so we had the windows
open, the hot wind blowing in the car as we zoomed down the expressway.
had drafted a guy from the University of Pittsburgh, someone named Dan
Marino. We wanted to see him, to see if he
had the goods, to see if he was the missing piece to the championship puzzle.
Parking was quite
a ways from the beat up wooden bleachers, unshielded in the blazing sun.
Coppertone permeated the air. As there were no concessions, I lugged a cooler filled
with soft drinks.
We found some
seats, sipped our Cokes, and scanned the field, looking for the target of our
tall curly-haired kid wearing an orange #13 jersey came trotting out of the
cement block field house and onto the field. Everyone looked at him.
He was a lot
bigger than Griese. And, after going through passing drills with the receivers,
it was obvious that his arm was stronger. Clearly, this was a fast ball
his whistle and the Dolphins came together to scrimmage each other. During the
11-on-11 exercise, we all watched Marino put on an impressive passing
exhibition. At times the Killer Bs seemed powerless to stop it. We marveled at
the velocity of the throws and the sheer speed of his release. Only his own
rookie mistakes had spoiled the rhythm of his work.
There was no
question that this kid could play, that the Dolphins had something special. We
just didn’t know how special. What we knew was that good times were coming
season, from various locations in Tallahassee, FL, on and off the Florida State
University campus, I watched Marino tear the league to shreds on his way to a
record-setting season. My roommate and I poured over the sports section of the
Miami Herald, taking in the resultant acts of prowess.
The fact was,
the Dolphins were winning by simply outscoring everyone. The once vaunted
Killer B defense was on a decline, an ominous thing overshadowed by the
brilliance of Marino. By the time the Dolphins reached Super Bowl XIX, the
prevailing question was if the 49ers could stop Marino and his receivers. What
they should have been asking was how the now slow Dolphin defense would stop
Joe Montana and the 49er offense.
friend’s apartment in Tallahassee, we somberly watched the Dolphins lose
another championship. But we all left thinking that Shula would make the right
moves to get the Dolphins back, now that the team was in an era of
unprecedented offensive prowess.
later, we are still waiting.
This is why,
for me, Super Bowl Sunday has become something of a downer. Simply put, I don’t
much enjoy watching two other teams battle for a title. Instead, I find myself coldly
evaluating the measuring stick that the Dolphins used to set. And, inevitably,
I find myself thinking back to the glory years when the Dolphins were appearing
in one out of every four Super Bowls.
I was spoiled
then. We all were.