50 years ago, the ‘72 Dolphins unified a transient state


They used to make the announcement in every press box before every game as a matter of protocol to remind sportswriters of their journalistic ethics. It was a way of reminding us that we were there as reporters and not fans.

“This is an area for working media. There will be no cheering in the press box.”

I’ve always abided by the edict.

Except for once.

And I give myself a pass because I wasn’t actually cheering in the press box; I was cheering in a luxury suite near the press box. And, besides, I wasn’t cheering for a team I was covering that day.

I was cheering with and for my boyhood idols — the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of becoming the NFL’s only undefeated team during the Dolphins-Steelers on Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

It was 17 years ago during another game at Hard Rock Stadium when I committed my minor breach of journalistic ethics. The Dolphins were playing the Jets, and I was there covering the game for the Sentinel. Many of the ‘72 Dolphins also were attending that December day, but they were much more focused on the Indianapolis Colts-San Diego Chargers game on a big screen TV in a luxury suite down from the press box.

Dave Hyde — the columnist at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and author Still Perfect: The Untold Story of the 1972 Dolphins (the 50th anniversary edition of which was just re-released) — somehow managed to get us into the luxury suite.

When the Chargers shockingly upset the Colts to end Indy’s march toward matching the ‘72 Dolphins’ season of perfection, the place went crazy and I suddenly found myself high-fiving and hugging running back Jim Kiick and defensive tackle Manny Fernandez — both of whom played for the ‘72 Dolphins.

The late, great Don Shula, the legendary coach of the’72 Dolphins, was also watching the game in the luxury suite, and immediately phoned then-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer to congratulate him on the victory.

“Marty’s a great friend of mine,” Shula said with a smile splashed across his face. “Now he’s become an even better friend.”

Of course, we all know that before Shula passed away, he and the ‘72 Dolphins would often get criticized nationally for being “sore winners” because they would pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate whenever the last undefeated team of any given NFL season was beaten.

A few years before he died, Shula was in Orlando for an appearance at one his Shula’s Steakhouses at Disney as the undefeated New England Patriots were getting ready to take on the New York Giants in Super Box XLII.

“I’m pulling for the New York Giants, and I’m not going to apologize for it,” Shula told me then. “We, [the ‘72 Dolphins,] are always portrayed as angry old men because we’re proud of what we accomplished. Believe me, I’ll be the first to congratulate the Patriots if they run the table and finish with a perfect record because I know how hard it is to do. But that doesn’t mean I want it to happen.”

Those who live in New York or Boston or Philly may have looked at the ‘72 Dolphins as angry old men, but to me they were the heroes of an impressionable young boy who grew up in the sticks and scrub oaks and piney woods of North Florida.

For those of us native Floridians who grew up in the 1970s, the Dolphins were all we had as a professional sports team. Back then, there were no Magic or Marlins, Heat or Lightning, Rays or Panthers. Florida has nine professional franchises today — if you count the Jaguars. Back then, the Dolphins were it.

And back then, there was no NFL package on DirectTV that enables you to watch any game you want. And there was no Red Zone Channel where you can watch all the games at once.

In 1972, every NFL fan in Florida watched the Dolphins each and every week. I was then in elementary school and always watched the games wearing my No. 22 Mercury Morris jersey because Morris — the Dolphins’ shifty running back — was my favorite athlete.

The ‘72 Dolphins truly brought together an entire state of native Floridians, Cuban exiles, transplanted New Yorkers and migrating Midwesterners. Once, several years ago, I got a chance to tell Shula what his team meant to our state.

“I’m probably more proud of that than anything,” Shula told me. “We brought people in this state together. We were a common thread for transplants from Chicago and New York and Detroit. They all had different allegiances, but they all became Dolphins fans.”

Now here we are, a half-century later, and the team will be honored at halftime on Sunday night for their season of perfection.

“Obviously, it’s been 50 years since we went undefeated,” says Larry Csonka, the team’s bruising fullback. “We’re dusty old guys, but each year [when the team has its annual reunion] we come back to life. It’s like the dust blows off.”

I won’t be there Sunday night when the dust blows away.

It’s just as well.

If I were there, I’d probably get kicked out of the press box for standing and cheering.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2



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