Every Super Bowl champion gets celebrated and remembered for its achievement.
But the 1972 Miami Dolphins are immortalized because they’re the only team to have a perfect season — undefeated and untied for a full NFL regular season and postseason.
“We’ve been often imitated but never duplicated,” said guard Larry Little, one of four Hall of Famers who spoke to reporters via web conference on Tuesday ahead of the 1972 team being honored for its 50th anniversary during Sunday night’s prime-time game between the current Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium.
Fifty years later, those 1972 Dolphins still stand alone. Some came close — like the 1985 Chicago Bears that only lost a Monday night game to the Dolphins or the 2007 New England Patriots, which were undefeated entering the Super Bowl but lost to the New York Giants — but no other team since has been able to accomplish that same feat.
“I felt some other teams would come along and at least tie us — not that no team will ever surpass us,” Little continued.
Those ‘72 Dolphins will be recognized through pregame and halftime ceremonies at the “Sunday Night Football” game against the Steelers. Little, fullback Larry Csonka, quarterback Bob Griese and wide receiver Paul Warfield will participate in a ceremonial coin toss pregame. At halftime, living members of the 1972 team will gather with the families of deceased members for an on-field presentation. The Dolphins will also wear throwback jerseys with a commemorative patch honoring the 1972 team as they take on Pittsburgh.
“There’s a unity that goes on with the ‘72 team that goes on every year that it’s the most alive team that I’ve ever been affiliated with — I think anyone has ever been affiliated with — because it’s still competing,” Csonka said.
That’s because, every year, those that participated in that perfection actively root for the last remaining unbeaten NFL team to fall. Each season, when it happens, it preserves them as the lone ones to achieve the feat.
“We’re dusty old guys,” Csonka said. “We’ve been retired 50 years, it’s almost about — obviously, 50 years since we went undefeated — but each year, we come back to life. It’s like the dust blows off and we’re up and we’re talking, ‘it’s us against them,’ kind of thing. But it’s not really us against them. It’s our reputation against them.
“It makes you feel alive. It makes you feel like you’re part of it again.”
This year, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles that are the only remaining undefeated team. The messages and phone calls among the 1972 Dolphins have been circulating with a focus on those 6-0 Eagles, who will remain undefeated through the weekend as they’re on their bye week.
“Once a team is getting close to going undefeated, they bring us all back from the dead, they start talking about us again,” Little said. “Because, other than that, they forget about us. I’m happy that we’re still being recognized because that is a tremendous accomplishment that we had.”
Over the years, members of the 1972 Dolphins feel there’s a greater outside respect that has come with how the achievement is perceived.
“I think back then, ‘So what? So you go undefeated, win the Super Bowl. Somebody is going to do it in five years,’ ” Griese said. “Nobody did it. ‘In 10 years, they’ll do it soon.’ Fifteen years, nobody has done it. Twenty years? No, nobody. Thirty, then the good teams come by, the [Tom] Brady year, the New York Giants with Eli Manning beating the Patriots in that Super Bowl game. And everybody says, ‘Geez, that must be pretty hard to do, go undefeated.’
“As time has gone by, I think more people realize that that was something special. We didn’t realize it was something special.”
The key to going undefeated? For the ‘72 Dolphins, it was just not necessarily trying to go undefeated.
“I did not think that that was an objective or that was what we were attempting to do for the most part,” Warfield said. “I think that we were attempting to show the football world that we were a better team than the team that was defeated previously the year before by an outstanding Dallas Cowboys football team in Super Bowl 6.”
What makes this celebration different from past big-number reunions for the perfect team is the players no longer have their coach, Don Shula, with them. Shula, the NFL’s winningest coach, died at 90 on May 4, 2020.
“You don’t realize how fast you’re getting old until your teammates, your friends, acquaintances, family start to disappear,” Csonka said. “And I don’t think anything brought it more drastically to mind than when coach Shula passed. He was such a strong and prominent figure in so many of our lives, that you just assume that he’s always going to be there, and then suddenly, to be talking about him in the past tense, was a really bitter pill.”
“He is South Florida,” Little said of Shula. “His legacy will always be around South Florida, no matter how many years to come. People want to know who Don Shula was and what he meant to — not only Miami — South Florida.”
Practice squad move
The Dolphins, on Tuesday, signed former New York Jets and Florida Gators running back La’Mical Perine to their practice squad. The move comes a day after releasing ZaQuandre White from the practice squad.
Perine, in 14 career games with the Jets, has 72 carries for 263 yards (a 3.7 average) and two touchdowns. He also has made11 receptions for 63 yards and returned two kickoffs for 22 yards. Perine, a fourth-round pick of New York in the 2020 draft, spent part of the 2022 season on Philadelphia’s practice squad.