Fifty years after they accomplished the most impressive feat ever by an NFL team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins have buried 17 former players as well as the entire coaching staff. So, yes, the passing of time has taken a toll.
But time, so cruel on the one hand, has been an ally in another respect.
Because the group former captain Nick Buoniconti once called “the forgotten team” has seen its undefeated feat age gloriously.
“We’ve been often imitated but never duplicated,” Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Larry Little said of the ’72 Dolphins Tuesday. “I never thought that we would be on top of the mountain by ourselves. I thought we would’ve been joined by someone else and it hasn’t happened.”
Accomplishment Seems Better With Time
It’s been 50 years since the Dolphins authored their Perfect Season — a 17-0 campaign culminating in a Super Bowl championship. They’re celebrating their golden anniversary this weekend with a gala Saturday night and a celebration at the Dolphins home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night.
And the most impressive thing to celebrate about that team — aside from actually never losing during that season — is that no one had ever done it before in the Super Bowl era, which was great. And no one has done it since, which makes the feat seem so much more impressive.
“Back then, [it was] so what? So you go undefeated, win the Super Bowl – somebody is going to do it in five years,” former quarterback Bob Griese said. “Nobody did it. In 10 years – they’ll do it soon. 15 years, nobody has done it. 20 years? No, nobody. 30 [years], no. 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.’ So yes, I think as time has gone by, I think more people realize that that was something special.”
Perfect Dolphins Still Competing
So this team hasn’t played a game since January of 1973 but it has seemingly gotten better in the minds of many because no one has been able to match them over half a century by comparison.
Time, in that singular regard, has been a friend to this group.
And time has not been able to age their competitive spirit. It has actually done the opposite because every year these old men who played so long ago feel invigorated by the idea of keeping their accomplishment all to themselves.
“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,” former Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka said. “As soon as we get five games in [to the NFL season], just like right now, I’m starting to get calls from Manny Fernandez and different guys going, ‘What do you think of Philadelphia? What do you think their odds are of [going undefeated]?’
Csonka’s Number 39 Is Retired By The Miami Dolphins
“See what that does is we’re dusty old guys. We’ve been retired 50 years. It’s been 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. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it gives you the feeling, as you reach antiquity, that you’re still in there. There’s still a competition going on.”
’72 Dolphins Eyeing Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday night will be a time for reflection and stories and, yes, some conversation about the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles are the NFL’s only unbeaten team after six games. And that makes them the next team the ’72 Dolphins feel they’re competing against.
“I’m not looking very hard at them right now because they still have some games to play, but they look like they have a very good football team from what I’ve seen so far,” Little said.
“Well, we’re all starting to growl in our beards about it,” Csonka said. “You’re glad that there’s one or two teams that are still undefeated when you reach about the sixth or seventh game mark. But then around the 10-game mark, you start to want to see them disappearing faster because you’re very guarded about it. It’s a jealousy thing.
“In one capacity, it’s fun. In another capacity, it’s still a competition thing.”
And not even time has not been able to change that.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero