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Griese relives Dolphins’ 1972 perfection

Posted Sep 30, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Sep 30, 2012 at 11:58 PM

There’s no doubt that Bob Griese had the demeanor, the drive and the talent to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. But great storyteller? That’s a pleasant surprise. And a bonus, whether you are a fan of the Miami Dolphins or not.

Griese, along with South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde, present an insider’s look of the only NFL team to complete an unbeaten, untied season in “Perfection: The Inside Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season” (Wiley; $27.95, hardback, 264 pages). It’s appropriate that Griese reminisces about the team’s 17-0 record with a 17-chapter book.

He had plenty of time to observe during the 1972 season. Griese broke his ankle during the Dolphins’ fifth game and missed 11 games. He returned briefly in Miami’s regular-season finale but did not see extensive action until the second half of the AFC championship game, when he relieved Earl Morrall and rallied the Dolphins to a 21-17 win against Pittsburgh and a berth in their second straight Super Bowl.

Griese and Hyde recount the highlights of the Dolphins’ 17-0 season in a game-by-game format. However, the rewarding parts of the book are the stories Griese tells about his teammates, head coach Don Shula and his assistants. Even though Griese was on offense, his descriptions of defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger are fascinating and reveal an innovative football mind. Arnsparger was the coach who invented Miami’s “53 Defense,” which utilized Bob Matheson in different situations as a linebacker and a defensive end.

Griese’s portrait of Joe Thomas, the personnel director who assembled the talent that would achieve perfection in 1972, borders on awe.
“He pulled off moves that I’m dumbfounded by today,” Griese writes.

“Nearly three quarters of the Dolphins, most of our starters, and five of our six Hall of Fame players … were on the roster because of Thomas’ shrewd work.”
Griese and Hyde give the reader a sharper picture of the players, transforming them from flickering images on old NFL Films videos to breathing, living, intense and funny men. With a few mavericks thrown in the mix for good measure.

Safety Jake Scott “didn’t just meander down the path of life. He took a machete and made his own path.”

Griese writes that Scott, who was named the MVP of Super Bowl VII that completed the perfect season, “excelled at anything that interested him.”

“He completely tuned out anything that bored or didn’t suit him.”

Offensive line coach Monte Clark was “the most unusual of football coaches.”

Clark wrote poetry, studied history and excelled at playing the bass fiddle — while lying on his stomach.

Griese adds to the legend of Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, who once famously said “I’m the idiot who hired all the geniuses.”

“I saw an array of personal flaws and professional complexity that everyone agreed marked the Dolphins’ owner as genuine and unique,” he writes. “For better or worse.”

Griese recalls talking contract with Robbie as a rookie, and watching with amazement at the Dolphins’ boss tossed down drink after drink. The real shocker came at their next meeting, when Robbie not only remembered every number discussed, but also the exact words used in the conversation.
Star wide receiver Paul Warfield “never acted like the superstar he was.”
“He carried himself like another guy just trying to make the team,” Griese writes.
Defensive tackle Manny Fernandez was “a blend of intelligence and recklessness” who not only hunted alligators in the Everglades and drove motorcycles in excess of 120 mph, but also stole a handoff from Buffalo quarterback Dennis Shaw to turn the game around. I attended that game in the Orange Bowl (tickets were $8 in the lower deck), and to this day, still don’t believe what I saw: Fernandez snatched the ball intended for fullback Jim Braxton and ran until he was tackled at the Buffalo 10. It reversed a 13-7 deficit into an eventual 24-23 victory.
Shula was “a crucial key” for Griese’s career.
“He organized and disciplined a team in a manner that allowed his preparation to count,” Griese writes.

When tight end Marv Fleming was traded from Green Bay and loudly noted the racial divide in Miami’s locker room, Shula took action. The next day, the locker room had been reorganized: offensive players on one side, defensive players on the other. Shula matched players by position and made them roommates; as a consequence, the team became integrated.

“Shula wasn’t concerned about the social evolution of blacks and whites in the broader America. His world consisted of those 100 yards,” Griese writes. “But he cared about anything that affected his team’s unity and thus, he felt, its performance.”

One anecdote Griese didn’t include — and I wish he had — was one that Bill Braucher wrote about in “Promises to Keep,” the book that documented the Dolphins from 1966 to their first Super Bowl appearance.

According to Braucher, Griese trailed off during a play in practice during Shula’s first training camp and was at first prodded by his coach to “run them out.” And then, Shula became a little more vocal when Griese didn’t take the hint.

I would have enjoyed reading Griese’s version of that exchange.

Griese notes that Shula’s use of Miami’s three-back rotation of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris in 1972 was nothing short of revolutionary.

“Shula was like Columbus sailing to the New World with what he introduced that season,” he writes.

That innovation led to Csonka rushing for 1,117 yards and Morris gaining 1,000. Miami gained 2,960 yards during the regular season — a staggering 4.8 yards per carry.

And Griese gives plenty of credit to Morrall, who took over at quarterback and smoothly took the Dolphins to 11 straight wins.

As entertaining as this book is, there are some errors that detract from the overall effect.

In his prologue, Griese writes that in his first few seasons in Miami, “we never had more than four wins in a season.” They won five games in 1968 when the Dolphins went 5-8-1, the best record Miami had under the teams’ first coach, George Wilson.

A few names were botched, like Baltimore Colts coach Don McCafferty, whose name was spelled as McCaffery on first reference. Don also was referred to as John McCafferty in every reference; interestingly, an actor named John McCafferty once co-starred in an episode of “Coach,” playing a TV reporter.

Teammate Charlie Babb’s name was misspelled as Baab at least twice. Ouch.

And Griese talks about being terrified in his first preseason game as a rookie when he saw an agitated Bears linebacker Dick Butkus glaring at him. A flustered Griese didn’t go behind the center, instead lining up by mistake behind guard Larry Little.

A great story, although if it happened against Chicago it happened in 1969, Griese’s third season.

Those mistakes are unfortunate.

On the positive side, Griese’s observations about Miami’s Super Bowl victory against Washington are candid and illuminating. He talks about the touchdown that was called back because of a penalty, and the interception he threw into the end zone that prevented another Dolphins TD.

And of course, he goes into vivid detail about Garo Yepremian’s infamous pass that turned a rout into a close game and threatened the perfect season for the final agonizing 2:02 of the contest.
“The Thinking Man’s Quarterback” has written a thought-provoking look at a team that to this day, still does not get the respect it deserves. After all, no other team can claim an unblemished record. Some teams have come close; the New England Patriots came within an eyelash several years ago.

But only one team can claim perfection. Griese helps put it into perspective from a player’s point of view.

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